There’s nothing for it – sometime in early September we shall simply have to climb up into the loft, retrieve the horribly socky sleeping bags and lug them along to the Wigmore in order to take up residence. After all, what’s the point of going home when within just three weeks we can hear Iestyn Davies, Alice Coote, Florian Boesch, Henk Neven, Mark Padmore, Anna Catarina Antonnaci, the Borodin Quartet, Jean-Guihen Queyras and Nelson Goerner?
The Wigmore’s 2015-16 season, announced yesterday in the hallowed hall itself, reflects an ever greater emphasis on not only world class performance but on making that available to as many people as possible. The crass word ‘elitist’ is bandied about whenever classical music is discussed, with much focus on ‘It’s not for the likes of us’ or ‘I just wish it were affordable.’ Well, here we have the Wigmore and its sponsors, making just that wish come true: for a fiver, anyone under 35 can get in to one of hundreds of concerts, and even if you are over that age, there are tickets for all at £15. Where else could you find such quality at such a price?
Not only ‘live’ but streamed performances will be available, with a major refurbishment planned to include provision to make the hall’s concerts accessible to anyone with an internet connection – a logical step onwards from the award-winning Wigmore Hall Live recording label. The Wigmore has long been known for its unstuffy, unpatronizing attitude to education and outreach, with a learning programme comprising 460 events and involving 20,000 visitors, so it’s not surprising that this new venture will add to its ability to ‘delight and instruct’ a wider public.
So what are the highlights, the ‘must be there’ events of 2015-16? Obviously, the ‘Schubert Project’ will be high on anyone’s list – in collaboration with Austria’s Schubertiade Festival, and planned with the involvement of the Oxford Lieder Festival, the Wigmore will present all of Schubert’s 600-plus songs performed by outstanding artists, and will enrich the experience with a diverse programme of Learning events including the intriguingly named ‘Lieder for the Terrified.’ Artists involved in this two-season endeavour will include Florian Boesch, Lucy Crowe, Ian Bostridge, Christopher Maltman, Simon Keenlyside and Angelika Kirchschlager.
Residencies include those of Christian Gerhaher, who will give five recitals, Jean-Guihen Queyras and The Sixteen: Sir Simon Rattle makes his Wigmore debut as an accompanist alongside his wife, Magdalena Kožená, Iestyn Davies opens the season alongside The English Concert, and a Purcell retrospective includes concerts by Davies and Andreas Scholl. There will be 40 commissions by composers such as Sally Beamish, Harrison Birtwistle, Peter Maxwell Davies and Thomas Larcher, and a ‘Friedrich Cerha Focus day’ explores the work of Austria’s leading contemporary composer.
The hall’s Early Music and Baroque series now extends to over 40 concerts each season, highlights of this one being not only the opening concert of the Sixteen’s Residency, featuring Monteverdi and Cavalli, but Stile Antico’s tenth anniversary concert and an evening with William Christie and Les Arts Florissants. At the other end of the historical spectrum, the equally extensive Contemporary Music Series embraces the Birmingham Contemporary Music group, Ensemble Intercontemporain and Apartment House.
Attendances at the hall have almost doubled from 120,000 a decade ago to 200,000 in 2014-15, and the vast majority of concerts have attracted close to full capacity audiences. If you have not been amongst them in the past, the new season gives the ideal opportunity to discover why this small space is regarded by those who perform there, and those who are already loyal audience members, as their musical home.