Once stuck in a time warp, the Wigmore Hall is now resurgent and will celebrate its 110th anniversary with an impressive line-upby Martin Kettle / March 23, 2011 / Leave a comment
Maestro: Daniel Barenboim, who first played at the Wigmore Hall aged 15, returns in June
I can remember a time, 20 or 30 years ago, when going to a concert at London’s Wigmore Hall felt like a trip into a musical world that had been left behind. Founded in 1901 to show off the virtues of Bechstein pianos, it was a key venue for debut recitals by up-and-coming soloists and the focus of the introverted world of London chamber music and song. But the hall, though loved by some aficionados, seemed caught in a time warp. Its audience was mostly mature, its performers niche, and even headline events struggled to cause a stir beyond the chamber music scene.
Today, it is hard to overstate the transformation. This year, to mark its 110th anniversary, the Wigmore has an unprecedented season of strength and richness, highlighted by Daniel Barenboim—who first played here at the age of 15—returning in June to give a Schubert recital. That month also brings Paul Lewis in Schubert, Stephen Hough in Liszt, and Joanna MacGregor in Bach and Shostakovich. Vocal recitals include Ian Bostridge and Mitsuko Uchida in Schubert’s Winterreise and Susan Graham and Malcolm Martineau in early 20th-century French repertoire. The chamber concerts range from the English Concert in Corelli to the JACK quartet in Ligeti, Cage and Xenakis, via a much-anticipated concert in May of medieval Christian, Sephardic and Turkish music played by the Catalan legend Jordi Savall.
Next season’s programme, not yet officially announced, promises similar riches. Jonas Kaufmann, a tenor who could easily sell out a hall four times the size of the Wigmore, will give a Lieder recital. There will be a hall debut from the French soprano Natalie Dessay and a Shostakovich quartet cycle from the Pacifica Quartet, with the veteran Menahem Pressler, 88 this year, joining them for the composer’s piano quintet. John Gilhooly, Wigmore’s director, is also hot on the trail of what, for any London concert hall, would be the ultimate prize: a solo piano recital by the Argentine pianist Martha Argerich, something this country has not heard for years.
This embarrassment of riches is a fitting celebration of Wigmore’s prolonged success over the last decade. With the hall refurbished and the public areas downstairs extended, the finances put right and the lease secured, programming has generated a 50 per cent increase in ticket sales over the past five…