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Wigmore Hall
Wigmore Hall  Description
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Description

Wigmore Hall: 1901 to present day It was on 31 May and 1 June, 1901, exactly seventy-five years after the birth of the famous German piano manufacturer, Friedrich Wilhelm Carl Bechstein, that sounds of music first reached London from a brand new concert hall in Wigmore Street adjoining his show-rooms and carrying his name. Even more than Berlin, where another Bechstein Hall had been built some nine years before, London needed a venue intimate enough for solo recitals and chamber music- Queen’s Hall, opened in 1893, and the older St James’ Hall were both too big. Artists such as Gustave Garcia, Blanche Marchesi, Carl Flesch, Godowsky, Carreńo (always appearing ‘by special request’), Lamond and Sybil Thorndike, as a pianist of nineteen playing Chopin and Liszt, were soon visiting the Hall. 1904’s celebrities included Enesco, Sarasate and Eugen d’Albert. But its outstanding event was undoubtedly the arrival of Artur Schnabel, almost twenty-two, just a few days after his English début at Queen’s Hall in Brahms’ B flat concerto. The recital was successful enough for a second to be hastily announced a month later – in those days the hall was available every weekday afternoon as well as in the evening with prices ranging from a humble 2/- balcony seat to the luxury of a 7/6 ‘sofa stall’. 1905 brought Victor Maurel and Joachim and his famous quartet, besides such composers as Cyril Scott, Percy Grainger, and most notably, Saint-Saëns. 1906 stands out in red letters, for in that year a twenty-seven-year-old Mr Thomas Beecham, who had not conducted publicly in London before, ‘ begged to announce’ (a favourite formula of the time) a series of small-orchestral concerts featuring a host of unjustly neglected eighteenth-century composers, alongside Mozart and Haydn. Melba and Caruso also appeared in 1906. In is interesting to find tat as early as 1908 a French group, including two members of the Casadesus family, was offering music written before Mozart on authentic old instruments. Artur Rubinstein, just twenty-five, arrive to give two solo piano recitals early in May 1912, immediately after his first appearance in this country as sonata partner for Casals at Queen’s Hall. Some critics found him too exuberant, but the general response was favourable enough for this agent, N. Vert, to announce an extra pair of recitals within the month. Destinn attended his May début, likewise Thibaud, who was impressed enough to invite Rubinstein to partner him in two sonata recitals on this same platform almost at once. By 1913, the year of Rubenstein’s second visit, the hall had acquired a legendary lure. Visiting quartets included the Flonzaley, Rosé, St Petersburg, Klingler, Sevcík, Henkel, Geloso and Brussels as well as the English String Quartet and the London String Quartet, the last led by the brilliant young Albert Sammons. Home-grown artists like Jan and Boris Hambourg, May and Beatrice Harrison and Isolde Menges were beginning to emerge from all the solo strings, while Myra Hess and Irene Scharrer were holding their own amidst the ceaseless foreign keyboard invasion. Though in the vocal sphere 1913 was saddened by Sir George Henschel’s two ‘farewells’, there were compensatory delights from Maggie Teyte and Elena Gerhardt, the last lady once more, as often before on this platform, partnered by Nikisch. With the outbreak of the 1914-18 war, the tide had turned against a German firm. After two years of survival under a receiver and manager appointed by law, Bechstein’s affairs were officially wound up in 1916 by order of the Board of Trade. At an auction that November, the entire business, including showrooms, studios, offices, warehouses, furniture, sub-lettings, piano tuning contracts ad some 137 pianofortes as well as the Bechstein Hall itself were sold. As the newly christened Wigmore Hall, the building opened its doors anew on January 16, 1917, for a programme of Beethoven’s violin and piano sonatas played by Albert Sammons and Vassily Safonoff. In this first year of the new chapter, nothing stands out more than the ‘farewell recital’ given on June 5 by the pianist Solomon, then a veteran of almost fifteen. Acting on the advice of friends, as the handbill put it, he was interrupting his ‘exceptionally brilliant public career to retire from the concert platform for a considerable time in order to devote himself to study and the acquisition of a still more extensive repertoire, undisturbed by the excitement and fatigue of constant public performance. His return to the same platform came on October 1, 1921, and it is interesting to find that he was sufficiently esteemed, albeit not yet twenty-one, to be one of five artists invited to play in the first series of recitals presented by the newly instituted Pianoforte Society - his fellows were Bauer (then forty-nine), Cortot (forty-five), Sapellnikov (fifty-four) and Siloti (fifty-none). For many concert goers, this long-running series was one of the highlights of the new era. Hofmann was among its exciting early visitors. During the 1930-31 series Londoners not only heard Rubinstein, Backhaus, Borovsky, Fischer and Gieseking, but also, on January 17, 1931 at 3 o’clock, Prokofiev. On May 6, 1926 Janácek attended a concert which included most of his chamber works to date. The inter-war years brought many other distinguished musicians, too numerous to chronicle here, but including the Busch Quartet, Rudolf Serkin, Claudio Arrau, Lotte Lehmann, the Pro Arte Quartet, the Amar Quartet with Paul Hindemith playing viola, Campoli, Dohnányi, Moiseiwitsch, Casals, Segovia, Schnabel, Piatigorsky, Jelly d’Arányi, Adila Fachiri, Tovey, Suggia, Conchita Superia, Elisabeth Schumann, Maggie Teyte and Elena Gerhardt. First performances during these years included Bartók’s Third Quartet, played by the Hungarian Quartet, and Elgar’s String Quartet and Piano Quintet. In case no-one would believe he was not quite seventeen, Campoli’s birth certificate was on display in the vestibule for his début on May 18, 1923. Ethel Smythe, for a visit in 1928, was pictured on her handbill in trilby hat, her dog beside her, looking the spit image of Wagner. Mr Brickell was manager of the Hall from 1932 until 1966, in succession to Mr Pearson (husband of the mezzo soprano Kirkby Lunn, a famous Delilah, Amneris and Ortrud). Many artists remember the re-assuring words often given by Mr Lake, artists’ personal assistant and official page-turner from 1903 util the sixties. A typical Mr Lake comment to a débutante: ‘Never mind my dear, Busoni made the same mistake’. Elly Ameling remembers how heartened she was at her London début recital to be told that she reminded him of Elisabeth Schumann. And so to chapter three, opened on May 1, 1946, when the Arts Council stepped in to lease the Hall. The forties and fifties saw appearances by Dini Lipatti, his first and only recital, Edwin Fischer, Pierre Fournier, Clara Haskil, Oda Slobodskaya, Clifford Curzon, Hans Hotter, Tortelier, Souzay, Maggie Teyte, the Amadeus Quartet, Irmgard Seefried, Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten (including several first performances), Schwarzkopf, Kathleen Ferrier, the Griller Quartet, Pierre Bernac and Francis Poulenc, André Navarra, Kathleen Long, Elisabeth Schumann, Cherkassky, Julius Isserlis, Victoria de los Angeles, Boris Christoff, Julius Katchen, Horszowski, Wilhelm Kempff, Julian Bream, Dennis Brain, Joan Sutherland, Alicia de Larrocha, Nan Merriman, Rosalyn Tureck, Lili Kraus, Noel Mewton-Wood, Stephen Bishop, Jennie Tourel, Christa Ludwig, and two memorable series of masterclasses by Lotte Lehmann in the nineteen-fifties. The Beaux Arts Trio made their first London appearance with two concerts in January 1961 and Horszowski gave a four-concert Mozart series in the same year. 1951 brought two Jubilee Concerts with artists including the Amadeus Quartet, Jelly d’Arányi, Astra Desmond and Gerald Moore. In 1976 the Hall presented a series of seventy-fifth anniversary concerts, the first of which, on 31 May, was given by Artur Rubinstein. At the end of this recital he announced that it was his last, tanked the audience for their support I the past, and asked them to ‘keep coming back to the wonderful hall. Other artists in the seven gala concerts included Elisabeth Schwarzkopf with Geoffrey Parsons, and Peter Pears with Murray Perahia and Julian Bream. Subsequent festival events have included the HM Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Series in 1977, the 1978 Summer Festival, the Lindsay Quartet Haydn Festival in 1987, a Schumann Festival under the artistic directorship of Steven Isserlis in 1989, two festivals arranged by András Schiff; the Haydn Festival in 1988 and the Beethoven-Bartók Festival in 1990, and the Mozart Bicentenary Festival directed by György Pauk in January 1991. Increasingly the Hall has opened its doors, as in former days, to artists already internationally established. Audiences in their turn have multiplied not just to hear this or that renowned singer, pianist or chamber ensemble in regular series, but equally to explore specific composers or periods of depth. The Fauré Series of 1979/80 was an outstanding landmark; in the course of twenty-two concerts all Fauré’s chamber works and instrumental sonatas, as well as a substantial selection of his piano music and songs, were performed. Subsequent series have been devoted to Britten, Mendelssohn, Janácek Brahms, Schubert, Dvorák, Grieg, British Music, Russian Music, French Music, Haydn at Eszterháza, late Romantics, etc. Recent years have also seen series which have featured string quartets and chamber ensembles from around the world, the greatest Lieder singers and the revival of the London Pianoforte Series. Many artists who gave their first London recitals in the sixties and seventies, such as the Beaux Arts Trio, Alfred Brendel and András Schiff, can now be heard in the international series. We continue to seek out the best of the new talents and musicians to appear in series, together with the more established international artists.

In September 1987 the management of Wigmore Hall was placed in the hands of the City of Westminster, with a grant from the Arts Council. Between 1991 and 1992 the Hall was closed for refurbishment, re-opening with a new restaurant that is open to the general public as well as Wigmore Hall clientele. In 1993 Westminster City Council handed over independent status to Wigmore Hall, which became a private company with charitable status.

Since then the Hall's close relationships with international artists have been strengthened even further, with artists such as Olaf Bar, Joshua Bell, Barbara Bonney, Cecilia Bartoli, Victoria de los Angeles, Brigitte Fassbaender, Steven Isserlis, Sergei Leiferkus, Anne Sofie von Otter, Takács Quartet and András Schiff making return appearances. Top new young artists whose careers have been launched and developed by Wigmore Hall include Ian Bostridge, Matthias Goerne, Wolfgang Holzmair and the Skampa Quartet of Prague. Additionally the Hall has launched an extremely successful series of concerts with international jazz musicians.

Since 1966 appearances at the Wigmore Hall by all these performers, new and established, have been arranged by the Hall's Director, William Lyne, whose artistic achievements were recognised in a special award given by the Evening Standard in 1997. He is now preparing a Gala season for the year 2001, which will mark Wigmore Hall's centenary'.  

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