The Wigmore Hall is a concert hall located at 36 Wigmore Street, London. Originally called Bechstein Hall, it specialises in performances of chamber music and song. With near-perfect acoustics, the hall quickly became celebrated across Europe and featured many of the great artistes of the 20th century. Today, the hall promotes 400 concerts a year and broadcasts a weekly concert on BBC Radio 3. The hall also promotes an extensive education programme throughout London and beyond.
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 hall.
The "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, 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.'
Wigmore Hall enjoyed a number of long associations with the 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 premiered at the hall, as were extracts from the opera Peter Grimes (ahead of its world premiere 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.
Since its inception, the hall has been a major hub for Lieder and art song performance. The British premiere 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.
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, the Nash Ensemble, The King's Consort, the Beaux Arts and Florestan Trios and the Artemis, Aviv, Belcea, Emerson, Endellion, Hagen, Jerusalem, Takács and Zehetmair Quartets.
The following chamber works had their UK premieres 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.
The Wigmore Hall's current director is Limerick-born John Gilhooly, OBE, a classical singer. He joined the 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 George Benjamin, Huw Watkins, Thomas Larcher, Elliott Carter, Brett Dean, Kevin Volans, James MacMillan and Jörg Widmann.
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 premiering 13 new works per season.
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 International String Quartet Competition (formerly The London International String Quartet Competition and initially the Portsmouth International String Quartet Competition) since July 2010.
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 Skampa 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 as Sky Arts TV as well as being released by recording companies.
The Wigmore Hall also publishes on its own record label Wigmore Hall Live recordings of concerts by prominent artists, 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 offers an extensive education or 'Learning' programme to aid access to its core repertoire through creative programmes, online resources and events. Among the programmes currently on offer are family concerts and workshops, concerts for new parents and their babies, workshops for 2-5-year olds, half-term courses for young people, study events and talks and masterclasses, involving artists who are performing at the hall.
During the 2011/12 Season 16,463 people were involved in 448 learning events, which took place in 52 different settings, including schools, nurseries and care settings. Among those, 167 schools and 3426 pupils participated in Wigmore Hall Learning activities.