Kåre Hanken - leading international choral conductor and pedagogue

Kåre Hanken - leading international choral conductor and pedagogue

Leading international choral conductor and pedagodue, Kåre Hanken, can be seen at work at the 2nd International Choral Conductors’ Seminar from 12-15 May at Bishops College in Cape Town. classicsa.co.za found out more.

Your career spans almost four decades. How did it all start?
I started as an organist in Ålesund, thereafter became principal of the city’s music school, then lecturer in choral conducting at the Institute for Music and Theatre of the University of Oslo, then part time lecturer at the Academy of Music in Oslo, and eventually secretary general of the Norwegian Choir Association.

Your recordings of the music of Knut Nystedt (1915 – 2014) with the Schola Cantorum at the University of Oslo brought them international acclaim all over Western Europe, the Baltic States, the Nordic countries, South Africa and Japan. Why Japan?
The Norwegian Department for Foreign Affairs afforded the choir the honour of representing Norway in the Pre-Olympic Culture Program in Japan.

What was your connection with the late Nystedt?
Knut was a personal friend of mine and we often worked together. For his 100th birthday in 2015 I was asked to write a book on his life and his music, which is now published by Musikforlag in Norway.

You have conducted all major works for choir and orchestra, like masses by Mozart and Haydn, Requiems by Mozart and Duruflé, as well as piano concertos and orchestra works by Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Grieg. What major work will you conduct when you are in Cape Town in May this year?
I will be conducting a performance of JS Bach’s St John Passion by the Cape Soloists Choir and Camerata Tinta Barocca in the beautiful acoustics of the Memorial Chapel at Bishops College in Rondebosch.

When you prepare a choral work like St John Passion, what do you pay attention to?
Amongst others, I consider the meaning and rhythm of the text, and also how the composer “paints” the text. I also take note of the time signature, dissonances, the performance of notes longer than a beat, note vlaues such as dotted notes, hemiolas, and the composer’s choice of key.

You have a lot of experience as conductor and the role of the conductor has always been somewhat of a mystery to the general audience. Can you give us some insight into what role/s a conductor plays?
The main role of the conductor is first and foremost that of being a musician. However, one of the roles that the audience seldom sees – unless they attend a seminar like the one in May – is that of being a pedagogue where the conductor gives the musicians insight into the technical and performance aspects of the music.  The conductor also needs to have strong leadership qualities and be clear on what he wants. Working with people, the conductor also needs to be aware of the social and emotional undercurrents of the group.

How does one become a successful conductor?
The secret of success is hard work, and that is no different for someone who would like to become a successful conductor.  Just like an instrumentalist needs to spend hours preparing for a concert, so does a conductor.

What is the purpose of the movements conductors make?
Conducting gestures are a form of non-verbal communication. It is a tool – a universal language – to pass information about the music onto the musicians in order to perform the music artistically. These gestures should help the singers or instrumentalists to understand and execute the musical elements of a work as the conductor intended.

If people want to learn more from you, where will they have an opportunity to do so?
I will be involved in the 2nd Choral Conductors’ Seminar as lecturer and specialist for the experienced conductor masterclasses from 12 – 15 May at Bishops College, and invite conductors and singers who are interested to attend some of the sessions. I look forward to see you there.

Published 23.03.2016

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