If Bochum and Birmingham can, why not Munich and London?

If Bochum and Birmingham can, why not Munich and London?


norman lebrecht

February 17, 2015

They’re laughing in Bochum this week.

A post-industrial Ruhr town with a populace of under 400,000 has built a brilliant new concert hall for 34 million Euros, while wealthy Munich has dithered away for ten years, spent a small fortune on consultants and finally balked at a priject that cost ten times as much as Bochum’s outlay. Eat this, Bayern, is what they’re saying in Bochum.



You’ll hear much the same sentiment expressed in Birmingham, where an exemplary concert hall was built as a relief to 1980s post-industrial blight and where locals glow with pride at the way the city punches above its cultural weight.

None of this will ultimately cut much inauguration tape in Munich and London. The timing, politicians are privately saying, is all wrong. You can get away with second-city projects in the thick of austerity, but capitals cannot be seen to swagger.

So no new hall for the moment.

That’s why.


UPDATE: We are told that Bochum’s General Music Director Steven Sloane fought for 20 years to get the Bochum Symphony a new home, in a hall that provides educational space and a home for many school ensembles.


  • Anonymous says:

    If I were part of a family on the breadline, struggling to make ends meet and perhaps using food banks, and I’d heard or read some of the interviews that Maestro Rattle gave last week, I should think I’d want to shove his baton right up his arpeggio!

    • Anne says:

      Easy to make cheap, simplistic comments like that anonymously.

      Is your lifestyle really devoid of everything but the bare essentials out of consideration for the poor people you claim to be so sympathetic towards?

    • Concert listener says:

      Are you aware, that had always the “family on the breadline” being asked if they want a certain building to be built, a certain orchestra been paid or a certain painting to be bought for a gallery, that we would have NOTHING in our cities that we could call cultural achievements… Only huts and continuing misery… and lots of bridges and freeways… and football stadiums…

    • Stereo says:

      Typical socialist claptrap.

  • SDReader says:

    I’m not sure why we keep equating Munich and London. The RFH is at least a decent place to hear music. Munich, in contrast, has only the 1,200-seat Herkulessaal and a deformed oversized brick-and-concrete shithouse called the Gasteig. London is in much less need.

  • william osborne says:

    We might remember the original source of all these problems. The Munich Philharmonic’s original hall, the Tonhalle, was completely destroyed by bombs in 1944. It was a very ornate structure in the baroque style of Louis the 16th and contained a huge 50 register organ. I’ve been told it had wonderful acoustics. It took half a century for the Munich Philharmonic to get a new hall, the Gasteig, opened in 1985. What a bitter sadness that the Gasteig’s acoustics are so poor.

    • David J Gill says:

      It’s unfortunate that most of the european concert halls destroyed in WWII came to be replaced at a time when architecture as an art form was at low ebb. Modern architecture was utterly exhausted creatively and smothered by an ideology of modernism that made divergence from a limited palette of ideas unacceptable. Despite the astounding creative genius of Berlin’s Philharmonie the replacements for the Gewandhaus, Queen’s Hall and Munich’s fine halls (I find references to both the Tonhalle and the Odeon…?) are disappointing to say the least.

      Today a ferment of radical, but high quality design along with the ability of acousticians to develop the sound of new halls with computer modeling has changed this situation dramatically. With this in mind it is hard to believe that replacement of the worst of the post war concert halls seems to be off the table.

      I read that govt decision markers intend to renovate the Gasteig.Too many fine old buildings are demolished every year for no good reason, but why double down on a failure. And if govt money is not available for these projects why aren’t private fundraising efforts in the works? Isn’t London now the richest city in the world? I don’t think the American way of forbidding tax revenue spending for the arts is good policy, but private fundraising for a large portion of a cultural building project seems like the right way to do it.

  • Concert listener says:

    It could also have to do with the real estate prices…

  • MacroV says:

    The argument of “how can we spend money on [insert indulgence here] when there is [insert social ill here]?” goes back at least to the NASA space missions. It’s not really clear how NOT spending money on these projects has made any society better off.

  • Peter Phillips says:

    During the depression of the 1920s Swansea, never an affluent city at the best of times, created jobs locally by building a new Guildhall. As a result we have the Brangwyn Hall with its warm but clear sound, a classic shoe box shape, plus a smaller hall where members of the BBCNOW recently worked with young string players in a day-long workshop. Great hall, great orchestra – pity we don’t see more of them.

  • Mikko says:

    Lahti, Finland, current population 104 000, did it fifteen years ago for 23 million euros. The result is the 1100-seat Sibelius Hall, which has been lauded internationally for its Artec-designed acoustics. The company that operates the venue has turned a profit for most of its existence, including last year (although a lot of the events are not classical music). When the decision to build was taken, Lahti was suffering from economic depression and loss of industries. There was a lot of political wrangling about the hall, but it’s now widely recognized as the best part of Lahti, and it has spurred e.g. hotel development in its neighborhood.