Last night, the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg finally opened.
“Finally”, because it was supposed to be done six years ago, and because the costs have meanwhile outgrown even its very steep and stylish roof. But it’s done, and you should absolutely watch the on-demand available ARTE stream of the opening concert because the acoustics (engineered by Yasuhisa Toyota) are out of this world.
Also, the concert program is out of this world: yes, for the opening act before the concert, you get Beethoven and Mendelssohn and Brahms, with a fantastic NDR Orchestra – newly renamed NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester – under its principal conductor Thomas Hengelbrock. But the main concert afterwards has lots of very old and very new, off-the-beaten-path music and it is glorious.
Hengelbrock programmed this evening – and this evening is a big deal far beyond Hamburg or Germany – and he starts with BRITTEN, then has DUTILLEUX (and the piani in the strings are unbelievable there) and then Philippe Jaroussky, from one of the balconies, sings “Dalle più alte sfere”.
This is the most brilliant piece of programming ever – the opening number of the 1589 Medici Intermedi in Florence, where the primadonna of the court descended from the heavens (well, stage heavens cart, but still) as the celestial harmony, singing this very piece that was, then, the latest in vocal development. I have never heard this programmed in a concert out of very, very obscure special events among Early Music nerds, and even then, very rarely.
The whole first part is 16th/17th century meets 20th century, trying out the acoustic possibilities of the hall to the max. Which are mindblowing, in case I had not mentioned that. There is a Zimmermann piece, follwed by a Praetorius, and then it’s a direct segue into Liebermann’s “Furioso”, my other favorite piece of the evening. The sonic colors this room allows to shine in that section are un-be-lie-va-ble.
And then Jaroussky returns for Caccini’s “Amarilli” (which suits him better because it has more diction and legato line) with solo harp and I dare you not to cry at it, it is that wonderful. And right next is the finale of Messiaen’s Turangalila symphony, and how’s all that for a programmatic statement for this hall?!
There is nothing specifially white-shirtish/queer female/lesbian about this event, at all (unless you enjoy actual white shirts and men in well-fitting tails/tuxes, then Philippe Jaroussky and Pavol Breslik have you covered, and, yes, there are Hanna-Elisabeth Müller and Wiebke Lehmkuhl in the end whose presence is most welcome for both ears and eyes). But don’t let that deter you.
There’s an algorithm that projects the sound as light architecture onto the building and into the night sky. And after the intermission, there’s the Parsifal prelude (which also sounds clear and warm, and layered), but then there’s also a Rihm world premiere – pretty easy listening for Rihm, though not as much fire as that Liebermann – and, fine, there’s the Beethoven 9th finale in the end, which is more conventional, but fear not, it’s all very slender and transparent (after all, we are talking Hengelbrock here) and not stentorian monumentalism with bellowing and screeching.
The Beethoven has the wonderful Hanna-Elisabeth Müller in the soprano part, stepping in for Camilla Tilling, who had been slated to step in for Anja Harteros. Then there is Wiebke Lehmkuhl, Pavol Breslik (stepping in for Jonas Kaufmann) and the newly sired Bryn Terfel.
Don’t be put off by the “245 minutes” timestamp – just scroll past the speeches and intermission interviews and all features you’re not interested in. Although one of those intermission snippets is one first on rehearsing in the hall, and there are a few bars of the “Rosenkavalier” suite and now I absolutely want to hear that piece in that hall before I leave this earth.