The Berliner Philharmoniker in the Elbphilharmonie

Our musicians’ view of a spectacular concert hall

(Photo: Thies Rätzke)

Without doubt, the opening of the Hamburg Elbphilharmonie was one of the outstanding events in the world of music this season. On 7 May, the Berliner Philharmoniker and Sir Simon Rattle made their first guest appearance in the spectacular building. The programme included Anton Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony and a new, short work called Surcos by Simon Holt. The press and public were delighted – but how did the orchestra feel about the new concert hall? We asked some of the musicians for their reaction.

Daniel Stabrawa, 1st concertmaster

There is always a lot to discover in a new concert hall. How it looks, how you feel there, and above all: how it sounds. You come to the rehearsal, play a few notes and find the sound quite okay. But the exciting question is, of course, how the full orchestra sounds, how the sound is distributed, and how well you can hear it yourself. And in this respect, the Elbphilharmonie is really fantastic. It feels comfortable playing there, and the sound is wonderful. However, we don’t know how it sounds to the audience or whether the acoustics are equally good everywhere in the auditorium. But from the stage, the hall sounds great. Although Simon warned that we would play too aggressively, I felt that differently. It may be that the sound occasionally comes across like that to the audience, but that is almost normal in a new hall – it just needs a little patina, some dirt on the walls and on the floor, then the sound will also become softer.
More about Daniel Stabrawa

Raphael Haeger, percussion

I think the hall has turned out beautifully. It guarantees every visitor a great concert experience from every seat. It also feels comfortable playing on the stage. You can hear and see very well, and as a musician, you just feel at ease. The hall sounds quite hard and very honest – which in this case means that every small mistake in a performance carries just as well as every beautiful detail. Many other concert halls refine the sound of the musicians. This is not the case here. But no matter how you feel about this honest, direct sound, the hall is a great asset for Hamburg and for the German classical music scene as a whole.
More about Raphael Haeger

Walter Seyfarth, clarinet

Even the incredible location of the Elbphilharmonie is fascinating. As we normally play at Tiergarten in Berlin, it was particularly impressive for us to look down from above at the ships and the water: a wonderful start to our first rehearsal in the new hall. Simon Rattle then conducted the rehearsals quite magnificently. He tried to adapt our Berlin Bruckner sound to the new space by playing notes longer and give them more room to breathe. The sound of the Elbphilharmonie is very direct, and it does not have the warmth we are used to in our Philharmonie. Overall, I find the stage rather big, so it is harder for us to hear ourselves. But the overall impression is of course great. The Elbphilharmonie is an incredible flagship for Hamburg and for Germany, and a spectacular addition to our cultural landscape.
More about Walter Seyfarth

Matthew Hunter, viola

When we as an orchestra come to a new space, we naturally try to find the sound we have developed over a long period of time. However, we don’t want to be inflexible about a sound ideal from some previous performance. At the same time, each stage presents different challenges for the chamber music aspect of our orchestra which is central to our sound. I like the feeling of spaciousness in the Elbphilharmonie. Although it is a little strange being on the eleventh story of a building, I forget all about it as soon as I go on stage. What really appeals to me is the use of wood in the hall. I think the acoustic panels, which are each individually made and cut to different depths to create different reflecting qualities, is a very interesting concept. The most important thing for me is that here we have a very, very fine concert hall close to us, about an hour and a half train ride away. And I am sure that it will find its place among the great concert halls of the world.
More about Matthew Hunter

Knut Weber, cello

For me, it was incredibly exciting to play in this famous new hall that so much has been spoken and written about lately. In the rehearsal, we needed a little more time than usual to adjust ourselves completely to the acoustics as we are accustomed to more warmth in our concert hall in Berlin. But with an audience present, the orchestral sound felt much more familiar. Personally, I thought it was a pity that the audience was so brightly lit during the concert. It takes away a certain intimacy which I appreciate enormously when playing.
More about Knut Weber

Fergus McWilliam, horn

The first impression was overwhelming. The way the building towers above the whole harbour – imposing, monumental, monolithic: a stunning architectural statement. We felt at home as soon as we entered the hall because of the vineyard arrangement of the seating. It is a very bright and incredibly high space. Then we started playing, and we horns at least had no problems hearing ourselves. The orchestral sound was very exciting and very balanced – we felt completely comfortable from the start. However, Sir Simon said that a forte becomes very loud very quickly here – something I experienced myself when I sat in the auditorium during the short piece by Simon Holt. The sound hits you very quickly and very directly, which is, however, not unpleasant. In terms of aesthetics and ambience, this is a very pleasant, attractive concert hall. And I am sure that this fantastic new landmark will not only shape Hamburg’s musical life but the face of the city as a whole.
More about Fergus McWilliam

The first rehearsal: how does the new hall sound?
(Photo: Monika Rittershaus)
The Elbphilharmonie: a whole new sound
(Photo: Monika Rittershaus)
“There is a lot to discover”: Daniel Stabrawa in conversation with Sir Simon Rattle
(Photo: Monika Rittershaus)
Lively discussion: the chairpersons of the orchestra Knut Weber (right) and Ulrich Knörzer (centre) in conversation with the future general manager, Andrea Zietzschmann (left).
(Photo: Monika Rittershaus)
Tuning into a new sound: horn player Fergus McWilliam
(Photo: Monika Rittershaus)
First encounter...
(Photo: Monika Rittershaus)
Backstage: The musicians enjoy the view
(Photo: Monika Rittershaus)
Backstage II: beautiful view – also for instrument cases
(Photo: Monika Rittershaus)