Wigmore Hall Reopening

Written by: Colin Anderson

On 9 October, the Wigmore Hall plays once more following a facelift

Probably we haven’t noticed that Wigmore Hall has been closed; after all, the place always takes a summer break. But behind the scenes! Just as we’re getting into the swing of a new season, Wigmore Hall is about to re-open – after a substantial refurbishment. Last week I met with Paul Kildea, Artistic Director, and John Gilhooly, Executive Director.

John’s worked on the refurbishment “for the last three years. Paul leads artistic matters, and I lead on everything else. What we’ve done is an entire refurbishment; there was no point in doing one thing now and finishing it in five years time. The new seats are an exact replica of those that have been here for the last forty years. The originals were a job lot for a cinema; there was no acoustic test, but they were perfect. We’ve been through various tests now with people like Tom Allen, the Jerusalem Quartet and Malcolm Martineau; we did think of raising the seats at the back but that would have had a negative effect on the acoustic.”

John points to above the platform. “This is the pride and joy of the refurbishment, an original stencil from the 1901 Bechstein Hall; it’s in what I call Wigmore Red and Sovereign Gold and its been missing from the Hall since 1916.” A mellower colour scheme now informs the Hall and the basement restaurant area looks really inviting. Do take a look at the ceiling – “the air cooling has been the most complicated part of the project; the roof had to come off.”

It certainly seems that the Hall’s wonderful tradition has been preserved and, indeed, enhanced; the past and the future very happily entwined. “It’s cost three million to do all this. We got £50,000 from Heritage Lottery; everything else came from the Hall’s Friends, and from foundations and individuals. We’re on time and within budget. We want to make a statement about the Hall in terms of our place as the national concert hall for chamber music and song – how much does an institution have to do on its own before the public funders recognise its value? Ninety percent of our annual revenue comes from ticket sales and fund-raising.”

The Wigmore’s administration offices are now separately located behind the Hall, and the freeing of this space now affords room for seminars, education projects and “even a small recital area.” John takes me out the back door to see Paul Kildea, at No.21. Paul took over from the legendary William Lyne in May last year. “William was a great innovator and strategist. He got a fantastic balance. I’m very conscious of the preservation of this incredible repertory, which William felt so passionately about. Helping to grow new performers and audiences is something that Wigmore does naturally and that’s a huge part of my responsibility.”

On 9 October, Wigmore Hall opens with a new work and Schoenberg’s arrangement of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde; Paul will conduct and Ann Murray sings in both pieces. Oscar Strasnoy’s Six Songs from an Unquiet Traveller has been commissioned by Wigmore Hall for Murray. “I asked Oscar to write this. He’s French-Argentinean and writes so well for instruments and voice. He has a great sense of parody and there’s also the suggestion of a tango! The last of the songs is a tribute to Handel; it’s an exciting and accessible cycle.”

Paul expounds on his artistic philosophy for Wigmore Hall. “Innovations include a jazz series and it’s good to see younger audiences coming to hear young performers, the great rising stars. I’m programming more contemporary music than William did; Wigmore should be a commissioner of new music and be about contemporary music as much as the fantastic repertoire we’re famous for. We have the greatest number of new artists in any one season and are using favourite artists in different ways. Like the Hall itself, the programming looks the same but it is very different.”

  • Wigmore Hall
  • The above article was published in “What’s On in London” on 6 October 2004 and is reproduced here with permission

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