I was lucky to get tickets at short notice for a concert at the Berlin Philharmonic. The Staatskapelle was being conducted by James Levine in this place which has become the benchmark of concert halls. It fits so well into the new architecture of Berlin that it is hard to remember that it opened in 1963, when computer graphics was a dream of the future.
On the 50th anniversary of the opening of the venue Gerwin Zohlen wrote about the consternation with which the design was greeted.
Those who looked more closely saw bends and slopes everywhere, broken lines and edges at flat or wide angles. None had Smartphones nor tablets that visualise a drawing in 3D using an app. Instead they had only a T-square with ruler and sharpened pencil, a compass and measuring tape with which to approach the great architectural author’s fantasy.
I had not thought about how outlandish the design must have looked to people who grew up only with the traditional concert halls, and how skeptical they must have been even about whether the building would stand up at all. At a time when most architects seemed content with concrete boxes, Hans Scharoun had anticipated the forms which would fill our modern world. This was the beginning of the post-Bauhaus aesthetics. The fact that this looks so ordinary today is a comment on how influential the design was.
Much has been written also about the acoustics of the hall. I’d read Rainer Esche’s very accessible article on the problems faced by the acoustic engineer Lothar Cremer, and how he solved them. So I knew the reason why there were curved “clouds” hanging above the stage. The actual experience of listening to Mahler’s third symphony was grand: I heard with equal clarity the softest of sounds and the loudest crescendos. I noticed that some of the children in the choir tried to protect their ears during the loudest bits, which told me that the musicians have no difficulty hearing each other.