It seems only fitting that the birthplace of Brahms and Mendelssohn should have one of the world’s great concert halls. According to architects Pierre de Meuron, Jacques Herzog and Ascan Mergenthaler, who designed London’s Tate Modern and Beijing’s National Stadium (the “Bird’s Nest”), the Elbphilharmonie’s design draws its inspiration from the ancient theater at Delphi, sports stadiums and tents. To me, it looks like a cross between a sea creature and a skyscraper, growing from its brick pedestal overlooking Hamburg’s harbor.
As the Sydney Opera House did, the Elbphilharmonie has quickly become the symbol of its city, but locals have mixed feelings. The gala opening concert took place in January of this year, but the Elbphilharmonie was originally scheduled to open in 2010. Lawsuits stopped the work for years, and eventually the building cost more than four times the original budget estimate. Even the Elbphilharmonie representative I spoke with complained. “I was angry,” he said, “because the taxpayer contribution became five times more! The atmosphere in Hamburg is not exactly against the Elbphilharmonie, but not for it either.”
Those of us who didn’t have to pay for the Elbphilharmonie can simply enjoy the building’s beautiful and innovative design. The curvaceous Grand Hall places the musicians at the center, with seats for 2,100 concertgoers surrounding them on all sides. Some 10,000 gypsum-fiber honeycomb-like panels ensure that the sound is equally good from every seat (though I admit I haven’t tried them all). Both the Grand Hall and the Recital Hall have concrete outer shells separated from the rest of the building by massive steel springs, in order to prevent any outside sounds from penetrating the rooms.
Already the 2018 season is mostly sold-out, but if you plan ahead and engage the help of a talented concierge, I wouldn’t be surprised if you could find some tickets. If not, I recommend taking one of the English-speaking guided tours of the building.