Elbphilharmonie: ‘We are happy with the hall as it is’

Elbphilharmonie: ‘We are happy with the hall as it is’


norman lebrecht

February 12, 2019

Ferocious criticisms of the hall’s acoustics, after audience members protested that they could not hear Jonas Kaufmann, have drawn a bunker-mentality response from embattled Intendant Christoph Lieben-Seutter:

‘The arguments are well-known and do not change the fact that in the Elbphilharmonie excellent concerts take place that leave no wish unfulfilled. A serious examination of the subject would indicate that the auditory impression on backstage venues in any hall in the world is compromised when a singer sings in front of a large orchestra. Why so many halls are built in this layout is worth considering. Remote diagnostics and reports which refer to the opening concerts about 800 concerts later are unfortunately just as irrelevant as the opinion of the experts Müller and Stephenson.

‘As for the opinions of conductors, we recommend names like Valery Gergiev, Mariss Jansons, Andris Nelson, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Paavo Järvi and many others. The Great Hall of the Elbphilharmonie is a unique, fascinating space that thrills audiences and artists alike. It comes with an exceptional acoustic, which takes getting used to for some musicians. For this he rewards his “conquest” with fantastic, intense concert experiences. We are happy with the hall as it is.’

Die Argumente sind altbekannt und ändern nichts an der Tatsache, dass in der Elbphilharmonie am laufenden Band ausgezeichnete Konzerte stattfinden, die akustisch keinen Wunsch offen lassen. Eine seriöse Auseinandersetzung mit dem Thema würde darauf hinweisen, dass der Höreindruck auf Plätzen hinter der Bühne in jedem Saal der Welt beeinträchtigt ist, wenn ein Sänger vor einem großem Orchester singt. Warum trotzdem so viele Säle in diesem Layout gebaut werden, wäre dann eine Betrachtung wert. Ferndiagnosen und Berichte, die sich rund 800 Konzerte später immer noch ausschließlich auf die Eröffnungskonzerte beziehen, sind leider ebenso wenig relevant wie die Meinung der Experten Müller und Stephenson, die sich seit zwölf Jahren an der Elbphilharmonie abarbeiten und sich für befangen erklären müssten.

‘Und was die Meinungen von Dirigenten betrifft, empfehlen wir Namen wie Valery Gergiev, Mariss Jansons, Andris Nelsons, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Paavo Järvi und viele andere. Der Große Saal der Elbphilharmonie ist ein einzigartiger, faszinierender Raum, der Publikum wie Künstler begeistert. Er kommt mit einer außergewöhnlichen Akustik, die für manche Musiker gewöhnungsbedürftig ist. Dafür belohnt er seine „Eroberung“ mit phantastischen, intensiven Konzerterlebnissen. Wir sind mit dem Saal glücklich, so wie er ist.’

See also: Kaufmann: I may not sing there again


  • Me! says:

    Kaufman is a low talker (singer) and the problem is with him

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    “In [the Elbphilharmonie] space, no one can hear you scream.”

    Where did I listen to this before?

  • Sibylle Luise says:

    Where there other singers complaining about the hall or was it only Mr Kaufmann?

  • anon says:

    Here’s the problem:

    As long as the music critics get the best seats in the house, as long as tourists / one-time visitors buy the worst seats in the house, there is no need to change.

    No one really cared that the Met was too big until it started failing to fill the house on a regular basis.

    That took 50 years.

    • tristan says:

      the MET is a monster – how lucky are we in good old Europe – Hamburg attracts through its architecture but Vienna warms you through its sound

  • Saskia says:

    Just a few days after Mr. Kaufmann, Erwin Schrott and his Ensemble were singing a formidable half-scene Don Giovanni, also with a big orchestra but without any complainings from the audience. Nobody has left the hall, nobody screamed, also the tenor didn’t have any big problems. Maybe it wasn’t the hall’s fault in Mr. Kaufmann’s concert?

  • Adrienne says:

    “the auditory impression on backstage venues in any hall in the world is compromised when a singer sings in front of a large orchestra.”

    If “backstage” means behind the orchestra instead of its usual meaning, then yes. But if a significant proportion of the audience is behind the orchestra, as opposed to a couple of hundred when a choir is not required, that is a problem is it not?

    Time will tell.

  • Solo singers pitted against a large orchestra always present a problem. I heard e.g. Das Lied von der Erde at the Cologne Philharmonic Hall some years ago (with Waltraud Meier and Thorsten Kerl). The hall has excellent sonics, but you could barely hear (much less: understand) the singers. They should use amplification for such complex works.

    • Daniel says:

      Please, don’t even think about it. If the balance doesn’t work in a classical piece, this needs to be resolved on stage and nowhere else. Amplifying singers or instruments will almost always make things worse.

    • Karl says:

      The conductor should make sure the orchestra lets the singer be heard.

      • John Borstlap says:

        That piece is very difficult in performance because of the writing. The conductor has to subdue the players but in the same time, keep the balance right and the fortes keeping their character of forte without really being forte, and that is really difficult for the players. Also realizing all the musical nuances between mf and ppp for a large group is hard. The same problem, only slightly less, with Strauss’ 4 last songs.

  • mathew says:

    Oh what fun we will have with the new concert halls at the Barbican and Wimbledon!

  • Gustav Mahler says:

    Interesting read. Wasn’t it one of the „strongest“ arguments for a new hall in Hamburg that big size orchestra pieces are having to many limits in the old hall? And now it doesn’t work? Why? It seems that this is not connected with the architect but with the composers who used to drive their music in an old Merceds Benz. Something that doesn’t work with a modern Toyota. So actually, I was unable to orchestrate my works for the needs of this hot spot as well as my colleagues Strauss and Wagner. We failed completely and so I do apologise for that at least for my part. It seems I lost my award being one of the best orchestrators of the 20th century.

    The good news is that I’m writing now a new piece called „Te Deum for The Rain King“ with a total duration of 43 minutes and 33 seconds. In order to guarantee that the Elphi audience can entertain themselves it will be a tacet piece for orchestra without singers. So the audience is very much invited to talk, make selfies, have a drink or snack or whatever suits them best. The new piece will guarantee equality on all sets. All seats are equal, and some behind the stage are more equal. I got the inspiration from the Elbphilharmonie directly:
    „The unaccustomed proximity to the orchestra means you can almost participate in the music yourself: you can literally read the scores on the music stands; you can watch the percussionists sorting their drumsticks; you can see what the timpanist is doing with his feet; or you can see what the double-bass players put on the chair next to them (such as the rosin they use to treat the hairs of their bow). And you can hear the orchestra as intensely as the singers in a choir, which, in a larger orchestration, occupies the same position directly behind the orchestra.“
    (source: https://www.elbphilharmonie.de/en/blog/the-acoustics-at-the-elbphilharmonie/221)

    • John Borstlap says:

      Instead of promoting your new piece through this blog, you better go back to the finale of your nr 5 and 7, and weed-out lots of unnecessary notes and instruments in nr 8, and cut mvt 2, 3 & 4 from nr 9 which don’t add anything to the 1st mvt, and maybe you could finally finish nr 10 instead of letting dry musicologists tamper with your sketches.

      • Gustav Mahler says:

        Maybe you are an unrecognised genius but I don’t recall that I ever heard any symphony from you so I cannot judge what needs to be erased in your works.

        • John Borstlap says:

          For any judgment one has first to KNOW something. Merely recalling one’s own memory’s void does not show much confidence in one’s judgement faculties.

    • Pepin Lady says:

      Your commentary is a delight! I am smiling even now.

  • Marc t'Kint says:

    Years ago, I was in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, famous for its acoustics, sitting next to, not even behind, the orchestra. That was already bad enough. The soprano Nelly Miricioiu was singing. She can/could sing
    very loudly. Well, I had the impression that I was not really there. Music Lovers, leave these seats, wherever, to the tourists , the post-modernly educated or perhaps a few brexiteers.

  • Christopher Storey says:

    Concert Halls are very complex things, and however hard architects try, the acoustic results can be very unpredictable. The Colston Hall in Bristol , quite well regarded in general, was absolutely hopeless ( 50 years ago when I went regularly – it may have changed since ) for piano music if you sat underneath the gallery . All you could hear was the rattle of hammers hitting strings, with no resonance of the strings being audible. How on earth can that come about ?

    • Sixtus says:

      As a rule I will never get a seat from which I cannot see the hall’s ceiling. Deep under a balcony you are essentially getting only the instruments’ direct sound and a tiny and directionally restricted sample of the hall’s reflection and reverb characteristics. In NYC this rules out many seats at Carnegie and the MET.

  • Tamino says:

    Well, he is the Intendant of the place. What should we expect?
    Unfortunately he has no arguments for his place. Only fallacies.