John Gilhooly, the Limerick-born director of London’s Wigmore Hall has been appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the Queen’s New Year’s honours list for his services to music.
Mr Gilhooly overcame formidable logistical challenges to stage concerts safely at the hall during the coronavirus lockdowns of the past two years.
John’s CBE was the highest award for classical music in the Queen’s honours list.
John told The Irish World: “It’s just lovely. It’s lovely news to start a new year and not just for me, but for everybody I know and everybody in music.
“It’s an honour for music as well.
“These things are never just about the person.
“Honours aren’t really for the person that gets them. They’re for all the people around you, I think. They enjoy them even more.
“It’s lovely to get so many messages of good will. So many friends and family have been in touch.
“So that’s good that family and friends and everybody at work- People enjoy honours very much so that’s great.”
The news was more of a surprise to John, who was previously received an OBE in the queen’s 2013 birthday honours, than it should have been as he did not receive the initial letter to inform him of the honour.
“It was a surprise because usually you get a letter asking for your permission and all that sort of thing.
“I didn’t get the letter, so I got a phone call from the cabinet office in December asking me why I hadn’t responded.
“So that was a surprise certainly, more of a surprise than normal.
“Obviously, I didn’t have as much time to think about it because usually you know six weeks in advance of these things.
“So I think it was much nicer to know much later actually.”
Originally from Castleconnell in Co Limerick, John studied history and politics at UCD.
He also trained as a tenor under the revered teacher Veronica Dunne who passed away last year.
He joined Wigmore Hall as chief executive in 2000, becoming director five years later making him then the youngest leader of any of the world’s great concert halls.
As Director of Wigmore Hall, he programmes the largest chamber music and song series in the world.
The hall closed following the lockdown in March 2020 but Mr Gilhooly staged a series of 20 concerts which featured the cream of musical talent including Irish soprano Ailish Tynan. The concerts were streamed live and broadcast on BBC Radio 3.
Gilhooly is also Chairman of the Royal Philharmonic Society, one of the oldest music societies in the world. It is for his work in this role that he is also being honoured.
“I’ve spoken up a lot during the pandemic for freelancers and for people who kind of fell between the cracks in terms of social welfare, didn’t get any help.
“And that’s very important too. We won’t be forgetting about the wider obligation we have, I have as chairman of the Royal Philharmonic Society. That’s where I get a chance to speak up for people, particularly the most vulnerable. We’re not going to forget about them in the next year either. We just keep talking up for them.
“Things improved certainly for them but it took a long time and if there are other lockdowns or God forbid there’s another pandemic in our lifetime, these things can be better prepared for, thought about beforehand.
“Hundreds and thousands of jobs have been lost in the industry and I would say at the moment venues are operating at about 60% of our audience.
“There are still many, many people who are still too scared to come out so hopefully that will improve as the year goes on.
“That’s a huge thing right across music and the arts.
“There’s an uphill struggle to get people’s confidence back and also back into the habit of going to things.
“People are out of the habit. We’ve broken a habit now for almost two years.”
Ireland’s ambassador to Britain Adrian O’Neill congratulated Mr Gilhooly on the recognition saying: “As Artistic and Executive Director of the prestigious Wigmore Hall for the past 16 years, John Gilhooly has made an immense contribution to the celebration, promotion and development of classical music. This honour conferred on him by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth is an apt and richly deserved recognition of that distinguished record of service, which has benefitted singers, musicians and music lovers across these islands and for which I warmly congratulate John.”
Aubrey Adams, chairman of the Wigmore Hall, said the CBE was a recognition of Mr Gilhooly’s unique achievement during the pandemic.
She said, “I am delighted that John has been recognised for his contribution to the culture life of this country, particularly his display of leadership, resilience and resourcefulness in bringing music to the nation under tremendously challenging circumstances over the past two years. The honour is also a testament to his great voluntary work outside his role at Wigmore Hall in helping many charities and organisations.”