Thomas E Collcutt
- Original design
- Thomas E Collcutt, 1901
The 2018 programme is now past. We will be launching the 2019 programme mid-August.
Wigmore Hall was not originally named Wigmore Hall – it was launched on 31 May 1901 as Bechstein Hall, named for the great German piano maker Friedrich Wilhelm Carl Beckstein, whose London showroom was next door. The early roster of artists featured many of the most famous musicians of the day, including Enesco, Sarasate, and Artur Rubinstein. Composers Saint-Saëns and Percy Grainger appeared, and in 1906 Thomas Beecham conducted a series of small orchestral concerts. Bechstein Hall rapidly gained a reputation as a significant venue.
But the outbreak of war in 1914 changed everything, sealing the fate of many German companies including Bechstein, whose affairs were wound up in 1916 by order of the Board of Trade. The Hall was sold at auction that November and was resurrected on 16 January 1917, rechristened as Wigmore Hall. In these early years premieres of works by Bartók and Elgar were performed; Janácek attended a concert of his chamber works; Prokofiev and Hindemith both took part in concerts.
The third significant period in the Hall’s history began in May 1946 when the Arts Council took over the lease. The 40s and 50s saw a further stream of great artists – Francis Poulenc appeared with Pierre Bernac, Joan Sutherland and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf sang, and Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears performed together. It was a time, too, when many young unknown musicians gave debut recitals.
The long directorship of the Australian William Lyne (CBE AM) began in 1966 and lasted until his retirement in 2003. He introduced themed concerts based around specific composers and the popular Sunday morning coffee concerts. The Lyne years brought new and distinguished artists from all over the world – Sir András Schiff, Steven Isserlis, Graham Johnson, Felicity Lott, Geoffrey Parsons, Matthias Goerne, Cecilia Bartoli and the Borodin, Takács, and Kampa Quartets.
The current Director, John Gilhooly, was appointed in 2005 and has taken the Hall to its present secure position by overseeing the purchase of a long-term lease. John Gilhooly has introduced many new initiatives, including a contemporary and jazz concert series, and a highly successful label (Wigmore Hall Live) which releases recordings worldwide. Widely respected for his imaginative, challenging programming, John Gilhooly has seen box office takings break all records, and the number of people becoming Friends of Wigmore Hall also reach record levels. In 2004 he oversaw an extensive refurbishment programme for the Hall. This involved installing new lighting and air conditioning, putting in place a re-designed restaurant, and improving facilities for recording and broadcasting (thus increasing the importance of the link with the BBC). As always, funding to support this major project was generously donated by the Hall’s famously loyal supporters, donors, Friends, and audience members.
John Gilhooly has further promoted and encouraged outstanding new talents, including Alice Coote, Mark Padmore, Soile Isokoski, Christopher Maltman, Joyce DiDonato, Gerald Finley, Simon Keenlyside, Iestyn Davies, Paul Lewis, Till Fellner, Alina Ibragimova, Alison Balsom, and Angela Hewitt. Any talented artist performing in the fields of song, piano, chamber and early music aspires to perform on the Wigmore Hall platform – and most of them do!
Wigmore Hall also has a vibrant and thriving Learning Department, who work creatively with people of all ages – ranging from concerts for babies to its extensive work with people living with dementia. In 2018, the Hall launched its first Learning Festival; Seven Ages, celebrating the work in and out of the Hall.
The architect for Wigmore Hall, with its renowned acoustic, was Thomas Edward Collcutt, FRIBA (1840-1924). During the 1870s Collcutt gained international recognition for his aesthetic furniture designs, examples of which can be seen in the V&A. He also won several major competitions and rose to become one of the most distinguished architects of his day. His work included collaboration with the impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte which led to the building of the New English Opera House at Cambridge Circus and improvements at the Savoy Hotel. Collcutt also had a long relationship with P&O for whom he designed the public rooms on more than a dozen liners. The two principal monuments to Collcutt in London are the sumptuous home of Lloyd’s Register in the City and the Wigmore Hall.
The arts and crafts cupola over the platform was designed by Professor Gerald Edward Moira (1867-1959), who often worked with Collcutt; he painted the splendid ceiling of the Lloyd’s Register Committee Room and also produced classical scenes for the decorated public rooms of great ocean liners. His smallest work was the dining-room ceiling for the Queen’s Dolls House at Windsor Castle. The execution of the allegorical painting within the cupola was by F. Lynn Jenkins. The painting symbolises ‘the striving of Humanity after the great voice of Nature’ and mankind’s struggle to catch an echo of the music of the gods. The central figure represents the Soul of Music, who stands holding the Genius of Harmony – a ball of eternal fire whose rays are reflected across the world.
A tangled network of thorns separates this portion of the picture from the other figures, suggesting that man in this life is too clogged with materialism to approach the spiritual perfection which is music. To the left, a musician plays in a blissful trance; urging him on is the figure of Love, with roses in her hand. On the right, a composer is seated writing his music on a scroll, encouraged by Psyche, who represents the eternal striving of the human soul. The background of the painting is a deep blue sky with silver-grey clouds of divine mystery floating overhead. Above the exits on either side of the stage singers chant notes caught from the divine source of harmony.
Other outstanding architectural features include the Hall’s mahogany panelling from Spain, the marble pillars, the Sicilian marble stairway in the foyer with its alabaster handrail, and two of the original lamps above the exit doors beside the platform.