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A place for the thinking ear

Two stunning new concert halls opened in Germany in the first months of 2017. After the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg in January came the Pierre Boulez Hall in Berlin in March. Here's the opening concert of the latter.  

Listen to audio 54:59

Concert Hour: Pierre Boulez Hall opening, part one

The Boulez Hall is part of a facility in the heart of Berlin that houses the Barenboim-Said Academy. Beginning operations in late 2016, the academy gives students from the Middle East instruction in the arts and humanities with the hope of promoting understanding between cultures. Now the academy has its own stunning new concert hall designed by American architect Frank Gehry. 

Exterior of the Pierre Boulez Saal in Berlin (Pierre Boulez Saal)

Looking at the historic exterior, you wouldn't expect the sleek, ultramodern hall within

You won’t see Gehry's trademark sweeping façade this time. The Boulez Hall is tucked away in a historic building from the 19th century. But the interior is ultramodern, with two elliptical seating areas that seem to hover in the air.

Yasuhiso Toyota was the acoustical engineer for the building, also responsible for the sound of Hamburg's Elbphilharmonie.

Like the academy, the hall was established at the initiative of conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim and based on an idea of Pierre Boulez. The late French composer and conductor envisioned a performance space whose features could expand, contract, or change shape depending on the music to be performed - and a place that would eliminate barriers between the musicians and the audience. This new concert hall thus has neither a front nor a back, and no listener is seated further than 14 meters (45 feet) from the stage. Occupying the center of the hall, the stage can be configured either to stand at the end of an elipse or to cross it. 

Pierre Boulez (picture-alliance/dpa/Ballesteros)

Pierre Boulez saw the sketches for the hall named after him before he died in January 2016

So what is to be played here? The Pierre Boulez Hall is to be "a place for the thinking ear," said the concert program on opening day, standing for "curiosity and open-mindedness." This program illustrates that well.  

Pierre Boulez

Franz Schubert
Der Hirt auf dem Felsen (The Shepherd on the Rock) for soprano, clarinet and piano, D. 965 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Piano quartet in E-flat Major, K. 493 

Daniel Barenboim with architect Frank Gehry (picture-alliance/dpa/S. Stache)

Daniel Barenboim (left) with architect Frank Gehry

Performed by:
Anna Prohaska, soprano
Jörg Widmann, clarinet 
Michael Barenboim, violin
Yulia Deyneka, viola
Kian Soltani, cello  
Daniel Barenboim, piano

Recorded by Radio Berlin-Brandenburg (RBB) in the Pierre Boulez Hall of the Barenboim-Said Academy in Berlin on March 4, 2017. 

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