There was an unexpected & collective sense of occasion about Monday’s concert with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra at the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg that seemed to defy normal behaviour. It was just a regular concert in a concert hall; the final concert of a relatively modest four-day German tour. It wasn’t being televised, recorded for radio, live-streamed online: it was just a regular concert, in a concert hall. Orchestras on tour are always going to places & halls they’ve never been to; but rarely do the venues create the instinctive need to want to photograph the hall, or take a selfie, or have a picture taken with your section. This new concert hall in Hamburg certainly worked its magic over the 80-something musicians on this trip. It didn’t go unnoticed that the CBSO had the honour of being the first British symphony orchestra to play there; and ‘symphony orchestra’ was stressed quite heavily by those who pointed it out, although I’ve no idea who the first British ensemble to play there was.
I don’t think I’ve never been in a venue before where everyone (myself included) was taking photos of everything! I put a couple of pics of the hall on Facebook, and you couldn’t help but notice that your news feed was awash at that moment with other people in the orchestra posting pics of the hall from their perspective.
There are enough pictures online that I don’t need to describe what the building looks like from the outside, save to say that you notice it. Inside though is a different matter. When you go into almost any concert hall in the world, the stage door isn’t too far away from the stage, and almost certainly never more than one or two floors below/above it. Not in this building however; where the stage is twelve floors above the stage door, and unless you fancy a bit of a pre-rehearsal cardio you must take a lift up to it. If you suffer from vertigo, it’s probably best you don’t go out on the very exposed balcony next to the Artists’ Café – it’s a long way down, but the views of Hamburg’s shipping & industrial might are very impressive. As for the main hall though, I think it’s wonderful. It has a very organic feel; no straight lines, no 90˚ edges, no left-right symmetry, and the seating flows from one level to the next, eliminating the rigidity of design usually found in such places. People are always very keen to ask you about acoustics, but in all honesty it’s a conversation I find difficult to get excited about because everyone has a different opinion on every hall they’ve ever played in. Can you hear yourself? ✅ Can you hear other players? ✅. Beyond that, I don’t really give it too much thought – that’s for the audience to decide.
One thing that’s not apparent until the hall is filled with people, is just how much of the audience is to the side of & behind you. Sufficient numbers indeed, that when taking the applause, Mirga gestured to us to do a 180 & acknowledge the audience behind us.
Onstage at the end of the concert, Mirga very graciously offered me the two gifts she was presented with from the festival organisers. One was a solitary pink rose, but the other item had people guessing. I can confirm now, to the avoidance of further intrigue and confusion, that it wasn’t a matching set of coasters, or a quiche; but in fact a likeness of Maurice Ravel set into a marzipan case.