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Hamburg’s new hall and London’s: a false equation

January 13, 2017 by norman lebrecht

21 comments.


The rattlers are out in force in today’s newspapers, arguing that if Hamburg can build a new concert hall so should London – the more so now that the City of London has voted £2.5 million for another feasibility study.

Here’s what they fail to grasp:

1 Hamburg cost 866 million Euros – three quarters of a billion pounds.

2 The Elbphilharmonie was several times over budget, several years late and has abandoned its original projection that its built-in hotel and apartments will meet the actual running costs of the concert hall.

3 Nobody objected because it is a local project, locally funded and consensually supported on a national basis.

4 Hamburg is in Germany where classical music is part of the national DNA. The German head of state and the head of government turned out for the hall’s opening.

 

5 London’s hall, presently budgeted at quarter of a billion pounds, will certainly cost twice that amount.

6 There is no national support for the hall, and not much local backing. Nowhere beyond the M25 ringroad does anyone believe that money should be spent on a new hall in London.

7 Where culture is a vote-winner in Germany, it’s an election loser in the UK. That’s why there has been no public consultation on the new hall.

8 The City’s feasibility study will not be published before 2019, by which time the UK will have left the EU with economic consequences that cannot be foretold. It is hard to imagine that this hall will be greenlit in conditions of existential uncertainty.

9 London has over-capacity of classical space. The South Bank Centre has mostly been turned over to other art forms for want of public demand.

10 This is the wrong hall in the wrong place at the wrong time. QED.

 

 


Comments (21)

  1. Allen says:

    Claiming to speak for a lot of people, Mr L.

    Your arrogance is breathtaking.

    1. Mike Schachter says:

      Is there anything which you think is not accurate? Do you think there is a great groundswell of support for this project in Liverpool, or London? I would love an acoustically superb concert hall in London, but cannot persuade myself (or anyone lese) that spending many hundreds of millions on it is a priority given the state of this city’s housing, health and social care. Do you think that it is?

    2. Robin Worth says:

      Sadly, all that Mr Lebrecht writes is correct.

      Our London orchestras play in Barbican and Royal Festival halls which are rarely full, except when visiting stars appear

      Contrast this with Berlin and Vienna, whose orchestras perform their programmes more than once, to audiences with large numbers of subscribers, in halls which are full and whose tickets usually sell out on the day they go on sale. And at ticket prices rather higher than we are used to pay in London.

      Can one expect, in the unlikely event that London builds a new hall to compare with Hamburg/Leipzig/Berlin, that it would get the audience it would deserve?

      1. DM says:

        “Our London orchestras play in Barbican and Royal Festival halls which are rarely full, except when visiting stars appear”

        I, for one, would go and see more performances but I can’t stand the experience of watching an orchestra in either the Royal Festival Hall or Barbican. Both acoustic and front-of-house experiences are pretty dire in both. I would be surprised if I were alone in that viewpoint.

  2. Ann Nomynous says:

    After the Brexit, Britain can build a new £350m concert hall every day. Or that’s what we were led to believe by Farage, Gove and co.

  3. Alexander Hall says:

    On the question of whether or not the new Hamburg hall should have been built in the first place (and the detractors and penny-pinchers were out in force there as soon as the original idea was floated), Christoph von Dohnanyi probably made the most pertinent of all comments. Was there ever any need for Beethoven to write a choral symphony? Was there ever any need for a substance to be manufactured called Coca-Cola? And yet the world would be a darn sight worse off without those two creations.

    1. Hans van der Zanden says:

      the choral symphony may be… but the health of this world a darn sight worse off because of Coca-Cola

      1. Alexander Hall says:

        Name me another soft drink that is anywhere near as popular. You may not like it but billions all over the world do. The principle that CvD was attempting to encapsulate is something that has never existed before but takes off because of popular demand, without a previous desire for it.

  4. pooroperaman says:

    ‘The South Bank Centre has mostly been turned over to other art forms for want of public demand.’

    No, for want of anything between Jude Kelly’s ears. Rather different.

  5. GP says:

    What an utterly negative post. Ten random comments chosen to support an opinion already formed. Without laboriously going through every point, a few things spring to mind:

    There is most definitely an audience who would like to hear London’s world class orchestras in an environment where they can be fully appreciated. The Barbican Hall itself would most likely end up filling a different role anyway, so the question of over-capacity is a red herring.

    Anyone who has ever been to Symphony Hall or the new Philharmonie in Paris will easily see the difference between a hall in which concerts are held and a concert hall. The chances are that London orchestras would actually do rather well because people would enjoy going to hear them more. I’ll only go to the Barbican if I really have to hear something, anything borderline I skip because it’s an acoustic lottery. A new hall could actually lead a renaissance of the London orchestral scene because people would get so much more out of going.

    Regarding money, what’s most likely to happen is the the City of London Corporation would pay for most of it, as they did the Barbican. So, if you look at it like that, it’s a local project, locally funded. I hope they do sole fund it; it will be their investment and their benefit and they whiners can stay at home if they don’t like it (but of course they won’t).

    It’s very strange to me that one of the main beneficiaries of the wealth of the City is planning to transform a large corner of their jurisdiction to an expanded arts quarter, all we can do is complain about it. Let’s be clear, if they don’t do things like this, that money will be spent on other things in the City that most of us will never get to appreciate.

    And finally let’s stop saying that this is all about Simon Rattle? It’s much more likely that the City of London Corporation has a little vision and can see that with some investment the combination of the LSO and Rattle provides a great chance to raise the profile of the arts quite a bit. That’s not something that happens every day, so it’s hard to understand why so many arts lovers want to kill it before it’s even been born.

    1. David-G says:

      Well said. You are absolutely right.

  6. MacroV says:

    The potential cost of a hall is definitely a concern, but one thing that seems clear from iconic projects around the world: Eventually nobody complains about what they cost. The Sydney Opera House probably went 10 times or more over budget and took years too long, but today it’s the symbol of Australia, and nobody quibbles about what it cost. Granted, in London, with so many iconic buildings already, it would be hard to come up with something that would have equal impact on the city.

  7. Jimmy says:

    I would very much love a new concert hall in London but as NL points out classical music is not in the DNA of the London population like it is in Germany. In Berlin some young people will go to the Deutsche Oper in the evening and then go to nightclubs after. I live and work in London in my 40s and most of my personal friends and colleagues at work are not classical music lovers, although some are. Brexit will make it harder to achieve as well as corporate sponsorship of massive levels would be required. To justify public money for a concert hall while the NHS is on it’s knees and potentially a stock and credit bubble are re-emerging is not the best thing to do. If the corporate law firms and banks in London clubbed together to pay for it as a gift to the nation, then that would be different

    1. Mathew Tucker says:

      Classical music isn’t in the DNA of London?? FFS, there are 5 full time symphony orchestras based here not to mention many world class chamber groups etc. And while we’re about it, the London based Proms are world renowned in part because of the audiences it attracts.

      1. Jimmy says:

        However look at how many full time opera companies there are in Germany compared to the UK. How could you justify spending hundreds of millions of pounds on a hall when you have a hospital around the corner on it’s financial knees? The general public mood would be a bad one. I would like to see the comparison of attendances at classical music concerts and opera with pop concerts in London.I think that there would be one hell of a difference.

  8. Hans van der Zanden says:

    1 Hamburg cost 866 million Euros – three quarters of a billion pounds.

    Hamburg is the second largest city in Germany and the eighth largest city in the European Union. It is the second smallest German state by area. Its population is over 1.7 million inhabitants, and the wider Hamburg Metropolitan Region covers more than 5.1 million inhabitants

    London is the largest city in the European Union (art 50 has not been signed yet). Its population is around 10 million, and the Greater London Authority states the population of the city-region as 22.7 million.

    2 The Elbphilharmonie was several times over budget, several years late and has abandoned its original projection that its built-in hotel and apartments will meet the actual running costs of the concert hall.

    Architect on the loose…

    3 Nobody objected because it is a local project, locally funded and consensually supported on a national basis.

    There was quite some objection, and one may wonder how long Germany can afford all this, Elphi is one of many projects that ran out of financial control – Berin airport budgeted in 2006 at €2.83 billion, now, nobody knows when it will be finished (if ever) with costs spiralling into the direction of some €10 billion……

    4 Hamburg is in Germany where classical music is part of the national DNA. The German head of state and the head of government turned out for the hall’s opening.

    Angela is very close with – amongst others – Sir Simon, who cooks when she visits him…so he could also cook for Terasa..

    5 London’s hall, presently budgeted at quarter of a billion pounds, will certainly cost twice that amount.

    Find a normal architect

    6 There is no national support for the hall, and not much local backing. Nowhere beyond the M25 ringroad does anyone believe that money should be spent on a new hall in London.

    I discussed this with Nigel, and he promised to contact Donald and Vladimir and Boris to help to press a change of course on those in power….when necessary another referendum… one condition it has to be called the FARAGE TOWER

    7 Where culture is a vote-winner in Germany, it’s an election loser in the UK. That’s why there has been no public consultation on the new hall.

    Sir Simon for Prime Minister

    8 The City’s feasibility study will not be published before 2019, by which time the UK will have left the EU with economic consequences that cannot be foretold. It is hard to imagine that this hall will be greenlit in conditions of existential uncertainty.

    see 6 an 7

    9 London has over-capacity of classical space. The South Bank Centre has mostly been turned over to other art forms for want of public demand.

    Just promise: NO MODERN CLASSICS

    10 This is the wrong hall in the wrong place at the wrong time. QED.

    ?????????

  9. Halldor says:

    So Mrs Merkel and the German president attended the opening. Your point? HM the Queen opened the UK’s new concert halls in Gateshead, Manchester and Birmingham. Why wouldn’t she be present when the London hall is built?

    And the UK has a great deal of experience in building venues like this on time and on budget. In that respect, it’s true that there are few useful lessons to be learned from Hamburg.

    Mr L’s contrarian instincts are generally entertaining, but on this subject the strain is starting to show.

  10. Laura Farrell says:

    Until the day the doors open, this is a building, like a shopping center or an office development. It’s benefit will accrue to property developers and the construction industry until it is finished. The money spent building it will go to land owners, bankers and builders, NOT to the arts.

    We would not consider this as wrong if someone was building an office, so why treat it differently?

    However, once the doors open it will compete on a crowded market. It is worth consultation, particularly within the London community and Arts organisations.

  11. Mathew Tucker says:

    Who says classical music isn’t in London’s DNA? For heaven’s sake, it has 5 world class symphony orchestras not to mention numerous smaller ensembles of equal standing. And what about the Proms? Is there another classical music festival in the world that attracts such a passionate and enthusiastic audience?

  12. herrera says:

    The paradox of every far flung provincial Chinese city that gets a Western opera house and concert hall whether there is demand or not that will most likely sit empty and rust in 5 years, and London, a capital of Western arts — musical and visual — goes begging.

    If only concert halls, like aircraft carriers, could be sold and moved around the globe. Concert halls are a lot less expensive.


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