Abrahamsen wins music award for “let me tell you”

Hans Abrahamsen wins 2016 Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition

let me tell you, a song cycle for soprano and orchestra, has earned Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen the 2016 Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition.

Abrahamsen’s half-hour work presents a first-person narrative by Ophelia, the tragic noblewoman from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The libretto by Paul Griffiths is adapted from his 2008 novel—also titled let me tell you—and consists of seven poems created using only the minimal vocabulary that Shakespeare originally scripted for Ophelia.

“My words may be poor but they will have to do,” intones Ophelia in the opening poem. Abrahamsen’s score infuses those limited words with emotional nuance and depth, said Grawemeyer award director Marc Satterwhite.

“The vocal lines exquisitely mirror Griffiths’ fragile texts of the doomed Ophelia,” said Satterwhite. “The orchestra is a partner rather than mere accompanist and the composer draws a huge array of colors from the orchestra, delicate and shimmering more often than not, but occasionally in fuller force.”

let me tell you was commissioned by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra with support from the Danish Arts Foundation. The work premiered in 2013 with the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Andris Nelsons and featured soprano Barbara Hannigan, to whom the work is dedicated. It since has been performed by orchestras around the world. Performances in the U.S. are scheduled in Cleveland and Boston in early 2016.

Abrahamsen, 62, was born in Copenhagen and teaches at The Royal Danish Academy of Music, where he also studied music theory and history. He studied composition with Per Nørgård and later with the 1986 Grawemeyer Award winner György Ligeti.

Abrahamsen’s accolades include prestigious awards such as the Carl Nielsen Prize (1989), the Wilhelm Hansen Composer Prize (1998) and a Royal Philharmonic Society Music Award (2015).

let me tell you is the second Grawemeyer Award-winning work on which music critic, poet and novelist Paul Griffiths collaborated. He also wrote the libretto for Marco Polo, which won Tan Dun the 1998 Grawemeyer Award in Music Composition.

The Grawemeyer Award winners are being named next week, pending formal approval by the university’s board of trustees. The University of Louisville presents the prizes annually for outstanding works in music composition, ideas improving world order, psychology and education and gives a religion prize jointly with Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. The 2016 winners will present free lectures about their award-winning ideas when they visit Louisville in April to accept their $100,000 prizes.

**Note: Due to a news embargo break, this information, originally scheduled for Nov. 30 @ 10 p.m., was announced ahead of schedule.**