The Bechstein Room


I love the Wigmore Hall, and for starters, who else would invite me onto a panel for a discussion titled “Schläft ein Lied in alle Dingen”? Wondering if we would also have to discuss in German, I was glad to meet fellow panellists Iain Burnside and Tom Service in the Bechstein Room, the Wigmore’s rather bunker-like bar, and establish that English would be spoken (properly, by an all-Scottish panel.)

Filling in a short gap in the schedule of the Wigmore Hall Singing Competition 2019, we investigated our ‘topic’ by speaking about contemporary song composition. I started out on my frequent theme, that college composition students don’t on the whole seem to be specially interested in doing this, despite being surrounded every day by fellow-students who will go on to become famous singers. Iain spoke interestingly about the restricition of copyright, often preventing young composers from setting to music the poetry of their own times.

We reached a gentle close, and Tom asked for audience questions, eliciting the usual silent pause. But then – our listeners unexpectedly whooshed into action, injecting great energy into the proceedings. In response to an earlier comment I’d made, about how young singers in my experience are increasingly able to memorise new songs (a good thing, I meant) a gentleman at the back reported that increasingly he was seeing Wigmore singers performing things like Schubert from the score (a bad thing, he seemed to suggest). Whereupon Tom splendidly retorted that memorising had become a ‘fetish’ of classical music (half the audience gave this a big cheer – it was getting like Question Time.)

An interesting question was then asked about the ‘produced voice’, ie the difference between the ‘naturally’ projected voice and the amplified version, the latter being now the norm for the vast majority of listeners. A much younger questioner responded that she never really fell for any vocal music, not even on record (!) until she had heard a live singer sing it with no electronic element. Finally there was yet more interesting stuff about the place of women composers in 19th century song repertory. We would still be there talking now if it hadn’t been time for Iain, a jury member, to go off and hear more singers at work on the Wigmore stage.

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JUDITH WEIR

Composer