Inside Munich’s new hall: A lesson for London and New York

Inside Munich’s new hall: A lesson for London and New York


norman lebrecht

November 01, 2021

Munich’s transition to a 40-million Euro temporary hall has been exemplary.

When they’ve finished with the Isarphilharmonie, can we borrow it?


  • The Gasteig originally cost about 372 million DM. The acoustic in the concert hall was so bad that after 36 years, they are spending over twice that amount, 450 million Euros, to try to improve it. Bernstein was engaged to conduct one of the first concerts in the Gasteig Konzertsaal. His comment was, “Burn it.” Ozawa also led one of the first concerts in it and said he would never return.

    So now we have the irony that an excellent new interim hall has been created for 40 million, while over ten times that amount is being spent mainly to try to fix the acoustic in the old one.

    The state of Bavaria is also going to build a new hall for the BRSO that will cost 750 million. Some say the costs will rise to one billion.

    We see that concert halls have become the new Versailles, pompous, insanely expensive monuments to provincial self-importance while smaller, more marginalized forms of classical music far more likely to shape our future are neglected. Why spend 750 billion on a pointlessly grandiose monument when you can get a great concert hall for 40 million? It seems to be part of a cultural world that is far more about form than substance.

    I also saw the brief zoom onto a bust of Celibidache in the above video. Perhaps they could caption it with, “The great maestro who called Anna-Sophie Mutter ‘a violin playing hen.'” Due to his bigotry and abuse of musicians, Celi was run off from Bologna, Stockholm, Paris, and London, among other places, but only in Munich did he find a society willing to accept his vulgarity–a fact made all the more ironic by Munich’s 20th century history.

    • Alviano says:

      Don’t be so nasty about Munich. It is an elegant, diverse, and open city. Musically the envy of nearly everyone.
      The story of Philharmonic Hall in New York (I lost track of the ever-changing name) is 20 years longer than Gasteig and just as bad.

      • Sisko24 says:

        Yes, New York’s David Geffen Hall, formerly ‘Philharmonic Hall’ has had a troubled history, hasn’t it? Let’s hope this latest iteration works (although I have my doubts). The press releases and statements surrounding this current effort seem to point more towards making it a good place to see the concert with any consideration towards hearing the concert coming in second. That’s not promising.

    • PS says:

      I admit to stealing “Idiocy! Where does it come from?” for choice moments. I would prefer Steve Allen’s “dumbth” but it never caught on.

    • La plus belle voix says:

      Fact check: the much needed renovation of the Gasteig in Munich is directed at the entire building complex, not just the “Philharmonie”, meaning that the Carl Orff Saal, the Kleiner Konzertsaal, the Black Box, the Volkshochschule (adult eduction), the Stadtsbibliothek (municipal library), and areas used by the Hochschule für Musik und Theater München will be extensively modernised. At issue are the heating, lighting, sanitary, and general technical aspects of the Gasteig, along with the technical backstage and artist entrance areas. In addition, there will be a new skyline restaurant.

      • Angelo says:

        Not to mention, the building is absolutely stuffed full of asbestos, which requires careful removal that is very expensive in every market on the planet.

        • La plus belle voix says:

          Oh dear. Could you share your source with us? Thanks.

          • Angelo says:

            It was in the tender documentation for the various parts of the design team, published in German a few years ago; a bit buried therein. Can’t cite chapter and verse at the moment.

    • Axel Kroell says:

      Dear Mr Osborne,
      while your original point (‚why spend 750 million when you can do it with 40‘) does have some merits, the last part about Celibidache, Anne-Sophie Mutter ( who performed at Gasteig a million times) and the Munich audience apparently being the only one worldwide willing to ‚accept his vulgarity‘ sounds like the hate speech of someone who is on a roll, dissing a very fine European culture center. And to connect your Celibidachi point by citing Munich’s 20th century Nazi past just to give your argument more weight, is a pretty cheap shot.

      As a tolerant, hospitable and cosmopolitan musician living in Munich I hope I‘m not the only one feeling offended.

      • Another Celi quote, this time from the Abendzeitung Nov. 10, 1984, in which he explains his opinion of critics. Notably, it did not at all deter the grovelling worship directed toward Celi. It reveals the character of the city which sets it apart from the rest of Europe:

        “These people who daily poison everything, should take a pause or write about gynaecology. In that area everyone has a little experience. But in music they are virgins. So they will remain, and so they will go into the other world, never fertilized by a single truly experienced tone.”

        (“Diese Leute, die taglich alles vergiften, sollten einmal pausieren oder über Gynakologie schreiben. Auf dem Gebiet hat doch jeder ein bischen Erfahrung. Aber in der Musik sind sie Jungfrauen. So bleiben sie, so gehen sie auch in die andere Welt hinuber, nie von einem wirklich erlebten klang befruchtet.”)’

        This quote is only one tiny part of Celi’s lunacy that was tolerated. It became part of a social fabric that included the CSU’s motto “So far right as the law allows.” (The CSU is the one party ruler of Bavaria since WWII.) Or Minister President Edmund Stoiber’s warnings about “the dangers of a mongrelized society.” Statements ironic enough, even if Dachau weren’t a suburb of Munich. And even if Munich were not known as the “Hauptstadt der Bewegung.”

        Another striking characteristic is how the cultured intelligensia of Munich lives in a bubble where this astounding political and social climate is simply ignored, as if it didn’t exist. It takes one back to the “We didn’t see anything, we didn’t know what was happening” mind set. Needless to say, I had little respect for the conveniently blinkered culturati of Munich and your superficial reaction is just another example.

      • John Borstlap says:

        I’m not living at all in Munich and yet I feel much offended by that rant and by the ridiculous references to the nazi past. The eternal stop on the organ of German-hatred. That a silly conductor said crazy things does not mean a whole city is suddenly diminished.

    • I agree with your every word William.It seems to many that the concert hall is more important than the art.And perhaps that wonderful musician Sir Simon Rattle has fallen into that malaise.

      • Allen says:

        I think that’s a little unfair on SR. So far as I’m aware, Simon Rattle simply believes that London should have a first rate concert hall north of Croydon. I don’t see anything remotely unreasonable in that and previous sneering comments in the press about his “vanity project” are cynical and unwarranted, IMO.

        However, that does not mean that others, outside the musical world (and perhaps not that concerned with it), are not guilty.

        I’ve commented before on how costs tend to escalate when high profile architects and planners get involved. Every new building does not have to be a architectural masterpiece, and, in any case, spending £billions does not guarantee a first class building of the sort that ordinary people appreciate. How many people outside the architectural world enjoy London’s Maginot Line on the South Bank?

        Can’t comment on NY, but London’s problem is at least two fold – the listing status of the RFH, and a make-do-and-mend approach to existing buildings which is neither cost effective nor successful acoustically. This is partly due to fear of the inevitable tabloid backlash against “elitist” new buildings. Overpriced refurbishment attracts less attention.

        I’m leaving the RAH out of this because it has other virtues, like versatility.

    • John Borstlap says:

      “…… the new Versailles, pompous, insanely expensive monuments to provincial self-importance..” The comparison is a bit unlucky since Versailles is more than a mere pompous, insanely expensive monument to provincial self-importance. To begin with, it was not provincial but national, and an expression of Frenchness, it was a state affair (the palace was, under Louis XIV, accessible to the population who came to see the king having his meal, and walk through the premises). And it is one of the most successful architectural projects of Europe, a world in itself, and almost everywhere amazingly beautiful, including the immense gardens. It was the inspiration of a flurry of baroque palaces all over the continent, which belong today to the most coveted cultural assets of nations, drawing millions of visitors every year.

      Comparing these ridiculous modernist concert halls with Versailles is a truly barbarous comparison. Versailles is a true creation, while these concert halls are abberations, architecturally, aesthetically, musically, naturally, dispeptically, compunctiously, phrasmatically, etc.

  • RW2013 says:

    Much too much Gergiev.

  • La plus belle voix says:

    Let us parse for a moment the statement made by Mr Osborn. He claims this is a fact: the only society to accept the vulgarity of Celibidache was that of Munich and this is ironic because the city is intrinsically connected with its Nazi past. Many fallacies here. First, that the conductor was vulgar. Secondly, that Munich’s society perceived that and accepted it. Thirdly, that no other cities saw or would abet such apparent lack of decorum. Finally, that there is a link between the conductor’s alleged reception in the Bavarian capital and its status as the former “Hauptstadt der Bewegung”. Mr Osborn’s logic is irrational and is easily toppled on all counts. It is hate speech.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    Putting up concert halls isn’t like pitching a fancy tent for a faux Viennese ball. If easy and an inexpensive solutions were there for the taking, many cities would have done so already. Simple answers to complex questions is sometimes just plain simple mindedness. And as far as harping on New York goes (pun intended), ‘the Met’ is far more an acoustic abomination than the David Geffen Memorial Thingee – whatever it’s being called this week.

  • La plus belle voix says:

    I have no idea what Mr Osborn has against Munich. Perhaps he should actually visit the city, one renowned for its various orchestras, including the Munich Philharmonic and its world-famous brass section.

  • MacroV says:

    As discussed on a previous thread about this temporary Munich hall, there are a lot of elements that you can probably do without in a building intended for use only for five years but that you need in a permanent structure, which probably explains much of the cost difference.

  • Paul Terry says:

    Mr. Osborne’s wife was a trombonist with the Munich Phil. They took Celi and the orchestra to court, hence Mr. Osborne’s animosity towards Celi, the Munich Phil, the city of Munich and the German Federal Republic.

    • La plus belle voix says:

      Oh I see. But this was forty years ago! And Mr Osborn has still not gotten over it? Wow. It ain’t healthy to bear a grudge for that long. Kinda eats away inside of you. Sometimes you just gotta let go.

      • John Borstlap says:

        A trombone never lets go.

      • The usual Internet snark in lieu of meaning arguments. Struggles for the equality of women in German-speaking orchestras continues. The Vienna Phil, for example, did not accept its first woman member aside from harpists until 2007. The VPO still has the lowest ratio of women in the world, and the Berlin Phil the third lowest. Naturally, I and many others remain engaged with this problem. And I remain engaged with the political climates that have allowed this discrimination to persist. Anyone familiar with the politics of Bavaria’s CSU, or the meteoric rise of the AfD in Germany will know why this is important.