Wigmore Hall, on Wigmore Street, parallel to Oxford Street.
I’d been there once, when I was a Londonier all those years ago, and I never forgot it and I wanted to go again.
It is a world renowned venue for chamber music and smaller classical musical ensembles. Quite Terrific.
The Wigmore offers a concert just about every Sunday morning of the year, although actually the music starts at noon. The ticket costs £12.
You get two things for that ticket price: the noon performance that runs about an hour (always), and a glass of sherry afterwards—dry, medium, or sweet, take your pick.
These British, so civilized. Assigned seating and everything.
As it was a Sunday morning, I decided to walk down Oxford Street before it became thronged with shoppers; I am nothing if not a Looker-into-Windows…
And plus, there was a Pret-a-Manger right on this route!
Not everything on the menus I’ve seen has been meat-based. All sandwich shops have either an egg and something or other or a cheese and something or other, sometimes multiple variations.
This morning I had breakfast at a Pret a Manger and had a cheese and tomato (to-MAH-toe) croissant and a coffee.
Not a spec of spinach in sight. Lovely.
I was so happy to take that right off of Oxford onto Holles Street, then that left onto Henrietta Place, and finally that right onto Wimpole Street and see its lovely facade across the road.
Of all the Sundays in all the world, she listens on this one.
- Schubert’s Duo Sonata in A D574 (1817). and
- Prokofiev’s Violin Sonata No. 1 in F minor Op. 80 (1938-46).
I arrived just before 11 for the 11:30 doors open, but that was a good thing, because there was a line at the ticket counter. At 537 seats it’s quite an intimate venue, only a coupla rows more than the alphabet.
There’s a fantastic Art Nouveau murals above the stage, red marble on the walls, old-fashioned brass wall fixtures. Red velvet chairs–comfortable, cushy, not worn out.
It’s a little place, but the buzz is such that you know it’s full of people who are excited to be here, because they know what’s in here—totally stunning live classical music.
“There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing.” G.K. Chesterton
Program was moving beyond all expectation. The performers were just…so…amazingly good. Kids, really. The pianist could pass for John Hodgman’s brother, the violinist was built like a rugby player.
The Schubert was stunning, a virtuoso performance. I let out an audible gasp when it was done. Sitting eight rows from the stage, I could see the fingers of Sokolov moving. A complete pleasure from beginning to end.
Schubert composed this piece when he was 20; when I was 20 I was the senior clerk typist at the Massachusetts Turnpike, typing two-line letters on an IBM Selectric typewriter (yes, the one with the ball) to people who had bounced the $0.50 checks they had written for their toll and were now being assessed a $15 fee, AND I was making typing mistakes on every single letter .
The Prokofiev left me shaking. The first movement was so full of despair, so full of the breakdown of it all—World War II was very real and looming threat in 1938, and by the time Prokofiev finished re/writing it in 1953 the Soviet Union had all internal creative endeavors in a vise—that it left me weeping.
All by myself, the American in the eighth row, tears just pouring down my face. It is quite possible that all my good Chanel makeup got cried off; their non-waterproof mascara melts right down your face at the slightest glisten of the eye. I should probably tell you that I don’t normally weep—weep, I say, not cry—at classical music, but you might not believe me.
And when the last note of the last movement gave itself up to the universe, there was…nothing. Nobody moved, nobody breathed, nobody applauded. It was almost as if we understood that if we changed anything about our existence we’d spoil the moment and the feeling. For myself I was too wiped out to do anything. But being adults—British adults, mind you—somebody pulled themselves together and started the well-deserved round of applause.
They did a lovely encore of I don’t know what, but it was a gentle, soothing piece, and a nice musical talk-down-from-the-ledge for me.
The audience applauded appreciatively, vigorously, even, but not in a wanton, crazy way. No applauding between movements, just at the end of each piece. Prolonged, admiring applause. Not like the State of the Union speech by POTUS, where grownup people who govern one of the most powerful nations on earth shout and ballyhoo and generally carry on in an incredibly juvenile and undignified manner practically every time the President blinks.
I needed that fortifying glass of sherry—I got the dry—before venturing out.
A powerful, powerful experience.