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Music

Hamburg's Elbphilharmonie, just before it opens

The building project was nearly abandoned - now after 10 years it is finally opening: Hamburg's Elbphilharmonie. Presiding at the official inauguration of the main concert hall is Germany's President Joachim Gauck.

In 2012, construction came to a standstill. Then in 2013, the Elbphilharmonie project was completely renegotiated. That's how Hamburg's mayor, Olaf Scholz, described the development of this magnificent building: "It was a difficult birth experience, but we've adopted the child," said Scholz at the opening on Wednesday.

One visitor asked why the city didn't obtain support from the German federal government when the costs exploded. "Hamburg is a city-state with a long, proud tradition - which forbids it from asking money from the national government," replied the mayor, half joking. 

Deutschland Hamburg - Elbphilharmonie: Olaf Scholz, Erster Bürgermeister der Stadt Hamburg und Christoph Lieben-Seutter, Generalintendant (DW/R. Fulker)

Olaf Scholz, Mayor of Hamburg, and Christoph Lieben-Seutter, director of the Elbphilharmonie

Accompanied by the concert hall's architects, the program director of German public broadcaster NDR and the director of the Elbphilharmonie, Scholz appeared noticeably relieved at the press conference of the opening of the new concert hall.

Hamburg's new landmark, connecting the harbor area and the city center, stands for openness: Some 500,000 people have already visited the building since November 2016.

The exploding costs and delayed timeframes are no longer at the center of discussions - except that it is now clear that such a building could not be completed without spending 500 to 600 million euros, said Scholz. He also admitted that it was a mistake not to have discussed the costs publicly at the time.

Tickets only available on the black market

The first season is completely sold out. Tickets which were initially priced at 17 euros ($18) were resold and can now fetch over 200 euros ($212) on the black market. Newly announced events are sold out within minutes, said Christoph Lieben-Seutter, general director of the Elbphilharmonie.

Deutschland Hamburg - Elbphilharmonie: Bedienungstheke (DW/R. Fulker)

With such a long bar, thirsty concert-goers might not need to wait very long during the breaks

The sound in a concert hall is only fully revealed once the audience fills its seats, as their clothes absorb sound waves. The acoustic engineer Yasuhisa Toyota, however, left nothing to chance. He built a 1:10 model of the Grand Hall and filled it with small dolls sitting in for the future concert-goers. When echo effects occurred, he made adjustments.

The NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra has been performing in the hall since last summer - and is thoroughly enthused about the sound in it, said Lieben-Seutter. When the 2,100 visitors have taken their seats in the evening, the Grand Hall will actually sit about two millimeters deeper, as it rests on a multitude of steel springs, each about 30 centimeters (one foot) long, and keeping any sound or vibration from the nearby hotel, restaurant or harbor below outside. 

Deutschland Hamburg - Elbphilharmonie: Wändeabdeckung (DW/R. Fulker)

The walls of the hall are covered with a "white skin" to optimize accustics

A concert for every school child 

Along with the Grand Hall, there is a chamber music hall in the Elbphilharmonie whose concerts are also sold out. The leading ensemble in its first season is the Ensemble Resonanz, presenting several programs with mainly contemporary music.  

"Every school child in Hamburg will come here to a concert," predicted Olaf Scholz, explaining the Elbphilharmonie's extensive music education program. "And I will be very, very proud if one of them then decides to take up the musician's profession - maybe even one who comes from a part of the city one wouldn't expect."
 

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