Elbphilharmonie triples visitors, disappoints musicians

Elbphilharmonie triples visitors, disappoints musicians


norman lebrecht

December 20, 2019

In its second full year of operation, Hamburg’s concert hall drew 1.25 million visits to concerts and events.

It is unquestionably popular with the public.

Some musicians have other views.

There is no talk yet of an acoustic refit.





  • Tim says:

    So it’s just Jonas and Muti who don’t like it then? Odd, as everyone else seems to love it.

  • Alexander Hall says:

    It is also a rare concert-hall that offers its visitors five different performances of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony in just one season. The Philharmonia and Salonen have already been, as has the SWR Symphony under Currentzis. Still to come: the Concertgebouw and Chung, the San Francisco Symphony under Tilson Thomas and, to end this spell, the hall’s own resident orchestra, the NDR Elbphilharmonie, with Gilbert. Not bad for a city of not even two million residents. Others please emulate!

    • Monsoon says:

      While I’m sure five performances of the Mahler 9 in a single season sells well, it’s disappointing that the Elbphilharmonie isn’t being more deliberate in programming diverse repertoire with touring orchestras.

      • Alexander Hall says:

        Don’t blame the Elbphilharmonie. It’s mostly a question of which programme(s) a particular orchestra brings with it when it goes on tour. To expect a concert promoter to exert pressure on leading orchestras with their chief conductors to do certain pieces and not others is simply unrealistic.

        • Saxon Broken says:

          Actually, most venues will discuss what repertoire is played with a touring orchestra. And most touring orchestras will offer more than one programme to the venue, allowing it to choose between them.

  • Someone with ears says:

    Because an acoustic refit isn‘t necessary. I‘ve been to rehearsals and concerts. If the orchestra is seated right and plays the way the hall needs it, it sounds marvelous. It‘s work to achieve it, but it‘s worth.

  • Morgan says:

    to be precise, the Elbphilharmonie consists of
    two concert halls: Grosser Saal and Kleiner Saal.

    I attended a full capacity concert in the latter by the pianist Jonathan Powell. No complaints about the acoustic from the pianist, or myself and several friends.

  • Calvin says:

    It astonishes me how form-follows-function is so often neglected for new concert halls. Then, even when everyone begins face up to the problem, the prospect of an acoustic retrofit, which entails a further commitment of money and time, leads to unending procrastination. And indeed such indecision is understandable because past examples of corrective measures tend to yield only marginal improvement, putting into question whether the juice is worth the squeeze. I predict we will be hearing about this for years.

    • Monsoon says:

      My other gripe with these ridiculously expensive prestige performing arts venues is that they usually look like fortresses, which reinforce elitist stereotypes about classical music. And that’s exactly what the Elbphilharmonie looks like with the brick pedestal and water surrounding two of its three sides. It’s like something out of a dystopian movie where the elites live in fortified high-rise buildings.

      It’s ironic that concert halls built during the Gilded Age were actually integrated into the city scape without ostentatious facades and lobbies, like Carnegie Hall, the Old Met, the Academy of Music (Philadelphia), and Symphony Hall (Boston). Their designs were all about utility.

      • Hilary says:

        I agree regarding the ostentatious exterior.
        However, I’ve been to the Elbphilaharmonie and I have to say the overall vibe is preferable to the opposite aesthetic (Royal Festival Hall is a case in point ) where the concert hall seems like an add-on to familiar restaurant chains and bookshops. In the case of the RFH, one with a shamefully diminutive section on music. More a testament to music education in the uk than anything else.

  • It was impossible inside to have the same sound quality there’s in Leipzig

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    I haven’t been inside that hall as yet, but I hardly doubt that it is inferior to Laeiszhalle. I have learned through experience, that it is not enough for a hall to be modelled on Musikverein to have truly good acoustics.

  • Alexander Radziewski says:

    As an orchestra musician permanently performing in both halls it’s impossible to compare the Elbphilharmonie with halls like the Laeiszhalle or others from this period. The Elbphilharmonie has a fantastic clear acoustic. The Elbphilharmonie reacts immediately back what you are sending. It’s soft when you are soft. When you are scream it screams back. It shows what you are presenting and doesn’t excuse your mistakes or inabilities. Towards Kaufmann: He ignored two very important advices. First, he sung all parts of “Das Lied” which is usually splitted to be interpreted by a Male and female singer. There are reasons Mahler composed for two voices despite they never sing together. Second, he was in front of the stage as most other Solo singers decide to be behind the orchestra in an opera stage like situation. In hall where up to 40 percent of the audience is beside or behind the stage, it’s the smarter decision. We will have a concert with Mr. Flores in January there. Let’s see how we will manage it.

    • Monsoon says:

      “Second, he was in front of the stage as most other Solo singers decide to be behind the orchestra in an opera stage like situation.”


      In my concert going life solo singers are almost always at the very front, no matter the design of the hall. There have certainly been instances were soloists were placed in a balcony to create a certain effect or the solo parts were sung by choir members who stepped out slightly in front of the choir, but I cannot think of a piece like DLVE where the soloists were behind the orchestra.

      • Alexander Hall says:

        Then go to concerts in the Elbphilharmonie and see for yourself. When Paavo Järvi did Berg’s Seven Early Songs there this May with Laura Aikin as soloist, she was placed towards the back of the platform behind harp and celesta and at some considerable distance from the conductor. The results were not impressive.

        • Tamino says:

          Järvi was right. It‘s a bit better for quantities of the audience, if the singer soloists are in the back.
          But the main design flaw of the hall, that it‘s built for good viewing, not for good acoustics, can never be changed in principle.

  • Jonathan Cable says:

    I’ve performed there twice, I loved it there and enjoyed every minute.