Written for soprano/conductor/force of nature Barbara Hannigan, and the Berlin Philharmonic, let me tell you is a song cycle by Dutch composer Hans Abrahamsen on texts from British writer Paul Griffiths 2008 novel of the same name which takes the 481 words Ophelia speaks in Shakespeare’s Hamlet and creates a first-person narrative. The work is a transfixing and hazy exploration of Ophelia’s psyche within a constant wintery landscape–the melting and shifting flow of time melding with Ophelia’s memory to form a glacier of crystalline nostalgia and fragile, undulating contemplation, furthering Abrahamsen’s continuing fascination with winter, snow, and natural phenomena (seen perhaps most clearly in his 2008 ensemble work Schnee “Snow”).
This excerpt “Now I do not mind” is the fifth song in the cycle, and bares a strikingly Sufi quality in its text and music: an obsession of the Lover with the Belovèd, Ophelia lost in a limbo which is neither day or night, dawn or dusk. The flourishes in the orchestra become greater in frequency and intensity until finally overtaking Ophelia in a forceful stasis of icy orchestration and glassy, spiraling structures. The orchestration itself takes an equal place with the works dripping harmonic and melodic contours, Abrahamsen showing his wintery expertise–Ivan Shishkin sonified. Adding to this gray-white purgatory of space and orchestration is the vocal writing for this movement, fiendishly difficult and expertly performed by Hannigan: Abrahamsen confines the voice in-between registers–never comfortable, never grounded–constantly and anxiously skating in a high place, but never the highest place, until the voice and textures crystallize together, both cascading downward at the conclusion of this movement, the two becoming one arctic entity:
You have made me like glass—
like glass in an ecstasy from your light.
like glass in which light rained
and rained and rained and goes on,
like glass in which there are showers of light,
light that cannot end.
Descend into Abrahamsen’s frigid and serene Let me tell you; excerpt below, full cycle here.
Barbara Hannigan and Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks perform Abrahamsen’s “Now I do not mind” from his 2013 work Let me tell you.