A beloved London concert hall becomes 120 years old as it becomes bold

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London – “Welcome!” Wigmore Hall general director John Gilhooly said standing in front of the small circular stage of the auditorium. The audience played applause wildly to the crowd of chamber music fans.

It was May 23, and the first Sunday morning concert since the epidemic closed the hall last March. The 47-year-old Gilhooly said, “I like to pick something special for each performance. The Elgar quintet you will hear today was premiered in this hall on May 21, 1919, when the country came out of another major crisis. Had been.”

Wigmore is emerging from its most recent crisis. As an early adoption of livestreamed concerts at the onset of the epidemic, it won large dividends of good will and public donations. While many smaller display venues in Britain are reopening after six months of forced closure, Wigmore Hall is confidently ready To celebrate its 120th anniversary With an ambitious schedule starting on Sunday.

The hall has occupied a special place in the hearts of music lovers since 1901, when it was opened as a singing hall by German piano producer Bechstein, with a showroom next to it. The discreet wooden doors beneath the Art Nouveau canopy, which lead into the 540-seat hall, with its red plush seats, marble, gilt and dark wood panels, are a portal to another era.

Possibly the most important chamber-music venue in Britain, Wigmore has a highly loyal London audience who filled the hall for more than 500 concerts held before last March.

But even the most liked British concert halls and theaters have been in crisis since the onset of the epidemic, with revenues down to zero, costs still to be met and concerns about the future Is moving high. Live shows for short audiences opened for a short time in the fall, only to close again in early December. The venue remained closed until May 17, when they were allowed to open with limited capacity.

If everything goes according to plan – and concern is given about it New Coronavirus variants roaming in Britain, This may not happen – after June 21, entire houses will be built, According to Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Yet most of the halls will not open at full capacity.

“It’s been a longer and more intense struggle than any of us anticipated,” said Gillian Moore, director of music at the Southbank Center, London’s performing arts complex. “Economics is really challenging, but we can’t immediately reach a full audience, because we need to see how everything will work logically.”

Gilhooly, who was born in Limerick, Ireland, and trained as a singer there, became executive director of Wigmore Hall at the age of 27 and then its general director five years later. And while he may not make the impression of a risk taker, during the epidemic he has been decisive about bringing musicians to the hall – many of them well-known, but few are known – and are daring in their programming.

Since last June, Wigmore Hall has presented free daily concerts from the empty hall, livestreamed by the BBC. Over the past year, Wigmore has streamed 250 shows by 400 artists through openings and lock downs, including prominent London-based artists such as Mitsuko Uchida. Istin davis And Stephen Hof. Music festivals were appreciated by classical music enthusiasts as a ray of light in a gloomy time.

“People wrote to me from all over the world,” said Huff, whose inaugural rendition on June 1 garnered nearly 800,000 live views. “The return of live music was a symbol, like Myra Hayes giving concert at National Gallery During the Second World War. “

Wigmore was able to move out of the starting blocks the fastest since Gilhooly and his board invested in sophisticated cameras and recording equipment in 2015, when they began broadcasting a concert every month. It was a quietly progressive move for an organization that airs a steady tradition, and last year’s decision to broadcast free concerts even more.

Wigmore receives a subsidy of £ 300,000 from the British state, but raises most of its own £ 4 million – around £ 11 million. It derives more than half its income from the box office (when there is no epidemic), and most of the rest is from fundraising.

“Wigmore has been a prolific leader in terms of online activity,” said Kevin Appleby, concert hall manager of the 350-seater Turner Sims in Southhampton, England. “But how you monetize it is an unavoidable question.”

“Do you have an online model? A hybrid model?” Applebee added. “Would the audience share, especially older people, not return if they could watch it at home?”

Gilhooly said that even though the livestreams were free to watch concerts, they brought money and attention to the hall. Gilhooly said that it has been viewed almost seven million times online from around the world, and has made a grateful contribution: “a million pounds in £ 20 increments, and a much larger amount from individuals and foundations.” Wigmore Hall’s paid membership has grown from 10,000 to 15,000, and now has 400,000 people on its mailing list.

This development was not hampered, Gilhooly said, by more adventurous programming, including the work of little-known Black American composer Julius Eastman and concerts by contemporary music groups. Hermes experiment And Riot wear. “I lost my fear about people objecting to more experimental shows, because I didn’t have direct contact with the audience,” he said, adding that regular customers, whom he considered musically conservative, often took those concerts. Used to like

To mark the upcoming anniversary of the hall, Gilhooly recently announced the appointment of Nine new collaboratorsIncluding sarod maestro, viola maestro, saxophonist and sarod maestro, an Indian stringed instrument. He also outlined plans for this A series of concerts focused on African music.

Soprano Gwyneth Ann Rand, one of the new collaborators, said, “He is introducing audiences to the new music world, which takes wisdom, courage and vision.”

Yet none of these innovations and breakthroughs will save Wigmore Hall from uncertainty about the future of the performing arts in Britain after the epidemic. As Angela Dixon, the chief executive of Saffron Hall, a 740-seater concert space in southern England, said, “You spend money to be open.” The rules of social distancing mean that Saffron Hall can sell only a fraction of its seats.

“When you depend on people buying tickets for half of your annual expenses, you can’t afford people to forget about you,” she said.

Gilhooly said that her main audience was mostly vaccinated and returning to the in-person concert. (Due to social distancing, demand now exceeds availability, and tickets are being allocated by ballot). But he agreed that if the June 21 inauguration was further extended, classical music in Britain would be in trouble. “The industry is already suffering a lot,” he said, “especially for freelancers who fell between the cracks.”

For the start of Wigmore Hall’s 2021-22 season in September, Gilhooly said he had “A, B, C and D scenarios.”

“The best case going forward,” he said, “is that we open on September 1 with full houses and really ambitious generous weather. Our stage is a small place, but a place where I can grow up. I can dream thoughts. “



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