Sinking Elbphilharmonie: Now Muti slams the Hamburg hall

It is reported that Riccardo Muti has struck the Elbphilharmonie off his touring schedule, saying ‘I won’t waste my time there again.’

After a first visit with the Chicago Symphony he called the hall ‘mediocre’.

The tenor Jonas Kaufmann has said he may not sing there again because of poor acoustic projection.

Confidence is sinking.

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  • Muti is known for his conservatism when it comes to buildings. The older hall in this city, Laeiszhalle, is no match to the equivalent halls in Berlin, Vienna or Munich (Herkulessaal). I doubt the acoustic is worse than Laeiszhalle, but as it is a bigger hall a singer may have to project a bit more to be heard from back seats.

    • Nonsense. Try turning around while talking to people. See what they say how they hear you.
      Projection of singers is forward by definition. Putting seats behind singers is just stupid.

      • ^ or at least, complaining about the sound once you’ve bought a ticket to sit behind a singer is stupid.

        Maybe the audience members didn’t realize they were going to get a different acoustic experience? (Seems amazing, but…)

        • Not everybody buys their tickets directly. Many get them through tour operators. Particularly in Elbphilhamornie.
          Also if you are still charged premium prices, you have the right to feel robbed, if you are given an acoustically compromised seat.

          Maybe they should add a disclaimer on all ticket sales online and at the box offices:

          “This hall was designed by an “acoustical” designer, who thinks that it is most important that everyone can see well and be close to the stage. Acoustics might be compromised, depending on your seat, though.”

          Another suggestion: In Europe they often sell “Hörplätze”, seats where you can’t see well but still hear decently, at greatly discounted prices. Like 80% less.
          How about, Elbphilharmonie adopts the concept and sells “Sehplätze”, “spectator seats”. Where you can see well, but not hear well.
          At greatly reduced prices of course.

    • Not having visited, I can’t say anything about Elbphilharmonie, but saying Laeiszhalle is inferior to Herkulessaal is a non-sense. There is a reason why they are planning to build a new one in Munich. (Whether it will be a success is a different matter.)

  • Symphony Center (formerly Orchestra Hall) in Chicago is also mediocre. Muti was instrumental in getting the Philadelphia Orchestra to build a new hall during his music directorship there (now Verizon Hall). Far from an unqualified success, I wonder if that hall has ever lived up to its full potential, based on the extraordinary warm, full sound of the Curtis Orchestra the other night under Yannick Nezet-Seguin.

    • One of the reasons Muti left Philly was that they DIDNT build a new hall though he wanted it for sure. Verizon Hall is quite good (after some improvements). You are right that Orchestra Hall is mediocre before and after renovation. It depends where you sit. You must sit upstairs. Downstairs is appalling especially in loud pieces. Bass response is dismal everywhere.

  • It’s instructive to compare the reactions of artists to performing in this hall, which range from the entirely opportunistic in search of repeat invitations (Thielemann, for one, and his positivity is all the more puzzling since the big-scale repertory he prefers is severely compromised by the acoustics) to a statement of the blindingly obvious (Muti knows what he’s talking about, having performed in all the great temples of the musical world). Local politicians are compelled to sing the praises of the building, since admitting that over 800 million euros spent on a shining new touristy landmark which has fallen well short of critical expectations would raise all kinds of awkward questions. There are plenty of new concert-halls in Europe and elsewhere which are more than serviceable and in some instances exceptionally satisfying. Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie is sadly not one of them. The answer to the problem is also blindingly obvious. You construct the building around an oustanding acoustic space rather than attempting to manufacture a concert-hall within the confines of an inflexible architectural design. Cheerleaders for London’s new concert-hall project, please take note.

  • 1. Apparently Muti has a lot of free time on his hands these days to comment on other halls.

    2. If Muti struck every “mediocre” hall from his tour list, the first to go would be Orchestra Hall in Chicago.

    2. How presumptuous of Muti to think that he will still have the CSO to tour with.

    My dear Muti, life’s vicissitudes are many:
    – the strike could still be going on,
    – the orchestra could be in bankruptcy
    – Bank of America could decide stop being tour sponsor after the labor strife,
    – Muti’s contract could be not renewed after his feckless interference in the strike

    • I think he can live the rest without CSO. He works with Berlin Phil in Baden-Baden and still invited to Munich and Vienna etc…

  • 1- Jonas Kaufman will be singing here on the 20th of january.

    2- Mediocre at the very best is the concert that the great Muti with the WPO gave in Glasgow many years ago : a boring and forgettable Bruckner 7. First and last time I saw
    and will ever see this awesome conductor.So, thank you for not comming to Hamburg, Maestro.

    • While I would never deny his ability to get great playing and whatever orchestral sounds and textures that he wants, he really does lead some unbelievably boring performances of the standard repertoire.

      It was mentioned that the acoustics of the Philadelphia hall were improved after a very disappointing first few years. I generally sit near the front of the second tier balcony and have been very happy with the sound in recent years. Perhaps something similar can be done in Hamburg.

    • If “here” means Hamburg, Jonas Kaufmann ( with a double “n”, it would be polite to spell his name correctly) will sing in Paris, not in Hamburg, on January 20th 2020. He will sing in Hamburg two days later, on January 22nd 2020, in the Laeiszhalle, not in the Elbphilharmonie.

  • A hall needs an acoustic shell to project the sound. With the seats surrounding that stage this hall doesn’t have that. Someone didn’t have his thinking cap on when designing this hall. I read on the halls website “…the arrangement of the seating in a circle means that. everyone in the audience also has a view of the rest of the audience, which increases the feeling of community while listening to the music.” Does anyone really care about that? I can hear the oaf who is coughing is lungs out. I don’t need to see him too.

    • Be careful what you say about shells. A true acoustic ‘shell’ is just about the worst thing you can surround can orchestra with. None of the greatest ahoebox halls have anything approaching a shell (Boston, Vienna, Amsterdam, Lucerne, Dallas, Birmingham etc). The orchestra sits out in the open in all these halls with unimpeded vertical radiation, except possibly for some downward reflectors supposedly to increase inter-player audibility (I suspect that the effect is often more psychological than acoustical.) A shoebox hall with a shell usually comes out badly, with strong early reflections hitting the listeners from above instead of from the side. This is precisely what bedeviled Avery Fisher Hall and still is a problem, despite the addition of endless reflective appliances above the stage.

      What you are complaining about, with good reason, is the present fad for surround seating. As I’ve mentioned here before, this is always a bad idea for acoustical and musical-historical reasons. A surround hall has no shell either, almost by definition.

      • Apparently you have not been in Symphony Hall Boston which most certainly has an enclosed space or “shell.” See any pic online.

        • I don’t have to see any damn picture. When I lived in Cambridge, I subscribed to the BSO for around 10 years and at Symphony Hall I got to sit frequently in some of the best concert-hall seats in the world. I continued to get up there regularly for several years even after I moved to NYC (where I likewise subscribed to the NYPhil for maybe 20 years). I even had the privilege of being able to assist in recordings in Symphony Hall (Boston Philharmonic under Ben Zander). I know Symphony Hall very, very well.

          At best, what you call the “shell” at Symphony Hall is vestigial. The stage is not that deep (it has to be extended for the likes of Mahler 8th and Gurrelieder) and its ceiling is quite high and only gently slopes forward. The orchestra is still essentially sitting in the hall, not set apart from it acoustically (a trait common to all the great shoebox halls). This is quite unlike the acoustical monstrosity still enclosing the orchestra at Geffen (née Avery Fisher) Hall, with its aggressively forward-reflecting ceiling bouncing nearly specular (mirror-like) reflections of the brass and percussion down onto the audience. Early, loud, downward reflections in a concert hall are not a good thing since, among other things, they are perceived as more ‘monaural’ than side-wall reflections, with a corresponding reduction of a sense of spaciousness and envelopment and a possible increase in harshness. This is at least part of the reason why an orchestra’s sound in Avery Fisher is considerably improved if it is pulled as much as possible out from under the shell, something that recent seasons of the Mostly Mozart Festival at Geffen have repeatedly demonstrated.

          I am opposed to any enclosure of an orchestra by nearby reflecting surfaces above the ensemble aimed toward the audience. Many smaller/community orchestras in the USA, performing in multi-purpose, non-shoebox venues employ such shells. I urge them all to experiment by placing the orchestra as far forward into the hall as is practical and, especially, by taking the lid off.

  • I totally misread the title and thought it said Mutti slams the Hamburg hall. Christ, I thought, it must be bad if even Merkel hates it.

  • Old saying: people who play in not so great sounding halls, shouldn’t throw stones (Orchestra Hall, Chicago).

  • It looks like the Muti will have more time to conduct outside Chicago: at his age, he should keep all options open.

  • I’m just curious. How does a conductor judge the acoustics of a hall when he’s standing in the middle of the orchestra? Does he ask them to keep playing while he takes a seat in the audience?

    • I’m surprised you weren’t aware of this. The instances of conductors doing this when they arrive in an unfamiliar hall are legion. When Bernstein was conducting the Concertgebouw (not then Royal!), he asked the then leader Jaap van Zweden to conduct the rehearsal while he walked around the hall and noted van Zweden’s potential for becoming a conductor.

      • True. But it is also normal for a conductor to be aware of the hall’s acoustics when working with the orchestra, how the sound encapsulates the players, and the sound of the whole is mixing. This is somewhat diferent from how the orchestra is sounding in the auditorium, but it is already giving a strong clue.

    • Er…that is a critical part of the conductor’s job; understanding how it sounds to the audience (and balancing the sections so that the piece can be heard properly). There are subtle changes in the balance according to the venue’s acoustic. If the conductor can’t do that part of the job then he will have a very short career.

  • Quoting a couple of sentences from an article by Rebecca Schmid on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Hans Scharoun’s Berlin Philharmonic Hall in 2013 re good acoustics:
    “This was not the case when the Philharmonic Hall first opened however. The podium had to be rebuilt three times and a series of 10 acoustic sails hung from the ceiling before Karajan was satisfied.”
    From the picture of the Elbphilharmonie, I can’t spot any corrective acoustic sails. These things may not be a panacea, but I have not heard about taking any corrective actions by the Elbphil administration. The seats behind the orchestra is proportionately much much larger than in the Berlin Phil, making more (unhappy) people sitting behind the singer.
    It is a truism that one cannot test drive any concert hall irrespective of the high tech designing and building possibilities available nowadays because the acoustic and the room temperature are simply very different when there are warm bums on all the seats. Some structural adjustments are unavoidable. To think otherwise is burying one’s head in the sand.

  • Muti knows his business. I recall vividly when he came to ASU’s Gammage Auditorium (Tempe, AZ) some 30 years ago with the Philly. Long before the orchestra entered for a quick touch up rehearsal, he walked around the stage speaking, clapping his hands and such getting a feel for the acoustics. He was thrilled and made the comment that he would love to record in the hall. It is a great space which unfortunately now is mostly used for amplified Broadway productions. And, it was a sensational concert ending with a Prokofieff 3rd symphony still in my memory.

    • Cubs fan: Is that the hall designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (spelling?) If it is, I attended its inauguration, during which a certain…Philadelphia Orchestra played Ein Heldenleben. I was a kid at the time. I played there about a year later. Memories!

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