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Dortmund Goes High Brow, Low Brow With New Concert Hall

The directors of Dortmund's dazzling new 48 million euro concert hall are seeking to create a cultural program that will appeal to broad swaths of the community.


Pearl of the night: The new home of Dortmund's philharmonic orchestra.

With great fanfare, the city of Dortmund celebrated the opening of its new civic concert house this week with a series of inaugural events.

With its 48 million euro ($46.5 million) new facility, financed mostly by the community, Dortmund is seeking to create a broad artistic program that attracts more than just the cultural elite. Thus, it was no coincidence that the first concert conducted in the new hall last Friday included a performance of American composer Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man." With that music selection, the hall's artistic director hoped to demonstrate that the hall was built by the public for the public.

Construction of the new facility lasted two years and generated considerable controversy. In times of strained communal budgets in Germany, the move by the Social Democratic and Christian Democratic parties on the city council to finance the project led to heated debate and a divisive discussion in the community. But that all became a chapter of history over the weekend as the spectacular new building opened its doors to the art-loving public.

A gift from the public

Signs of the community's charity and fundraising efforts are apparent throughout the building. In addition to the many benefit concerts and fundraisers that were held, local cultural foundations also donated equipment and materials, including a mighty 53-register concert organ that was a gift of the Dortmund Cultural Foundation.

But what really sings at the new Dortmund Concert Hall is the building itself, designed by the Dortmund-base architecture trio Schröder/Schulte-Ladbeck/ Strothmann. During the daytime, the building’s facade is a bit staid, but at night it blooms with a rainbow of neon lights imbedded in its glass exterior.

The concert hall is also notably lacking in extravagant details -– it can even be austere, depending on the lighting. But the spare design places the hall fully in the service of the music that is meant to be heard here.

An acoustic force to be reckoned with

Few other contemporary concert halls are as acoustically well defined as Dortmund’s, which was modeled after the magnificent Musikverein concert hall in Vienna. Architects made exact measurements and conducted frequent tests to ensure that it met the ideal acoustical standards, making refinements to the building right up till the end. Now, as many as 1,550 visitors can enjoy concerts of the highest possible acoustical quality.

For its first season, the concert hall's directors have attracted wide range of stars – names that are meant to appeal to different cultural tastes and, thus, make the hall attractive to the broadest possible public.

"We also want to follow this plan in the future," said Tilman Schlömp, Dortmund's artistic director. "We're always trying to build a bridge between serious and lighter music."

Manifestations of that philosophy are easy to find in the Dortmund Concert Hall's program this season, which includes everything from Wagner's "Ring" to world music to a performance by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra to children's concerts to shows featuring the actress Hanna Schygulla and pop star Reinhard Mey.

But the most important resident of the new concert hall is the Dortmund Philharmonic Orchestra, whose musicians are already celebrating their new home – the first regular venue in the musicians' 110 year history.