In 1995, I lived in London, England for 10 weeks, on an exchange of sorts. I went to London to observe and assess a program initiated by the Guildhall School of Music. Their instructors had developed a new model of training professional orchestral musicians to facilitate integrated music programming in inner-city schools. I was there to learn all I could about the project.
The project itself was amazing, but what I remember most, was how much time I spent exploring all that the city had to offer, musically. I went to hear choirs and orchestras, operas, musicals, string quartets and organ recitals. I heard ancient music and pop music, my favourite classical works, and the newest commissions of contemporary composers. I visited the concert halls and churches – everywhere and anywhere that music was being performed.
The concert I remember most vividly took place in a small, unassuming location, off the beaten path. With virtually no marquee and a tiny foyer, Wigmore Hall blends into its surroundings. I literally walked past it twice before recognizing a poster of the artist I was hoping to see! The Hall’s own marketing materials list it as “discretely nestled in Central London …” which really means “We hope you have your A-Z (a ubiquitous, pocket-sized London map), in order to find us.” The hall is intimate, but not particularly comfortable, with an amazing acoustical variety and nuance. Its interior is arts and crafts style and its recognizable feature is a beautiful cupola depicting the “soul of music.”
Sometimes the most ordinary places produce the most extra-ordinary experiences. I almost gave up trying to find the Wigmore that evening. I was tired, the neighbourhood felt a bit sketchy, and I believed that I was thoroughly lost. But as the music began, I was transported to another world. Immersed in a soundscape that has remained lodged in me to this day.
One of my go-to “off the beaten path” sources for classical music is featuring Wigmore Hall’s 115th anniversary celebration. Medici.tv is a source of unique, always interesting feature interviews and concerts from across the spectrum of serious classical performance. Although you have to subscribe to access their full catalogue, they always have one or two events that are free. This month, you can listen to:
Wigmore Hall 115th Anniversary Celebration (three concerts are currently available, more will be added)
Festival Palazzetto Bru Zane in Paris
And that concert I almost didn’t attend? It featured violist Nobuko Imai, playing the Franck Sonata.