Wigmore Hall is a concert hall located at 36 Wigmore Street, London. Originally called Bechstein Hall, it specialises in performances of chamber music, early music, vocal music and song recitals. It is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading centres for this type of music and an essential port of call for many of the classical music world’s leading stars. With near-perfect acoustics, the Hall quickly became celebrated across Europe and featured many of the great artists of the 20th century. Today, the Hall promotes 550 concerts a year and broadcasts a weekly concert on BBC Radio 3. The Hall also promotes an extensive education programme throughout London and beyond and has a huge digital broadcasting arm, which includes the Wigmore Hall Live Label and many live streams of concerts.
Originally named Bechstein Hall, it was built between 1899 and 1901 by C. Bechstein Pianofortefabrik, the German piano manufacturer, whose showroom was next door. The renowned British architect Thomas Edward Collcutt was commissioned to design the space. Collcutt was also responsible for the Savoy Hotel on The Strand (since modified) and the Palace Theatre on Cambridge Circus (originally the Royal English Opera House), with which the Hall shares pale terracotta ornamentation.
The Bechstein Company built similar concert halls in Saint Petersburg and Paris, though like its London offices and performing space, these and the business as a whole suffered during the First World War. Bechstein was forced to cease trading in Britain on 5 June 1916 after the passing of the Trading with the Enemy Amendment Act 1916 and all property, including the concert hall and the showrooms, was seized and summarily closed. In 1916, the Hall was sold as alien property at auction to Debenhams for £56,500 – a figure considerably short of the £100,000 cost of the building alone. It was then rechristened Wigmore Hall and opened under the new name in 1917.
The building follows the Renaissance style, using alabaster and marble walls, which furnish a flat, rectangular hall with a small raised stage area complete with a cupola above depicting the Soul of Music. The distinctive mural was designed by Gerald Moira, who was responsible for a number of contemporary public art works; he later became principal of the Edinburgh College of Art. After the completion of the design, the cupola was executed by the sculptor Frank Lynn Jenkins. It was restored in 1991 and 1992 and has often been featured in the Hall's marketing and print material.
The Hall is considered to have one of the best acoustics for classical music in Europe. It was refurbished in 2004 and was widely praised for being completed on time and on budget. The Hall's current capacity, spread across the stalls and a smaller balcony, is 545 seats. In 2005, the Wigmore Hall Trust purchased a long lease of 300 years for £3.1m. This both secured the future of the Hall and allowed money previously required for rent to be used for further development of its artistic programme. There are two bars and a restaurant on the lower ground floor, below the main auditorium.
Bechstein Hall opened on 31 May 1901 with a concert featuring the virtuoso pianist and composer Ferruccio Busoni and violinist Eugène Ysaÿe. During its early period, the Hall attracted great musicians like Artur Schnabel, Peter Arnold, Pablo Sarasate, Percy Grainger, Myra Hess, Arthur Rubinstein, Vladimir Rosing, Alexander Siloti, Camille Saint-Saëns, Jascha Spivakovsky and Max Reger. At his final recital, in 1976, Rubinstein urged the audience to 'keep coming back to this wonderful Hall.'
Artists and associations
Wigmore Hall enjoyed a number of long associations with many great artists of the 20th century including Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Victoria de los Ángeles, Sergey Prokofiev, Shura Cherkassky, Paul Hindemith, Andrés Segovia, Peter Pears, Benjamin Britten and Francis Poulenc.
The Hall maintained a particularly fruitful relationship with Benjamin Britten, both as composer and performer. His Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, the Second String Quartet, The Holy Sonnets of John Donne and Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo were premièred at the Hall, as were extracts from the opera Peter Grimes (ahead of its world première at the Sadler's Wells Theatre in June 1945).
Wigmore Hall commemorated its association with Britten with a series of performances and events entitled 'Before Life and After' in November and December 2012. Those concerts featured artists such as Alice Coote, Ann Murray, Mark Padmore, Gerald Finley, Julius Drake, Malcolm Martineau, Martyn Brabbins, Nash Ensemble and the Takács Quartet, given to mark the beginning of a year-long international celebration of the 100th anniversary of Britten's birth.
Wigmore Hall's 19/20 season will feature a series focussing on Britten and his connections with the venue. Allan Clayton and James Baillieu commemorate the first performance of Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo, given by Britten and his partner, the tenor Peter Pears, on 23 September 1942, alongside a lineup of additional dazzling singers in further Britten works. Later in the season, Wigmore Hall will commemorate both Britten’s birthday and the anniversary of his death.
Lieder and song
Since its inception, the Hall has been a major hub for Lieder and art song performance. The British première of Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin took place at Wigmore Hall in 1903 as well as the first UK performance of Janáček's song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared in 1922.
Peter Schreier, Janet Baker and Margaret Price performed regularly at the Hall, and in recent years Wigmore has produced recitals featuring Thomas Quasthoff, Ian Bostridge, Susan Graham, Mark Padmore, Sir Thomas Allen, Matthias Goerne, Dame Felicity Lott, Angelika Kirchschlager, Simon Keenlyside, Anne Sofie von Otter, Wolfgang Holzmair, Christopher Maltman, Andreas Scholl, and Soile Isokoski. More recent performers include Christian Gerhaher, Florian Boesch, Roderick Williams, Iestyn Davies, Sandrine Piau, Lucy Crowe and Henk Neven.
Piano and chamber music
As well as singers and accompanists, instrumentalists and chamber groups have responded well to the intimacy of the Hall. Among those performers are Leslie Howard, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Charlie Siem, Stephen Kovacevich, András Schiff, Joshua Bell, Maxim Vengerov, Angela Hewitt, Steven Isserlis, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Steven Osborne, Stephen Hough, Bruce Brubaker, the Nash Ensemble, the Beaux Arts and Florestan Trios and the Artemis, Aviv, Belcea, Emerson, Endellion, Hagen, Jerusalem, Takács and Zehetmair Quartets. In recent years, artists and ensembles such as Igor Levit, Iestyn Davies, the Doric String Quartet, The Elias String Quartet, Ning Feng, Francesco Piemontesi, Alina Ibragimova, Mahan Esfahni, Arcangelo, Hilary Hahn, Thomas Ades, Sir George Benjamin, Julia Fisher, Nicola Benedetti Isabele Faust and Christian Gerharher have all become much more associated with and connected to Wigmore Hall through concert series and artistic residencies. The Hall is noted for helping young artists launch and develop their international careers.
The following chamber works had their UK premières at the Hall: Janáček's Sonata for violin and piano; Bartók's six string quartets; Schoenberg's String Quartet No. 2; Debussy's Violin Sonata; Copland's Contrasts; and Richard Strauss's Sextet from Capriccio.
Wigmore Hall's current director is Limerick-born John Gilhooly, OBE, a classical singer. He joined Wigmore Hall as CEO in 2000 and became Artistic Director in addition in 2005 at the age of 32. Gilhooly has maintained and expanded the Hall's core repertoire of classical song, chamber and early music, as well as introducing new initiatives to entice a more diverse audience. Gilhooly introduced Jazz evenings, curated by the American jazz pianist Brad Mehldau. World music is also a regular feature at the address and there is a series of late night concerts, which have attracted a number of new younger listeners.
The previous Artistic Director was Paul Kildea. Before him, William Lyne served as director for 37 years from 1966 to 2003, during which time he introduced themed seasons, the first of which was the Fauré Series in 1979/80, with subsequent programmes dedicated to Schumann, Purcell, Bach, Ligeti, Haydn, Shostakovich and Vaughan Williams.
Building on its heritage, Wigmore Hall has become a major commissioner of new music. On 31 August 2007, John Gilhooly announced a scheme for modern composers.
Wigmore fosters further links with the contemporary music scene through the introduction of its Composer-in-Residence scheme. Luke Bedford became the first Composer-in-Residence in 2009 and was succeeded by Julian Anderson in 2013. Alongside performances of their work, Wigmore has featured series of concerts dedicated to the music of Sir George Benjamin, Huw Watkins, Thomas Larcher, Elliott Carter, Brett Dean, Kevin Volans, James MacMillan and Jörg Widmann. The 2019/20 Season Composer-in-Residence is Vijay Iyer.
In 2012, John Gilhooly publicised a renewed commissioning scheme, supported by a major gift from the Fondation Hoffmann and its President, the Swiss businessman, conservationist and philanthropist, André Hoffmann. The Fondation's donation has ensured the commission of new works by Julian Anderson, Peter Eötvös, Anna Meredith, Nico Muhly, Wolfgang Rihm, Judith Weir and Jörg Widmann and from 2013 the Hall has committed to premièring 13 new works per season.
The Wigmore Hall/Independent Opera International Song Competition (formerly the Wigmore Hall/Kohn Foundation International Song Competition) has run at the venue for the past 15 years and the Hall has been home to the triennial Wigmore Hall International String Quartet Competition (formerly The London International String Quartet Competition and initially the Portsmouth International String Quartet Competition) since July 2010.
Wigmore Hall/Independent Opera International Song Competition
Since its foundation in 1997, the biennial Competition has grown in status and prestige, and continues to attract singers and pianists from around the world, aged 33 or under, who are keen to embark on significant recital careers.
After 20 years of very generous support from The Kohn Foundation, the 2019 Competition will be sponsored by Independent Opera at Sadler's Wells. Independent Opera’s relationship with Wigmore Hall dates back 10 years to its first Wigmore Hall/Independent Opera Voice Fellowship awarded to bass Matthew Rose.
Providing an invaluable opportunity for feedback and guidance from a jury consisting of the highest calibre of internationally renowned artists and directors from the world’s elite concert halls and music festivals, the Competition also promotes the exchange of ideas between artists from all over the world, and presents an important platform for public performance and the expansion of repertoire.
The Preliminary Round, the Semi-Finals and Final are held at Wigmore Hall.
Broadcasts and recordings
The acoustic strengths of the Hall make it an ideal venue for broadcasting and recording. BBC Radio 3 transmits its lunchtime concert from Wigmore Hall every Monday during the season, which runs from September to July. Recent BBC Lunchtime Concerts have featured Benjamin Grosvenor, the Škampa Quartet, Christoph Denoth, Noriko Ogawa, Gautier Capuçon, Gabriela Montero, the ATOS Trio, Clara Mouriz, Mark Padmore and Yevgeny Sudbin. A number of evening concerts are also broadcast live or recorded for later transmission on Sky Arts TV as well as being released by recording companies.
Wigmore Hall Live
Wigmore Hall also publishes recordings of concerts by prominent artists on its own record label Wigmore Hall Live, receiving the special award Label of the Year in the 2011 Gramophone Awards. The label entered the classical charts with a recital by the late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, which has also been nominated for a Gramophone Award. Recent additions to the catalogue include recitals by the violinist Maxim Vengerov of works by Bach and Beethoven and baritone Roderick Williams's concert of works by Mahler, Korngold and Schumann, accompanied by the German pianist Helmut Deutsch.
Wigmore Hall Learning
Since 1994, Wigmore Hall's renowned Learning programme has been giving people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities opportunities to take part in creative music making, engaging a broad and diverse audience through innovative creative projects, concerts, workshops and online resources.
The department is passionate about the impact music can have on our lives and on our society, with three core values lying at the heart of the programme: creativity, collaboration and equality. These values reflect the spirit of chamber music, and are embodied through quality, co-created music making, through which every voice is heard and equally valued. Wigmore Hall Learning collaborates with a range of community, education, arts, health and social care organisations, working in partnership to engage people who might not otherwise have the opportunity to take part.
The programme includes work with schools, including concerts, teacher training, projects with hospital schools and the innovative Partner Schools Programme, in which Wigmore Hall Learning works in partnership with schools and Music Education Hubs to co-produce activity over three years, creating a creative whole school plan for music.
Families are invited to Wigmore Hall to take part in inspiring, interactive workshops and concerts for families with babies, children in their early years and children aged 5+. Community partnerships include Music for Life, Wigmore Hall's extensive programme for people living with dementia and their families, friends and carers; projects with the Cardinal Hume Centre, which enable people to gain the skills they need to overcome poverty and homelessness; and activity with Solace Women’s Aid, which supports women and children who have experienced domestic violence.
Pathways is a range of schemes and events which provides a platform for emerging artists, supporting the next generation of musicians and music leaders. This includes annual Trainee Music Leaders, Royal Academy of Music / Wigmore Hall Fellowship Ensemble and RPS / Wigmore Hall Apprentice Composer schemes, as well as Bechstein Sessions, a new series of informal performances which showcase emerging talent.
Behind the Music is a programme of study events including talks, lecture-recitals, masterclasses, study groups and Come and Sing days.
Every year Wigmore Hall leads around 600 Learning events, with nearly 30,000 visits to the programme.
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