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»An exciting concert programme

at affordable prices«

(c) Michael Zapf

Since 2007, you have been the General and Artistic Director of the Elbphilharmonie and Laeiszhalle. How have you been preparing for the opening of the Elbphilharmonie?
We have been hosting the Elbphilharmonie Konzerte since 2009 in the Laeiszhalle, one of the most beautiful concert halls in Europe, as well as in many other venues throughout Hamburg. This concert series, as well as the larger and smaller music festivals that we organise with other Hamburg music institutions, offers a foretaste of the future Elbphilharmonie programme. In a way, it is a visiting card for the programme’s diversity, high quality and accessibility, all of which will distinguish the Elbphilharmonie.

What are you doing to win over a wider audience for the Elbphilharmonie?
Firstly, we are reaching new audiences with an exciting concert programme at affordable  prices. And through well-directed communication that establishes a trusting relationship with the public. Alongside the regular classical music audiences of the Laeiszhalle, we are approaching people who, until now, have not had much exposure to classic music. And with our education programme »Elbphilharmonie Kompass«, the focus is oriented particularly towards families, school children and young adults, as well as senior citizens.

More today than ever, classical music must compete with many other forms of entertainment...
... This is the reason why we must provide even more, and not only musically and artistically but also in the area of customer service: How easy is it to purchase tickets? Can one get an excellent espresso in the intermission? How is the atmosphere in the auditorium or in the foyer? Such factors play an important role for the decision to visit a concert.

Compared to now, what will be new or different at the Elbphilharmonie and what developments will take place regarding the experience?
The combination of an exquisite concert hall in a spectacular building on a very special location will be inspiring for both artists and public. One can sense this already from the construction site, and I am certain, that the completed building will yield a whole spectrum of possibilities for events, of which we could have not even conceived. Many people will come to concerts because of the spectacular architecture of the Elbphilharmonie. This is a unique opportunity through architecture to be able to present new musical themes, unusual music programmes, sophisticated projects before a large audience. The entire experience must be so convincing, that guests are eager to return.

How far should music adapt to the consumer tastes of the audience?
When it comes to classical music, the music certainly should not be forced to conform, however, the range and presentation forms should indeed be open to adaptation. The interaction between audience, artist and concert organiser will shift. The concert goers of the future will transform from passive consumers to co-designers, through social networks, they can follow the development of an artist, recommend concerts and with the new concert formats, also directly and creatively have influence on the event. Concerts will become shorter and much longer and contain more visual elements. Furthermore, a large portion of the concerts will be experienced directly, live on the internet.

When almost every concert is any time digitally available – and often free of charge – is the new concert hall then unnecessary?
No, streaming is a good tool, but not even the best recording can replace the impression of live music in a concert hall, with this unbelievable exchange of energy, communication and concentration between the stage and the audience. I would say: The more perfect the electronic medium, the clearer it is that it could never replace the live experience. A film about the pyramids is an inadequate substitution for a trip to Egypt!

What has surprised you the most since your start 2007 in Hamburg?
The Hamburg audiences are always good for a surprise, because they are so engaged, curious and open. Although the building is not yet finished and is a controversial public debate topic, with the Elbphilharmonie Konzerte we are increasingly winning over new groups of audiences.

And what is the most enjoyable aspect of in your position as General and Artistic Director?
Even after the years, the construction site visits still are fun; tours with the artists, sponsors and guests from around the world. And naturally, to organise exciting concerts, that the core of my job. When the audience is thrilled and the artists are happy, then the whole energy, which one places into such a project, flows back. For me that is always a delightful moment.

Christoph Lieben-Seutter, born in 1964, has been the General and Artistic Director of the Elbphilharmonie and Laeiszhalle in Hamburg since 2007. Previously, he led the Wiener Konzerthaus for 11 years and was from 1993 to 1996 the personal assistant to the General Director Alexander Pereira at the Opernhaus Zürich.