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Favourite Venues – Wigmore Hall, London

Melanie Spanswick

Triangle

On Wigmore Street in London, there stands a venue that has come to be known as one of the world’s premier concert halls for classical music and particularly chamber music. I became aware of this great place as a 16 year old whilst studying the piano at the Royal College of Music junior department. I immediately fell in love with its majestic style and the electric vibe felt before every performance. This place exudes a special ambience that I have not felt in any other classical music setting, and over the years I have been to quite a few of them throughout the world!

The Wigmore Hall was completed in 1901 and was originally known as Bechstein Hall, after  the renowned German piano makers, whose showroom was situated next door and who funded the build. The hall was designed by Thomas Edward Collcutt, who also designed the Savoy Hotel on the Strand.  It was primarily due to the German ownership of the Wigmore, that it was seized as enemy property during World War 1 and then sold off cheap at an auction at Debenhams! It was subsequently reopened in 1917 with its current title, The Wigmore Hall.

The hall’s interior follows the Renaissance style, using alabaster and marble walls to furnish the rectangular room with an elegant raised stage area complete with a beautiful domed painting high above the stage depicting the Soul of Music. The acoustics are often described as the best for classical music in Europe. I have sat so many times at the back of the some 540 seats marveling at my favourite singers and pianists (the hall is particularly renowned for its Lieder or Song recital series, a feature set up by the accompanist Graham Johnson). Great classical artists queue up to perform here. I have been lucky enough to hear many of them, including Sviatoslav Richter, Shura Cherkassky, Andras Schiff, Maxim Vengerov, and Vladimir Ashkenazy to name but a few. It is hard to describe the mixture of excitement and expectancy that often pervades the whole hall before the start of each performance. Some of my favourite recitals have frequently been preceded by a meal at the restaurant down in the basement underneath the hall. It is a popular place to meet up with friends either before or after concerts.

The hall was completely refurbished in 2004 and the current Artistic Director, John Gilhooly, a classical singer, took over in 2005. There are over 400 concerts held annually and every week BBC Radio 3 broadcasts at least one performance. Lectures, pre concert talks and educational events have been introduced over the years and the Wigmore Hall now even publishes on it’s own record label, Wigmore Hall Live recordings. I had always dreamed of performing in this illustrious setting and then in 2002 my wish came true. I made my first recording, Liebestraume, on the Wigmore stage playing the perfectly honed Steinway model D piano. I felt so honoured to be performing in this highly respected place. I spent two wonderful days in this inspiring setting. A memory that I will cherish forever.