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Berlin 24/7: My three favorite concert halls

Gero Schließ eg
March 12, 2017

Berlin is a city of music, boasting countless concert halls. These three are DW columnist Gero Schliess' favorites. They're as unique as Berlin's music scene.

Eröffnung des Pierre Boulez Saal in Berlin
Image: Pierre Boulez Saal

The new Pierre Boulez Hall in Berlin is an unusually casual concert hall. Its interior reminds me of an oversized floppy hat, with its rounded upper rows gently flowing up and down (see top picture). As far as the eye can see, there's not one right angle, no straight lines.

Conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim, who will be playing a lot of music here, calls the hall a place for the "thinking ear." At first glance, I find it's also a place for the swaying eye. Everything is in movement and permeable in this hall: the music, the sound, the energy emanating from the musicians.

Pierre Boulez Hall in Berlin
The Pierre Boulez Hall at the opening concertImage: DW/G. Schließ

The Pierre Boulez Hall for Daniel Barenboim

Behind the apparent nonchalance is an ingenious concept: With the new Pierre Boulez Hall Star, architect Frank Gehry created a room that architecturally translates Daniel Barenboim's vision of transcending borders through music - those between people, cultures and ideologies. After all, this hall will serve as the home of the Barenboim-Said Academie students, who are musicians from the Middle East - both Israelis and Arabs.

The Pierre Boulez Hall is already celebrated as a new Berlin favorite, boosted by the tremendous hype that accompanied its opening on March 4. I share this enthusiasm too.

Covered in warm wood tones, it's a feel-good hall. There's a feeling of proximity with the musicians and the music.

It already felt that way at the pre-opening concert last year, and even more so now at the brilliant opening concert that featured a lot of modern music, from Boulez to Berg. The sound was transparent and balanced. The Japanese acoustics guru, Yasuhisa Toyota, did a great job fine-tuning the acoustics of the hall.

The first season is filled with highlights: Along with concerts by the students of the Barenboim-Said Academie, star pianists such as Martha Argerich, Lang Lang and András Schiff will be playing - along with several performances by the great Daniel Barenboim himself.

Piano Salon Christophori
Historical pianos at the Piano Salon Christophori Image: H. Seyring

The Piano Salon Christophori

This concert space is cult. Filled with instruments, notes and dusty antique lamps, the Piano Salon reminds me of my grandma's living room. Yet there's more than meets the eye here. Named after Bartolomeo Cristofori, who's seen as the inventor of the piano, this location has three functions: It's a piano repair shop, an exhibition space for historical pianos and a concert hall.

There's a wonderfully cozy atmosphere to the salon's concerts. Before one starts, I'll get a beer or a glass of wine. Extensive alcohol consumption is part of the concept.

Every time I listen to a concert there, sitting among the packed audience on an old wobbly chair, I feel part of a conspiratorial community. I always get to discover young, still unknown musicians here.

Christoph Schreiber, who runs the salon while also working as a doctor in a hospital, always invites amazingly talented musicians, such as the pianist Severin von Eckardstein or the violinist Natalia Prishepenko.

Whoever wants to experience a relaxing evening with inspiring performances, this is the place to go.

Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
The Berliner Philharmonie: home of the Berlin Philharmonic OrchestraImage: Sebastian Hänel

Die Berliner Philharmonie

In my opinion, the Berliner Philharmonie remains the queen of all concert halls. Even the new Elbphilharmonie doesn't beat its acoustics. That's at least what my friends who've "heard" both halls claim.

The Berliner Philharmonie, designed by architect Hans Scharoun, has already been around for a few decades. More precisely, it was opened in 1963. It was built right near the Berlin Wall, as a symbol of West Berlin's cultural prestige.

It is the home of Germany's most famous orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, which repeatedly wrote music history in the acclaimed hall.

One of its most memorable concerts - which I was unfortunately too young to experience myself - was in 1979, as Leonard Bernstein conducted the orchestra for the first time, performing Gustav Mahler's Ninth Symphony. It was the concert of a lifetime, according to one of the musicians who performed that night.

Gero Schließ
Gero Schliess' Berlin 24/7 column appears every Sunday

When I think back to my own unforgettable Philharmonie moments, I also land by Gustav Mahler's Weltschmerz symphonies. They weren't conducted by Leonard Bernstein, but by Claudio Abbado, Herbert von Karajan's successor, whose suggestive interpretations sent shivers down my spine. The legendary performance of Rossini's "Il viaggio a Reims," also conducted by Abbado, had singers standing among the audience. It's a concert that lingers in my mind to this day.

With its various levels, the Berliner Philharmonie also offers brilliant conditions for opera performances with reduced ensembles. A few weeks ago, director Peter Sellars staged György Ligeti's opera "Le Grand Macabre," a grotesque parable on war and death.

Yet the true Philharmonie experience remains for me its unique acoustics: It allows the musicians' sounds to unfold in an incomparable way. I know many concert halls in the world: Moscow, London, Sao Paulo, Tokyo or New York. None of them matches Berlin's sound.