Hamburg ready for 1st concert in new landmark Elbphilharmonie

em|Reuters Photo/em
|Reuters Photo

Hamburg's spectacular new Elbphilharmonie concert hall is finally hosting its first concert on Wednesday night, several years behind schedule and far over the original budget.

President Joachim Gauck and Chancellor Angela Merkel are among the guests expected at the maiden concert, to be conducted by Thomas Hengelbrock.

The NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester will play music from the renaissance to the present, including works by Beethoven and Wagner and a new piece by German composer Wolfgang Rihm.

The grand opening was sold out quickly and the almost 500,000 tickets for the first half of this year are also long gone, but curious onlookers were invited to follow a light show on the building's facade.

Hamburg Mayor Olaf Scholz stressed that the concert hall should be accessible to everyone.

"I firmly intend that ... all children who go to school in Hamburg will have once heard a concert at the Elbphilharmonie," Scholz said, according to the German news agency dpa.

The landmark building with its wave-shaped roof and shiny glass facades was built on top of a former cocoa and coffee warehouse dating back to 1960's jutting out into the harbor of Germany's biggest port.

Overlooking Hamburg harbour, it evokes a ship floating on water and is part of a development that uses old warehouses to create residential and office space.

It's also home to a hotel with 244 beds and houses 44 apartments. There's an outside platform that is accessible without charge to everyone.

The main concert hall can seat 2,100 people, none more than 30 meters (98 feet) from the conductor.

The stage is in the center, surrounded by terraced tiers. The hall is covered by plaster paneling, the so-called "white skin," and sits atop 362 bags of feathers for sound insulation. It has been praised for its impressive acoustics.

Construction started in 2007 and was originally supposed to be finished in 2010. The cost to taxpayers climbed from an initially planned 77 million euros to 789 million euros ($835 million).

But the delays and cost increases were set aside for the grand opening.

"Hamburg is setting an example for the great significance of art and culture in a free society," Scholz said.

The Hanseatic trading port of Hamburg, now a media hub with chic shopping arcades as well as its red light district around the Reeperbahn, hopes the hall will help draw tourists to Germany's second-biggest city.

Architects Herzog & de Meuron have called the Elbphilharmonie a city in itself, with restaurants, a hotel and a 37 metre-high plaza between the brick and glass layers open to the public, offering a panorama of the city.

The opening has come as a relief to Germans whose reputation for efficiency has been dented by delays on infrastructure projects, most notably Berlin's new airport.

German media have praised the Elbphilharmonie's ambition to perform a range of music, from traditional symphony concerts and operas to modern improvisations and electro music.

"In post-war Germany, culture was something like spiritual self-defence against a dark past and a murky present. That has changed. Today it is rather a confirmation that times are better," wrote the Sueddeutsche Zeitung in an editorial.

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