Berlin Philharmonie: Actually a two-venue facility with connecting lobby, the Philharmonie comprises a Großer Saal of 2,440 seats for orchestral concerts and a chamber-music hall, the Kammermusiksaal, of 1,180 seats. Though conceived together, the smaller venue was added only in the 1980s.
The Philharmonie has been the musical heart of Berlin for 50 years. Still at the periphery of West Berlin when it opened in 1963, it became part of the new urban centre after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Its unusual tent-like shape and distinctive bright yellow colour makes it one of the city’s landmarks. Its unusual architecture and innovative concert hall design initially ignited controversy, but it now serves as a model for concert halls all over the world. “One person opposite another, arranged in circles in sweeping, suspended arcs around soaring crystal pyramids.” In 1920 the architect Hans Scharoun wrote these words as a vision for the ideal theatre space. Thirty-five years later, he developed the main concert hall of the Philharmonie from this idea, with the concert platform and the musicians forming the central focal point.
Philharmonie under construction, West Berlin, 29 August 1962
Hans Scharoun designed the hall, which was constructed over the years 1960–1963 (opening on October 15th, 1963, with the concert Beethoven Symphony No. 9, Herbert von Karajan cond. BPO). It was built to replace the old Philharmonie, destroyed by British bombers on 30 January 1944, the eleventh anniversary of Hitler becoming Chancellor. The hall is a singular building, asymmetrical and tentlike, with the main concert hall in the shape of a pentagon. The seating offers excellent positions from which to view the stage through the irregularly increasing height of the seat rows. The stage is at the center of the hall, with seats surrounding it on all sides. The Philharmonie is highly regarded for the quality of its acoustics. The so-called vineyard-style seating arrangement (with terraces rising around a central orchestral platform) was pioneered by this building, and became a model for other concert halls, including the Sydney Opera House (1973), Denver’s Boettcher Concert Hall (1978), the Gewandhaus in Leipzig (1981), Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles (2003), and the Philharmonie de Paris (under construction).
Polyphonic “Elijah” at the Berlin Philharmonie. photo: Rundfunkchor Berlin/Matthias Heyde