After Delays, New Hamburg Concert Hall Aims For Inclusion

Friday, January 13, 2017 - 12:25 PM

The Elbphilharmonie stands tall above the River Elbe The Elbphilharmonie stands tall above the River Elbe (Elbphilharmonie (Dec 2016) © Thies Rätzke)

On Wednesday evening, Hamburg’s new concert hall — the Elbphilharmonie — hosted its inaugural concert. Formerly derided as over budget and overdue, the new venue has much to offer the classical world in terms of inclusivity and cultural relevance. For those of us who were unable to attend, the Elbphilharmoni teamed up with Google Arts and Culture to bring you a 360-degree look at the concert hall's inaugural performance.

Note: Skip ahead to minute 36:00 for the beginning of the concert.

For years, residents of Germany’s second largest city grumbled because the massive new project was paid for by the public. Seven years ago, when costs dramatically rose, the Social Democratic party wanted to launch an investigation into the cause behind the rising price tag. Shortly after, construction ground to a halt and remained at a standstill for several months.

The Elbphilharmonie Grand Hall

Disaffected taxpayers were not only upset because of the cost and the uncertain time, but because of who would reap the benefits of these resources: a moneyed elite for whom classical music was already a fixture of musical life.

The creative powers behind the project understood the frustration of the people of Hamburg and took the first step to bringing the community together by making the Elbphilharmonie a concert space that is truly for everyone. Architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron was responsible for the visually arresting building, which is hoped to become a cultural landmark of the German port city. The new concert space rises up from an old industrial section of the city, cutting into the Elbe River. The concert hall itself is built upon an eight-stories-high defunct cocoa warehouse and rises 18 stories higher into the sky, topped by a nautically inspired design that invokes the area’s shipping — and blue-collar — cultural identity. A magnificent observation deck provides sweeping views of the city and is not only open to the public, but free as well. Needless to say, it’s a darling of the design crowd.

Aerial shot of Elbphilharmonie

Although the hall will be the new home for the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra, classical music lovers will share a space for enthusiasts of other musical inclinations, including jazz and rock — jazz pianist Brad Mehldau and German band Einstürzende Neubauten performed at opening night alongside a visiting Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Seats have been sold out for the next six months, including a set of “blind dates,” concerts for which the programming, genres and performers are still being determined. And although tickets can fetch mighty high prices, there are affordable options that go as low as 15 euro. And it’s not like the cheaper tickets mean a sacrifice of enjoyment and quality, either — the terrace level is constructed so that any given seat is no more than 100 feet from the conductor.

Democratizing the classical experience has been the artistic challenge of the recent decades, but if this early performance is any indicator, Hamburg may just have figured it out.

You can head over to the Elbphilharmonie official site for concert footage from opening night, and below you can take a 360-degree look into Germany’s musical citadel.


More in:

Comments [4]

Geo. from St. Louis, MO

Here's one report on the acoustics, where Andrew Mellor in 'Gramophone' quotes the critic Peter Krause of 'Die Welt' thus:

"Many in Hamburg, including the Elbphilharmonie's General Intendant Christoph Lieben-Seutter, praised the hall's superlative acoustics by Yasihusa Toyota. But at the opening concert, the hall could sound brash and unsympathetic, particularly when voices jostled with the orchestra. 'The sound of the hall is the opposite to its looks', the Hamburg-based critic and correspondent for Die Welt Peter Krause told me after the concert. 'It has a sharp, crisp, extremely light and transparent sound that shows no mercy to the ears or to the minor errors even the best musicians in the world make. Every detail is presented perfectly, but never do the colours melt. Nothing is touching. It is a materialistic sound without any heart.'

Toyota's acoustic designs in Copenhagen and Helsinki – particularly at the latter city’s Musiikkitalo – showed the same characteristics at first but warmed up over time. In Hamburg, the resident NDR Orchestra has already had a generous three-month bedding-in period."

It will be interesting to hear reports when different orchestras with different sounds perform there.

Jan. 20 2017 04:54 PM
Geo. from St. Louis, MO

For Sisko24, I think that you are referring to Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim's NYT review here:

She hints at the quality of the acoustics in this passage:

"If you were seated in different sections of the hall for the two performances (the program was repeated on Thursday night), the sound's warmth varied. The Wagner could have been helped by a greater sense of mysticism: the acoustics cast a clinical light on occasional imperfections. (It was just as unforgiving of a visitor’s ill-timed sneeze.)"

She implies that the sound in the hall is generally clear, but that like in any hall, the quality will vary. One review in 'Der Spiegel' mentions the same quality of clarity in the hall's acoustic:

"Analytisch heißt auch gnadenlos: Wenn ein Paukenschlag zu früh erfolgt, erklingt das so deutlich, dass es beinahe schmerzt."

Rough Google Translation: "Analytical is also merciless: if a bump occurs too early, this sounds so clear that it nearly hurts."

Manuel Brug wrote in this post on his blog for 'Die Welt' that he didn't like the sound where he was, in his particular seat:

Maybe it would sound different elsewhere, like what CDF-W experienced in a different seat.

Jan. 19 2017 12:00 PM

Can anyone here direct me to a review of the new concert hall which says whether or not it is a good one or bad one? The New York Times review, as I read it, skirted the issue and that seemed to indicate that the hall isn't all that good. But I may be overanalyzing what I read. Can anyone help?

Jan. 17 2017 05:43 PM
Norma J F Harriison from Berkeley, California, U.S.A.

Still elitist !!! Compare those stupid 'concerts' where people go to get their endorphins racked up by the hideous bass amplifications, and wave their arms and bodies and scream - which I hate - for its obvious dumb-down-ness - except for all the brilliant composers and artists and performers that go to them - but I hate that they all love that super-guts activity - which IS like a dope(drug) experience on the brain - of which sometimes I'm jealous, truth to say. So, still elitist. Besides scarce, for us mass, even if I lived in Hamburg.

Jan. 14 2017 07:45 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

The WQXR e-newsletter. Show highlights, links to music news, on-demand concerts, events from The Greene Space and more.

Follow WQXR 







About WQXR Blog

Read WQXR's coverage of classical music news, trends, commentary and more here at the WQXR Blog.