Wednesday 11 February 2015

More than just a concert hall - Wigmore Hall goes global

Christian Gerhaher at the Wigmore Hall - photo credit Simon Jay Price
Christian Gerhaher at the Wigmore Hall - photo credit Simon Jay Price
If I mention the Wigmore Hall what image springs to mind? Sedate middle aged people listening to a Beethoven string quartet? How about a horde of school children learning about classical music or participating in a performance, or jazz or world music? Yesterday (10/2/2015) the hall had an event to launch their 2015/16 season and it became apparent that the organisation has developed in surprising ways. Chamber music, and recitals are still central to what they do and they will be presenting 920 events (460 concerts plus 460 learning events) next season which involved such goodies as the beginning of a two year survey of all of Schubert's songs (!), the continuation of a survey of Purcell's output and a series on Bartok's chamber music. But having refurbished the hall and front of house over 10 years ago, there are now plans to refurbish the backstage areas and make the backstage and rehearsal facilities fit for the 21st century. The hall's website has just been re-launched and it is now possible to buy downloads of their extensive CD catalogue (all taken from live recordings at the hall), and they will be moving into live streaming of concerts so that wherever you are in the world you can see a concert at the Wigmore Hall. Ticket prices are being revised and all concerts will have tickets under £15 available, and under 35's will be able to buy subsidised £5 tickets.

John Gilhooly - credit Keith Saunders
John Gilhooly - credit Keith Saunders
Of course, all this would not work without a strong artistic programme. Listening to artistic director John Gilhooley talking at the launch it was clear that he feels very strongly about the role of the arts as being central, and that the Wigmore Hall's core programme is thus the essence of what it does. 2015/16 will see the start of a 2 year project to perform all of Schubert's 600 songs (in fact some are being repeated, so there will be 900 songs) with a strong line-up of soloists including Ian Bostridge, Simon Keenlyside and Angelika Kirchschlager.

Henry Purcell: A Retrospective continues in 2015/16 with a complete performance of Dido and Aeneas with Trevor Pinnock and concerts from Vox Luminis, The Sixteen and Harry Christophers, and an evening featuring the combination of countertenors Iestyn Davies and Andreas Scholl.

Residencies next season include a five concert series celebrating mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kozena including a concert where she is accompanied by her husband, Simon Rattle, and another with music from the 1920s and 1930s to be given at Wilton’s Music Hall (Gilhooley commented that there was no way the audience could dance at the Wigmore Hall, so they had to promote the concert elsewhere; the first time they have ever done so). French cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras is Artist in Residence and there is a residency from baritone Christian Gerhaher. Other delights include a Shostakovich and Beethoven cycle from the Borodin Quartet, the continuation of Llŷr Williams’s Beethoven Piano Sonata Cycle, Martha Argerich joins Stephen Kovacevich in celebration of his 75th birthday and the conclusion of The Mozart Odyssey, with Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien rounding off their survey of Mozart’s works for violin and piano, and Francesco Piemontesi beginning his cycle of the complete piano sonatas.

Simon Rattle & Magdalena Kozena - photo credit CEMA Jiri Slama
Simon Rattle & Magdalena Kozena
photo credit CEMA Jiri Slama
New music plays a large role too, with over 40 premières of Wigmore Hall commissions from composers such as Sally Beamish, Harrison Birtwistle, Peter Maxwell Davies, Pascal Dusapin, Thomas Larcher, and Nico Muhly. There is a day-long celebration of Friedrich Cerha in advance of his 90th birthday with performers including Ensemble Modern and HK Gruber.

And just as exciting is the hall's early music programme. Next season, besides encompassing Purcell and Mozart, will see a residency from The Sixteen and Harry Christophers, an all-Mozart recital from pianist Robert Levin, Stile Antico’s tenth anniversary concert and a welcome return by Les Arts Florissants and William Christie.

But is isn't just soloists who get the limelight. The hall is also concerned to develop the new generation of accompanists and the series Introducing James Baillieu is a season of concerts featuring this outstanding young pianist performing with artists such as Henk Neven, Iestyn Davies, Allan Clayton and Ailish Tynan.

And the figures for their outreach programme, Wigmore Hall Learning, make impressive (and heartening) reading. 10,000 young people took part in Wigmore Hall activities in 2013/14; in fact when we arrive for the season launch the foyer us full of buggies as one of their Chamber Tots events was taking place). As part of the 2015/16 Schubert series there will not only be pre-concert talks and study days, but a lovely event called Lieder for the terrified which seems to be just what we need. Outreach covers not only schools (8 schools concerts in 2014/15) and events for pre-school children (46 events for 0-5 year olds), but work with the excluded at the Cardinal Hume Centre as well as work with those with dementia and their carers, with the Music for Life programme bringing together professional musicians, care staff and people living with dementia.

The 2015/16 season opens with a concert from counter-tenor Iestyn Davies and from then on, the goodies are simply too many to enumerate. You can look at the whole season from later today on the new Wigmore Hall website.
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