Ger­man con­cert hall ready to daz­zle world af­ter cost ex­plo­sion

Kuwait Times - - WEEKENDER -

Years over­due and tens of mil­lions over bud­get, a spec­tac­u­lar new con­cert house is poised to put Ger­many’s ven­er­a­ble port city of Ham­burg on the map as a global at­trac­tion. The daz­zling build­ing will have its gala open­ing in Jan­uary but at a re­cent pub­lic pre­view, vis­i­tors were al­ready elec­tri­fied by the grand de­sign. “Noth­ing quite like the Elbphil­har­monie has ever been built,” cul­ture critic Peter von Becker said. “This old Hanseatic League city is now home to some­thing that be­longs to the cul­ture of the world.”

Na­tional daily Die Welt said the “gor­geous” new land­mark had the po­ten­tial to ri­val the iconic Syd­ney Opera House as a des­ti­na­tion. “A new epoch will be­gin, an age in which the old mer­chant city, which has called it­self Ger­many’s gate­way to the world, truly be­comes an in­ter­na­tional metropo­lis.” The im­mi­nent com­ple­tion also marks a rare ur­ban de­vel­op­ment suc­cess story in Ger­many, which has been plagued by plan­ning dis­as­ters such as Berlin’s in­ter­na­tional air­port, now five years over­due and count­ing.

‘Every­one was in tears’

Jut­ting out from the city at the end of a pier on the Elbe River, the Elbphil­har­monie has a boxy brick for­mer ware­house as its base, with a breath­tak­ing glass struc­ture re­call­ing frozen waves perched on top. Sand­wiched be­tween the two lev­els, a pub­lic plaza pro­tected by gi­ant curved glass win­dows of­fers stun­ning views of the har­bour, the spires of the charm­ing city and Ham­burg’s tem­per­a­men­tal skies. With a final price tag for the city of 789 mil­lion euros ($872 mil­lion) — more than 10 times the 77 mil­lion euros orig­i­nally ear­marked-the Elbphil­har­monie was shrouded in con­tro­versy dur­ing its nearly decade-long con­struc­tion.

To claw back some of the in­vest­ment, Swiss ar­chi­tects Jac­ques Her­zog and Pierre de Meu­ron, who also de­signed Bei­jing’s “bird’s nest” Olympic sta­dium and the Tate Mod­ern gallery in Lon­don, added posh apart­ments, restau­rants and a 244-room lux­ury ho­tel com­plete with an on-site med­i­ta­tion con­sul­tant. The chief con­duc­tor of the house orchestra, Thomas Hen­gel­brock, said the build­ing would be a per­fect mix of form and func­tion. Af­ter a keenly awaited first re­hearsal in the grand hall, he said: “We knew im­me­di­ately from the first beat of the drum that it would be fan­tas­tic. Every­one in the room was in tears, truly every­one.”

Sparkling jewel

The “El­phie”, as it’s been nick­named, looms 110 me­tres (360 feet) in height from 1,700-plus sup­port­ing piles to the sig­na­ture un­du­lat­ing lines of the roof. The de­vel­op­ment is part of a bold new vi­sion for the once scruffy port dis­trict known to­day as Hafencity, cur­rently the biggest ur­ban con­struc­tion project in Europe.

It is also flanked by his­toric water­front ware­house and busi­ness quar­ters which UNESCO awarded world her­itage sta­tus last year. Ham­burg of­fi­cials say the Elbphil­har­monie is the kind of sparkling jewel, like Frank Gehry’s Guggen­heim mu­seum in Bil­bao, Spain or San Fran­cisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, with the power to boost a city’s in­ter­na­tional pro­file overnight.

“This build­ing is go­ing to be­come part of Ham­burg’s DNA,” Her­zog pre­dicted. Ac­cess to the build­ing is gained via the “Tube” the long­est es­ca­la­tor in west­ern Europe-tak­ing vis­i­tors on a twominute-long ride through a tun­nel cov­ered in tiny glittering mir­rors.

With acous­tics de­signed by Ya­suhisa Toy­ota, best known for his work at the Walt Dis­ney Con­cert Hall in Los An­ge­les, the 2,100ca­pac­ity con­cert hall will rank among the world’s top 10, the plan­ners say. Us­ing a vine­yard lay­out re­call­ing Berlin’s ground­break­ing Phil­har­monie and the new Phil­har­monie de Paris, the seats stretch up in steep ter­races from a cen­tral stage. “Even in the cheap seats, no guest will be more than 30 me­tres away from the con­duc­tor and the soloists,” said project ar­chi­tect As­can Mer­gen­thaler. Ham­burg, the birth­place of Brahms and Men­delssohn and the cra­dle of the Bea­tles’ early star­dom, is now gear­ing up to host con­certs by the world’s top or­ches­tras. And of­fi­cials say that spe­cial events in the build­ing’s sec­ond, smaller au­di­to­rium in­cor­po­rat­ing DJs and acts such as Bri­tish ex­per­i­men­tal artist Brian Eno and mu­si­cians from war-rav­aged Syria will reach com­mu­ni­ties beyond the clas­si­cal mu­sic set.

Mayor Olaf Scholz ad­mit­ted that the en­tire au­da­cious project had nearly been aban­doned due to open con­flict be­tween the city gov­ern­ment, the ar­chi­tects and the build­ing com­pany Hochtief. “In the end, we put the rolling ship back on course,” he said at a pre­open­ing cer­e­mony.

Karl-Heinz Bentz, 81, said the heavy cost to tax­pay­ers had frus­trated many in the city of 1.8 mil­lion peo­ple but most were mak­ing their peace with it. “I ad­mired it on my walks past it ev­ery day for years and now it’s fi­nally here,” the re­tired choco­late fac­tory worker said as he gazed up at the build­ing lit up at dusk like a flu­o­res­cent ice­berg. “Peo­ple from all over-Amer­ica, Asia-are go­ing make their way to Ham­burg just to see it.”

Bri­tish fash­ion de­signer Stella McCart­ney poses ar­riv­ing for the pre­sen­ta­tion of her menswear launch and women’s Spring 2017 col­lec­tion pre­sen­ta­tion in Lon­don on Novem­ber 10, 2016. — AP

The just com­pleted build­ing of the Elbphil­har­monie con­cert hall in Ham­burg, north­ern Ger­many, is pic­tured on Novem­ber 3, 2016.

— AFP photos

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