Why is the Wigmore Hall the UK’s only live provider?

Why is the Wigmore Hall the UK’s only live provider?


norman lebrecht

June 11, 2020

In this week’s Spectator, Richard Bratby reviews ‘The musical event of the year’ – the Wigmore Hall lunchtime recitals that are played to an empty house and broadcast live on the BBC. It’s the only live music heard in this country for almost three months.

As Richard says: ‘Listeners were in tears. Comparisons with Myra Hess’s wartime concerts at the National Gallery did not seem absurd.’

But why was it only John Gilhooly’s initiative at the Wigmore Hall? Where were the state supported South Bank and the banks-supported Barbican? Was it beyond the wit of their idle staff to devise a Covid-era broadcast series?

And what about Classic FM and Scala Radio – why weren’t they relaying live music instead of exhorting listeners to relax and buy something?

And what of all those so-called entrepreneurial agencies and manager who keep lecturing the world on how to run music as a business?

Let’s not mince words: this has been an organisational falure on a massive scale for the whole of the classical music establishment.

Amid the siren cries for Government bailouts, let’s make sure that it’s the sustainable ones that get rescued.





  • Mercurius Londiniensis says:

    “This has been an organisational failure on a massive scale”.

    I fully agree. The Berlin Philharmonic has been playing (albeit in a reduced formation and without an audience) since 1st May. The Vienna Philharmonic gave its first public concert (albeit to a small audience) last Friday. This website carried a link to a live Beethoven VII from the Concertgebouw. Yet the BBC tells us that it will not be able to broadcast a live Prom until the end of August at the earliest: until then, we shall have to make do with repeats of concerts from previous seasons. It is truly pitiful. The old jokes about England being das Land ohne Musik are now uncomfortably close to the bone.

    • Will says:

      Do you suggest orchestras ask their musicians to perform in contravention of government advice? Even now, with lockdown easing, the guidelines, particularly around woodwind and brass, prevent orchestras from meeting and playing.

      • Mercurius Londiniensis says:

        Not at all. I read a report the other day of 23 string players rehearsing Strauss’s Metamorphosen in full compliance with current government guidelines, guidelines which are in any case likely to have been relaxed by the scheduled start of the Proms season. Of course, the planners don’t know what the rules will then be, so improvisation would be called for. But it was a poor show on the BBC’s part to rule out in May any live Proms before the end of August.

    • Maria says:

      Remember physical distancing is 2 metres here in Britain and Ireland, and only 1 metre in some other parts of the EU. Makes a big difference to getting anything off the ground here and complying.

  • Ron Swanson says:

    With the exception of the Royal Albert Hall, the other venues don’t have the broadcast quality coms links. You can use the Internet but you are limited to the upload bandwidth. Unless you are playing for broadcast quality even on high upload speeds you can large variations in quality of service due to contention issues.

    • Lausitzer says:

      Reminds me of the last already-in-lockdown and broadcast-only performances of Staatsoper Berlin in March: Someone accidentally put out a LiveU slide…

      Cellular bonding technology has quickly evolved, so broadcast circuits should not be an issue anymore.

  • Derek says:

    It appears that all of the organisations have been following the government’s guidance on opening or operating.

    That has been the policy and position for most sectors throughout, so far (even though some government officials and advisers have not been so compliant).

  • If you look at the programmes for the Wigmore Hall recitals you will see that they are performed by a maximum of TWO artists on the platform. That’s why!

    Social distancing rules (however confused and illogical they are becoming), questions about the transmission of the virus through choral singing and orchestral playing (woodwind, brass etc), none of which has inspired much confidence, make it very difficult for all the Halls to comply. There is no ticket income generated from the Wigmore recitals either, except in the form of voluntary donations that might or might not be forthcoming as a result of the series. Bearing in mind that the Creative Industries as a whole generate over £100 billion per annum for the country (although possibly not this year!), an amount that could more than help towards funding the NHS for example, any funding Government awards us is in fact an investment from which they receive a very handsome return. That’s why it is important for us to argue economically and not sentimentally with Government in order to lever some ‘holding funding’ until we can get back to work properly…and that won’t be completely safe until a proven vaccine is forthcoming.

    • Update: I have just received word about some online concerts from Glasgow and ROH being broadcast by BBC.

    • Ron Swanson says:

      Love Island, Briton got Talent and Mamma Mia make money. Classical music requires government funding to survive. If you make an economic argument, Classical music ends.

      • Read what I have written in my comment again. Making the economic argument is just what we have to do. We are a success story for the country and it is time we said that loud and clear. We generate income but, like any business, we need some investment to achieve that.

  • The UK concert world is not totally silent, though many bravi to Wigmore Hall and BBC R3 for setting the audio ball rolling (and to the generous sponsor whose funds have apparently enabled the performers there to be paid).

    Broadcast in beautiful video and audio last week from Alpheton New Maltings (enabling a planned performance for the Tilford Bach Festival to take place) was a concert captured using 8 remote-controlled video cameras plus hi-fi quality sound (all operated by one engineer). The three performers were socially distanced, the engineer was in a separate control room, and this state-of-the-art building met all the necessary “distance” controls.

    The results were beautiful, and certainly this building (with its “live” concert acoustic) is open to all sensible suggestions (it was helpful that two of the three performers last week are married, but they kept the 2 metre distance so as to show it is possible). The hall has fast fibre so live broadcast is perfectly possible (this particular concert went out on delayed relay but the fibre is there to enable live). http://www.newmaltings.com

  • Geoff Cox says:

    Live concerts each Tuesday and Thursday at 4pm from St Mary’s Perivale in West London. Again without audience. https://www.st-marys-perivale.org.uk/

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    The UK Classic FM is a joke. It’s all about “relaxing” to the slow movement of the Bruch 1st concerto and other gentle warhorses. They could try and get some microphones out somewhere and shadow something live

  • Robert Harris says:

    St Mary’s Perivale ( http://www.st-marys-perivale.org.uk/ ) are currently streaming two live chamber concerts a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 4pm. Excellent performances.

  • Alan says:

    Well said. Far too many doom mongers around.

  • Joytotheworld says:

    StageHub, a Knight Classical initiative, has been set up to do just this and to give much needed revenue to musicians. London Handel Players moved some of the Bach Tilford Festival online via StageHub last week and went to a great deal of creative initiative to do so.

  • OperaDonor says:

    ENO have been doing live events every Wednesday. The first one was streamed onto facebook, the others have been for their supporters and are by invitation.

    This was a rather charming evening with the lovey Nick Spence


  • Edgar Self says:

    All credit to the estimable Wigmore Hall for upholding its history and tradition, not just to Myra Hess, Benno Moiseiwitsch, and their friends in WWII, including young Denis Matthews in his RAF uniform, but back to the “Great War” in 1914 when it changed its name from the Bechstein Hall.

  • Anon says:

    In the Eighties singing with the BBC Symphony Chorus we used to get a little disheartened singing 20th century programmes to a handful of people on a winter mid-week evening at the RFH. The BBC management’s response was that the primary function of the concerts was the broadcast and they weren’t unduly worried about a lack of numbers in the live audience. It’s a shame that they can’t adopt the same approach now, even if it means far fewer players on the stage, such as the chamber arrangement of Mahler 4 that the Berlin Phil performed under lockdown.