Do you fancy hearing Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida performing Schubert’s Winterreise at Wigmore Hall next month? Or a piano recital by Stephen Hough, Angela Hewitt or Paul Lewis? This is not a cruel taunt to classical fans dreaming of hearing live music again. The concerts are really happening, daily throughout June — welcome proof that London’s battered arts landscape has not been completely devastated.
Wigmore Hall has been silent since tenor Alessandro Fisher sang a song by Ian Venables at the end of his lunchtime concert on March 16. Immediately after the audience had left, signs went up announcing that the venue was closed indefinitely. Its reopening is partial — you won’t be able to book a seat. Instead the concerts will be broadcast live on Radio 3 as part of BBC Arts’ Culture in Quarantine Festival and HD-streamed on the Wigmore website. There will be so few people in the building that each will be allocated their own lavatory — a BBC engineer, producer and presenter, a member of the hall’s staff, and the artists — a maximum of two per concert.
From the start of the crisis instrumentalists and singers have been resourceful in ensuring their work has still been heard, with front-room concerts streamed, and orchestras and ensembles recording together in isolation. But it is work that in most cases has generated no income. Those appearing at Wigmore Hall next month will get a proper fee. Musicians are the original gig workers, usually freelance, and only paid when they deliver. Two out of every five have fallen through the net of furlough; the Musicians’ Union estimates Covid-19 will force nearly 20 per cent of its members out of the business for good.
Shorter concerts could be performed twice a night to half-filled halls but there’s a fear that many won’t survive
Classical promoters are considering new ideas as to how performance might work in the months or years before a vaccine is produced. Shorter concerts could be performed twice in a night to half-filled halls. Stages could be extended to provide space for socially distanced performers. But there is a real fear that not all ensembles and venues will survive the crisis. With Cameron Mackintosh predicting musical theatre may not return until 2021, and reports that the Royal Albert Hall could have to close, any good news for London’s cultural economy should be loudly cheered. Soprano Ailish Tynan is booked for next month. She didn’t think she’d perform until next year but says: “I can’t tell you how great it will be to be back on stage.”
Petroc Trelawny presents Breakfast on BBC Radio 3