James Bennett II is a staff writer for WQXR.
After Delays, New Hamburg Concert Hall Aims For Inclusion
Friday, January 13, 2017 - 12:25 PM
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.
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.
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.