Simon Rattle slams another hall

Simon Rattle slams another hall


norman lebrecht

July 21, 2020

Conducting the BRSO season-ender in Munich, he says this of the Gasteig: ‘This is not anyone’s favourite concert hall in the world. It’s a difficult place, it’s a dry place. You have to fill it with the humanity that it won’t naturally give you.’

Mariss Jansons, the last BRSO music director, campaigned to his final breath to get a new hall. Could Simon be raising his baton?

Especially as his London hall is a non-starter.



  • Gustavo says:

    I really don’t understand all this hall bashing.

    A good craftsman should never blame his tools.

    I attended Lorin Maazel’s last ever concert with the Munich Phil in 2014 in that “dry” hall (Strauss: Zarathustra, Burleske (Ax), Till Eulenspiegel).

    It was one of the most vibrant musical experiences in my life. And a very touching one.

    • Jerome Hoberman says:

      There is something to this. I remember hearing the LA Philharmonic with Giulini in Avery Fisher Hall (as it was, then), and being stunned by the richness and vibrancy of the bass, and the warmth of the upper mid-range and treble, in Dvorak’s 8th Symphony. It utterly belied the hall’s reputation.

    • Heini says:

      I’ve never understood that proverb. The best craftsmen need the best tools and can select them and use them to the limits of their capabilities. The best players need the best instruments so their techniques and musicianship are unfettered and allowed to soar. The best orchestras can exploit to the utmost the possibilities of superb acoustics.
      As a player you might sound ok on a less good instrument or in a mediocre hall but it’s very frustrating as you know you could sound a lot better.

    • Herr Doktor says:

      In December 2018 we heard the Vienna Philharmonic perform Bruckner’s 7th in the Gasteig. Now mind you, when I purchased tickets, I asked to get the best seats possible from an acoustic perspective, telling the very kind customer service representative that I was aware that the Gasteig had problematic acoustics and was hoping she could put me in seats that minimized the problem. And probably that’s exactly what she did.

      That said, I thought the sound we heard in the Gasteig was actually quite nice–certainly not as precise and elegant as Symphony Hall in Boston, but definitely not anywhere near as horrible and murky as Geffen/Avery Fisher Hall in NYC either. Maybe it was the seats we had, but maybe it was that the Vienna Philharmonic and Riccardo Muti knew how to alter their sound to fill the hall. Regardless, I was expecting a sonically bad experience, and that’s not what I heard. And the performance was incredible – the VPO was playing as if their lives depended on it. It was not at all a routine performance, and it was a deeply moving experience.

      I suspect there’s something to Lorin Maazel’s comments–in the hands of a conductor who understands the acoustics of the hall the orchestra is playing in, and understands the adjustments that need to be made to compensate, the result can be perfectly satisfactory. And if it’s not, there may be more blame that should be attributed to the conductor and musicians than many would have us believe.

    • Interested Party says:

      There are places in the Albert Hall too where the sound is glorious. The point is, the conditions for the musicians to make good music are terrible, and every seat sounds different – some of them are absolutely awful. Maybe if you are touring and you have played a programme 15 times before you are confronted with a bad hall, you can survive or even triumph, and certain seats in the house will sound wonderful. But as a home, a training ground, a rehearsal venue – these halls can be worse than useless. And who wants an orchestra that dreads playing to their home crowd. One good experience in a bad hall doesn’t change that.

  • Tamino says:

    Very true, Gasteig sucks the life out of anything. It takes a lot of energy to bring it alive somewhat. Lenny advised to burn it down over 30 years ago.
    It is ironic how the wealthiest cities in the world, London, New York, Munich (the last rich in Germany at least) do not have the best concert halls.
    Supposedly the moneyed elite has not the best artistic taste and thus too often supports the wrong projects for prestige rather than musical ambition.

    • phf655 says:

      As far as New York, I think you are forgetting about Carnegie Hall. You are certainly right about David Geffen Hall in New York; despite several efforts to improve things since its opening in 1962, I think the acoustics are irredeemable.

      • John Kelly says:

        I think you’re right, but there is a new redemption effort underway (another one)………..

      • Grittenhouse says:

        I attended numerous concerts there in the 1980s and had no great difficulty with the acoustics. All it needed was more decorative artifacts on the surfaces to disperse the soundwaves more. The problem is not the hall, it’s the modernism. The State Theater on the other hand, has large rosettes on the balcony fronts, and you can hear the orchestra quite well.

        • Sisko24 says:

          Absolutely correct! I’ve heard Bernstein, Masur, Maazel and Solti in Avery Fisher/Geffen and they all had magnificently performed, conducted and delivered concerts and the hall was not at all a problem! I fear for the newest attempt at ‘improvement’ of Avery Fisher/Geffen hall as I believe it won’t ‘improve’ anything…only make things worse.

    • Dan Beckmann says:

      Those cities (London, New York, Munich), with their wealth and strong support of the arts, built their halls in the 1950’s-80’s (London Barbican: 1982, London Royal Festival Hall: 1951, New York’s Geffen/etc: 1962/76, Munich Gasteig: 1985), when acoustical consulting was still wandering around in the dark (c.f. the major errors made at Royal Festival Hall based on incorrect science), resulting in buildings that have still not exhausted their natural life-cycle which would thus be too expensive to demolish and replace entirely. (See also the €450 million renovation of the Gasteig currently in design.)

      • Allen says:

        Sensible comment.

      • Simon Behrman says:

        You may have a point but the Philharmonie in Berlin was built around the same time (early 60s) and the acoustics there are magnificent. Having lived and mostly attended concerts in London and New York, the sound in the Philharmonie blew me away in comparison to what I’m used to.

        • John Kelly says:

          Me too, when I visited Berlin.. Very good hall.

        • Dan Beckmann says:

          Well, like I said, back then, wandering around in the dark – you win some, you lose some. (Not many bad concert halls remaining from 1800’s, pre-WWII, they all got torn down. Lots of them, and for various reasons.)

          Berlin Philharmonie is good – but not great. (It deserves very high marks for being the first hall moving the orchestra away from the end of the room. With almost no prior art, it was a big risk for such an acoustical experiment, which amplifies its success.) The Philharmoniker sounds great there (and basically everywhere else), but for the other 7 orchestras in Berlin (8? I lost count) it’s extremely difficult, possibly with the exception of the Staatskapelle.

          Also interesting from that period is Suntory in Tokyo (1986) – good but not great, Boettcher (Denver, 1978) not great, Cologne (1986, round like Boettcher) pretty good, Leipzig Neues Gewandhaus (1981) quite good, Sydney (1973) poor, Minneapolis (1974) not bad…after this (late 80’s onward) the result gets consistently better.

      • René Lopez-Couto says:

        Throughout the
        years studying &
        working in Italy,
        France, Germany
        Austria, Switzer-
        land, Belgium,
        Netherlands, UK
        and Scandinavia
        I had the privileg
        ed opportunity to listen to great
        Orchestras/Concert Pianist-Violin
        and great Opera
        Singers, such as
        Rayna Kaivaes-
        svanka, Montse-
        rrat Caballe, Re-
        gine Crespin, Mi-
        rella Freni, Kiri Te
        Kanowa, as well as Jose Carreras
        Domingo/Pavarotti and the best Symphony Orch.
        ie; Vienna, Berlin
        LondonSymOrch They are incredi-ble ensembles &
        deserve their re-
        putation & acco-
        ladies. Each and
        every Orchestra
        has its high/low
        depending on chemistry with
        ist,not tomention

      • Mikko says:

        €450 million should be enough for a new hall. Or two. I believe that’s around the price of the Elbphilharmonie, after massive budget overruns.

        In any case, I agree with your comment. Helsinki’s solution to the problem (Finlandia Hall, 1971) was to build a new one next to it (Helsinki Music Centre, 2011). The former with a particularly problematic fan-shaped room, the latter a vineyard hall with consulting by Nagata Acoustics, like everywhere else. Btw, the final budget was €190 million, which included equipment, five smaller halls and spaces for the Sibelius Academy (and very modest architectural values compared to the Elbphilharmonie and suchlike).

      • Grittenhouse says:

        Acoustical “science” is a colossal scam, resulting in one disaster after another. The 19th century halls, pre-World War II halls, all perform just fine. Because they’re not modernist and have known-to-work proportions and materials. It’s rather simple. When Manhattan School of Music got sponsors for refurbishing their recital hall, they gave it even more decoration, and a nice hard, glossy paint job, and it became exquisite. That was all it took, good taste. Cyril Harris ruined Minnesota Orchestra Hall with his experimentation, and every other hall he worked on. The other part of the problem is that people want a hall to sound like a stereo recording, with lots of echo, when what it should have is clarity, balance and space. Like the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, which is highly decorated, but also full of velvet.

    • rugbyfiddler says:

      Which demonstrates that Birmingham may not be the wealthiest (in monetary terms) but has the best hall in the UK – Symphony Hall – which on current evidence ranks VERY highly in European ratings too!

  • Manu says:

    There is no such thing as a bad hall. There are bad conductors who don’t manage to adapt and make them sound properly. – Lorin Maazel

    • Tamino says:

      Maazel was simply wrong.
      That‘s like saying there are no bad instruments either. There are limits to the possibilities.

    • StopperCrime says:

      Maestro Maazel was nearing the end when he conducted the Philharmonia in the Alpine Symphony at the RFH. I thought they would never get up that mountain.

      • Stephen Skinner says:

        I was there too and thought it a superb performance.

        • Alexander Hall says:

          I was there too and the opulence of sound he drew from the Philharmonia, never mind an even more overwhelming display of tonal power a few days later in Mussorgsky’s Pictures, both demonstrate that even in supposedly “bad” halls master-magicians on the rostrum can achieve stunning results. A bad tradesman always blames his tools.

    • “There is no such thing as a bad hall.”

      There IS such a thing as a very *good* hall.

      Since the very good ones seem to cost no more and are just as obtainable, it is foolish to accept a careless aphorism like, “There is no such thing as a bad hall” as expert guidance.

  • Gustavo says:

    Is Elphi far better?

    Not from where I sat during Eschenbach’s Mahler 6, sounding like a limp chamber version.

    Burn down Elphi? Never!

  • phf655 says:

    I live in neither Munich nor London, but I have been in the Barbican and Gasteig enough to have come to the conclusion that the Gasteig is far worse. The Barbican isn’t great, but the sound from the front rows of the upper tiers isn’t all that bad, better than David Geffen in New York. I think I once read that the volume of the Gasteig’s space is larger than that of the Metropolitan Opera, but has more than 1,000 fewer seats. Halls and acoustics do make a difference, as anyone who has sat in the one of the best seats in Boston’s Symphony Hall should know.

  • I don’t know the Gasteig but this place has a very bad reputation worst than the Barbican. But it remind me a concert of Celibidach in his last year I have seen on Youtube. It’s not the new Gewandhaus also from the 80’s. In Munich there’s also the Hercules where Mariss was used to go. Rattle must ask to go there.

    • Schoenberglover says:

      I think Rattle often performs at Herkulessaal with the BRSO but probably had to use the bigger Gasteig so that he could perform works requiring a larger orchestra given the social distancing requirements for players.

    • Le Křenek du jour says:

      Your mention of Celibidache in this context is most apt.
      Indeed, it is astonishing that no one else seems to recall Celi’s astonishingly adroit circumventing of the Gasteig’s deficiencies.
      Phenomenological babble aside, Celibidache had a superb ear for the spatial timing of sonic development. That is why his concerts at the Gasteig were so enthralling if you were on the premises, and why they seem much less convincing in their inadequate rendition on CD.

      My favourite experience with Celi took place at the old Tonhalle in Zurich.
      He gathered the orchestra, had them cast aside their instruments, and told them to listen to the silence. Only when they would apprehend the particular quality of the location’s silence would they be able to play around it, in it, with it.
      Needless to say, the ‘silence’ (actually the background noise) of the Tonhalle differed substantially from that of the Gasteig, and was surprisingly informative regarding the acoustics of the venue.

  • Also from the 80’s there’s the Koln concert hall a place who looks intersiting I have never heard good or bad things about it. I would like to go there. It seems more intersiting than the Gasteig

  • Alexander Tarak says:

    Wouldn’t want to watch Simon Rattle in any hall.
    I find his mannerisms unbearable.
    Wouldn’t want to hear him either as most of his performances are insipid and vanilla flavoured. (Ditto Dudamel on both counts).
    (“I was never rattled by Simon”, Carlos Kleiber, Corresponding with Carlos by Charles Barber)

  • Fiddleman283 says:

    This comment of Rattle’s must be seen within the current political context in Munich. The state of Bavaria is already in the process of planning to build a new concert hall for the Radio Orchestra. Rattle is rumored to be the next chef of the Radio Orchestra. In order to give credence to the necessity of building a new hall, the Gasteig has been trashed and its acoustics have been portrayed as being much worse than they are. Now with the drastic budget constraints resulting from Covid-19, many are questioning the wisdom of embarking on the construction of a new hall. On top of this the city of Munich is committed to renovating the Gasteig, optically as well as acoustically.

  • mishty says:

    Oslo Hall acoustic is bad but this is great example of both conductor & orchestra working together together to get it so right on their latest Rimsky cd. Methinks Maazel was absolutely right 😉

  • Loop says:

    Dallas has a really good hall.

    Davies (San Francisco Symphony) where I live isn’t great.

  • Musician says:

    Anybody have been in the Bamberg Concert Hall? It’s great, also like Cologne.. but the best concert halls by far are those in Japan! Muza Kawasaki is the best one there..

  • fflambeau says:

    He’s doubtlessly right as shown also by the actions and statements of another great conductor, Mariss Jansons.

    To me, this elevates Rattle in my mind: he’s not afraid to speak out on matters that he knows about, always in an effort to improve them. That’s great news.

    • C Porumbescu says:

      Indeed. People who can’t observe such actions without assuming that they must serve some self-aggrandising agenda reveal more about themselves than they do about individuals like Rattle, whose record at this stage speaks for itself.

  • fflambeau says:

    There are always competing interests involved in construction of a concert hall (money and funds vs. cost concerns; destruction of surrounding buildings/urbanization vs. new development; government/union questions; beauty vs. functionalism etc.). Sound is rarely a priority. Hence lots of new concert halls are terrible accoustically. This is also probably why most older halls are better for sound than new ones. Carnegie Hall is thus much better than Lincoln Center’s options.

    Rattle is doubtlessly correct.

  • fflambeau says:

    I was listening to a conversation with Edo de Waart, former Music Director of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra with the new Music Director, Ken David Masur, who was waxing eloquent about the MSO”s new concert hall (actually, a one hundred year old cinema that is being refurbished and is set to open in September). To his credit, de Waart said something like, “the most important thing is acoustics.”

    Old school but right.

  • fflambeau says:

    When famed conductor Leonard Bernstein was asked on his opinion of the hall, he remarked, “Burn it.”

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    Incidentally this building along with the Hilton hotel next door are located at the very location of the beer hall where Hitler started his so called “Beer Hall Putsch” in 1923. I have never attended a well attended concert there. The acoustics are bad. At least there is a good Italian restaurant opposite.

  • Peter Phillips says:

    Hidden gems. Swansea’s shoe box shaped Brangwyn Hall has lots of wood, painted panels and a sprung floor. So a warm but clear acoustic. Sadly, since the demise of the Swansea Festival, we won’t be hearing the likes of the Czech, Vienna, St Petersburg or RTF philharmonics again.

  • When times were good (or let’s just say better) and Simon was in Birmingham for 18 years he persuaded the authorities to build a new concert hall – Symphony Hall. You can hear a pin drop from any part of the auditorium. A magnificent (and acoustically tuneable) hall. Now, as everywhere else closed alas…

  • henrirenquist says:

    It always makes me laugh how the mediocre find mediocrity elsewhere and think that they are something better. Mr Rattle should confine his opinions to himself, it’s bad enough when he’s silent and conducting, we don’t need him talking as well.

  • Rob says:

    Just design a hall like in Boston and you’ve got it made.

  • Fenway says:

    Believe it or not, one of the best concert halls in the US is the Knight Concert Hall in the Arsht Center in Miami. When major orchestras like NY Phil, Cleveland and Chicago play in this hall they drool and wish they had acoustics even close to what we have.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Is that percussionist Fattle rf conductor Rattle? “If the check is goo, the acoustics are good.” — Rachmaninoff

  • Grittenhouse says:

    The Academy of Music in Philadelphia is considered dry, but it’s the best hall I ever heard an orchestra in, better than Carnegie Hall.

  • Mark (London) says:

    Ah didums Mr Rattle

  • Edgar Self says:

    Simon hasn’t been himself since he threw over the Philharmoniker for the Rattle-Battle-Ax trio.

  • The hall-bashing is entirely justified. The Gasteig is one of the worst concert halls in the world Technically, the reason for this is two-fold: the plan shape is a fan shape (absolute disaster) and the floor rake is far too steep (just like the problem with the (rectangular) RFH. The new London hall is planned to repeat the RFH problem.

  • And the new hall in Munich has exactly the same acoustic problem as the RFH: the floor is far too steep.