How to do a concert hall right

Evidently the answer is to build it in a major German city:

Into a skyline dominated by the cranes loading and unloading the thousands of tons of goods that pass through its port each day, Hamburg is erecting an ambitious concert complex topped by an undulating clear glass roof.

The projected cost of Elbphilharmonie has tripled in recent months to 323 million euros, roughly half a billion dollars, but project officials have staunchly defended the expense. The complex, they say, is more than an arts venue: It will give the city a fresh identity and help unite what is one of Germany’s most socially divided populations.
“This is a segregated city with completely different worlds from more slum-like parts to more suburban settings,” said Elbphilharmonie’s artistic director, Christoph Lieben-Suetter. “This [building] is exactly what is needed here: a bit of grand craziness.”

The complex, which is scheduled to open in 2012, will tower 300 feet atop a huge triangular-shaped warehouse on the waterfront that dates from the 17th century.
The new structure will be all glass with a roof of glass waves designed by renowned architectural firm Herzog and de Meuron, which also designed the distinctive “bird’s nest” Olympic stadium in Beijing…

Hamburg already has a rich musical tradition with several orchestras and an opera company. It is where composer George Frideric Handel started his career some 300 years ago, playing violin and harpsichord for an orchestra. Still the city is not considered one of the world’s classical music capitals, like Vienna, London or New York. The Elbphilharmonie could help change that. “We expect that with more concerts taking place musicians will flock to the city,” said Eduard Schwen, who builds string instruments at the G. Winterling workshop in Hamburg’s old town. “We hope there will be more and more orders for our instruments,” he added.

Still many Hamburgers are outraged at the recent announcement that with the need for added facilities and unexpected construction problems the cost of the complex would increase three-fold. But Elbphilharmonie artistic director Lieben-Suetter brushed aside the complaints, saying the cost is the price one pays for having a unique landmark.

“It’s what happens whenever you try to build a world wonder that has never been built before, using new materials in new ways,” he said. “It’s the same wherever you go — from the pyramids to the Sydney Opera House — it’s very difficult to keep those kind of special projects in tight budgets.”

“Grand craziness” indeed. We should all live in cities so crazy.

About the author

Robert Levine
Robert Levine

Robert Levine has been the Principal Violist of the Milwaukee Symphony since September 1987. Before coming to Milwaukee Mr. Levine had been a member of the Orford String Quartet, Quartet-in-Residence at the University of Toronto, with whom he toured extensively throughout Canada, the United States, and South America. Prior to joining the Orford Quartet, Mr. Levine had served as Principal Violist of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra for six years. He has also performed with the San Francisco Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, and the Oklahoma City Symphony, as well as serving as guest principal with the orchestras of Indianapolis and Hong Kong.

He has performed as soloist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Oklahoma City Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, the Midsummer Mozart Festival (San Francisco), and numerous community orchestras in Northern California and Minnesota. He has also been featured on American Public Radio's nationally broadcast show "St. Paul Sunday Morning" on several occasions.

Mr. Levine has been an active chamber musician, having performed at the Festival Rolandseck in Germany, the Grand Teton Music Festival, the Palm Beach Festival, the "Strings in the Mountains" Festival in Colorado, and numerous concerts in the Twin Cities and Milwaukee. He has also been active in the field of new music, having commissioned and premiered works for viola and orchestra from Minnesota composers Janika Vandervelde and Libby Larsen.

Mr. Levine was chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians from 1996 to 2002 and currently serves as President of the Milwaukee Musicians Association, Local 8 of the American Federation of Musicians, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the League of American Orchestras. He has written extensively about issues concerning orchestra musicians for publications of ICSOM, the AFM, the Symphony Orchestra Institute, and the League of American Orchestras.

Mr. Levine attended Stanford University and the Institute for Advanced Musical Studies in Switzerland. His primary teachers were Aaron Sten and Pamela Goldsmith. He also studied with Paul Doctor, Walter Trampler, Bruno Giuranna, and David Abel.

He lives with his wife Emily and his son Sam in Glendale.

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