Hannah von Wiehler (née Schneider) is a trail-blazing young conductor, representing one of the most refreshingly free-thinking and excitingly entrepreneurial musical voices of her generation. She is also one of the brightest – not only in possession of exceptional artistic vision and elite academic pedigree, but also enjoying a natural affinity for languages (conversant in English, Hebrew, German, Italian, Mandarin Chinese, and Russian).
Hannah is Founder & Music Director of the Oxford Alternative Orchestra, an ensemble dedicated to the intersection of classical music and social impact, based in Oxford, UK. In this role, she focuses on unusual programming, including a careful mix of classics, new commissions, and some of the 21st-century’s most daring and genre-defying composers, such as Michael Gordon and David Lang. She also prioritises experimenting with friendly, non-traditional performance spaces in order to encourage wider community access to classical music, and as such the orchestra has performed in homeless shelters, hospitals, nursing homes, refugee detention centres, and even bars, in addition to more traditional concert halls. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, von Wiehler launched the Chrysalis Project: a multi-national initiative connecting internationally renowned film-makers, choreographers, composers, and the Oxford Alternative Orchestra. This project is creating a series of short films, with a view to presenting new fusions of multiple artistic genres – a way of instilling a message of new hope in a time of darkness.
The 2021/2022 concert season sees von Wiehler make her Chinese debuts with The Sichuan Orchestra of China, Opera Holland Park (Eugene Onegin), and the London Chamber Orchestra (with whom, in addition to concert work, she also makes a recording of the works of Ruth Gipps). Additionally, von Wiehler assists Barbara Hannigan with the London Symphony Orchestra, and Simone Young with the NSO Washington, Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne, and the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra (NOSPR). Other recent and forthcoming performance highlights for Hannah include returns Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra, Lviv National Symphony, and numerous orchestras throughout Russia and Eastern Europe.
Born to American parents, von Wiehler was raised in Moscow, where she developed an early passion in for the art, music, and stories that originated behind the Iron Curtain. Her musical gifts were initially cultivated at Moscow’s State Tchaikovsky Conservatoire as a student of the violin. She went on to obtain her Bachelors Degree in Russian Literature at Georgetown University, Washington D.C., where – at the age of 23 – she developed a programme to find musical talent in the North Causasus region of Russia, in association with Clive Gillinson and Carnegie Hall.
For nearly two years, von Wiehler served as the personal administrative assistant to Valery Gergiev, as well as Director of Special Projects for the Mariinsky Foundation of America. In these intensely enriching and fascinating roles, she worked closely on all matters from programming to touring, from to fundraising to producing festivals for the Mariinsky Theatre (including, for instance, in Vladivostok). During this time, and with Maestro Gergiev’s mentorship and encouragement, von Wiehler began to turn her attentions towards conducting, undertaking formal lessons with Leonid Korchmar whilst resident in St. Petersburg. Now based in the United Kingdom, she receives generous coaching from Jessica Cottis and Karen Kamensek, has participated in masterclasses with Paavo Järvi, and continues her close relationship with her ongoing mentor Valery Gergiev.
In 2020, von Wiehler completed her doctorate on the canon of Rodion Shchedrin at the University of Oxford, where she attended as a Rhodes Scholar. Not only is Oxford’s Rhodes Scholarship widely held to be the world’s most prestigious scholarship programme (renowned for producing many Heads of State, such as US President Bill Clinton) – but it is also a programme that places emphasis on attracting people who are committed to using their skills for the betterment of the world. Inspired by this environment, von Wiehler champions the belief that music has the potential to create a cultural and societal impact not stymied by global politics. Her fundamental aims as a conductor therefore hold sacred, at their core, the drive to use music as a means to effect change for greater societal good.
Although Russian music served as her entry point into conducting, this is by no means the exclusive focus of von Wiehler’s rapidly expanding symphonic and operatic repertoire. She is well-versed in music of the 19th and 20th centuries, and also enjoys a natural affinity for contemporary music, with a particular passion for contemporary opera – with the OAO she has staged the Oxford premieres of The Cave (Steve Reich) and The Corridor (Harrison Birtwistle), in addition to producing fully stage performances of canonic works such as La Traviata and Eugene Onegin.
“Although her interests extend far beyond the Russian sphere, it is clearly some of the music von Wiehler knows and loves best. She came into her own in the Tchaikovsky, demonstrating a nuanced knowledge of the score and a great depth of musicality.”