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How to do a concert hall right

0 Robert Levine

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.

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