StartHow It All Began
Browse through the history of the Elbphilharmonie
The Elbphilharmonie is a total work of art: it combines innovative architecture with an exceptional location, outstanding acoustics and a visionary concert programme.
The Elbphilharmonie with its impressive glass facade and wave-like rooftop rises up from the former Kaispeicher building on the western tip of the HafenCity. Accommodated inside are two concert halls, a hotel and residential apartments. Between the old warehouse and the glass structure is the Plaza - a public viewing area that extends around the whole building.
There is no serious music or unserious music, just good music and bad music.
The Elbphilharmonie takes inspiration from three structures: the ancient theatre at Delphi, sport stadiums and tents.
Jacques Herzog & Pierre de Meuron
I know that I have done my job as an acoustician well when audiences no longer perceive the large distance to the music.
An Organ You Can Touch
The organ in the Grand Hall also honours the idea of Elbphilharmonie as a »concert hall for everyone«: it does not hover somewhere high up and out of reach, but is built into the seats traversing three floors of the hall. Touching and feeling is explicitly allowed! The 15 x 15 metre organ is finished with a specially-made protective layer, so that the surface of the pipes cannot be damaged.
The Elbphilharmonie organ features 69 stops, 4 manuals – the »keyboards« of the organ – and a pedalboard. Four of the stops are integrated in the reflector above the stage.
The organ in the Elbphilharmonie can be played not only from the console directly in front of the organ, but also via a mobile, electronic console on stage.
Ranging between 11 millimetres and over 10 metres in length, the Elbphilharmonie organ’s nearly 5,000 pipes are made mostly of tin. Around 400 are constructed from wood that is partly over 180 years old, guaranteeing durability and good quality.
From »serrate, smoky« to »bell-like, iridescent«: the tones of the Elbphilharmonie organ are manifold and create a warm sound that fills the Grand Hall. The organ is especially suited to music from the nineteenth century, but also meets the needs of contemporary music.
The organ’s lungs: this grandest of instruments is comparable to a gigantic wind orchestra. No organist in the world has enough power to breathe air into all the pipes, so four large fan blowers with electric motors do the job. The wind produced by the blowers is adjusted to the exact pressure required before being driven through wooden channels into the pipes.
The organ’s switchboard: from the seat of the console, the organist can operate every pipe individually or in combination. Each of the four manuals (the keyboards of the organ) and the pedalboard (the keyboard played with the feet) has been allocated specific sets of pipes. Each register – or rank of pipes – produces its own individual tone colour. Groups of registers are called divisions.
The bottom manual is used to play the pipes of the Choir. The division of pipes making up the Choir is stored in a large box with shutters. These can be opened and closed using a foot pedal found above the pedalboard to vary the volume, allowing the sound to swell and diminish. This division is intended to accompany the choir, since, of all the pipes, these pipes produce a sound nearest to the human voice.
As its name suggests, this manual controls the organ’s main division of pipes. One could say it is the very backbone of the organ’s sound. The Great is controlled by the second lowest manual.
Just like the Choir, this division also has shutters that can be operated to vary the sound. Played from the third manual, the Swell division has many pipes that together create a convincing orchestral sound. The number and tone colour of the pipes in this division have been specially selected so that the sound can be very loud, but also very soft.
Played from the top keyboard, the Solo includes a range of unusual tone colours and also has some very loud registers. The pipes in this division are particularly suitable for accompanying solo voices and instruments.
Wind passes through the pipes in this division when the pedalboard (keyboard played by the feet) is played. The deepest tones are produced via the pedals, so the longest and widest pipes, including the largest of the whole organ, can be found in this division. The biggest pipe is over 10 metres long. Since such large pipes require lots of storage room, they have been positioned at several different places. Registers containing shorter pipes for higher tones are placed together in the small pedal division behind the Solo division.
Did You Know?
The Echo (Fernwerk) is yet another division, which is also not visible, but integrated in the sound reflector hanging above the stage. The Echo division does not have its own specific keyboard but can be played from every keyboard of the organ console.
The queen of instruments has a complex, multi-layered personality. It takes a huge investment of time before one can get to know the organ and all its stops. Cathedrals and churches therefore often have their own organists, and the Elbphilharmonie’s organ will be looked after by a renowned artist: Iveta Apkalna. Together with the Elbphilharmonie team, she is currently developing programme ideas for the organ, discussing the instrument’s special characteristics with guest organists, and is of course also performing concerts of her own.
Browse through the history of the Elbphilharmonie
With 19,000 square metres of storage space, the »Kaiserspeicher« at the tip of »Kaiserhöft« was the largest warehouse in the port and the only one at which ships could dock directly. During WWII, however, the warehouse was extensively destroyed. As it was not economically viable to reconstruct the building, the City of Hamburg took the decision to blow up the ruins of the »Kaiserspeicher« in 1963.
In the place of the detonated »Kaiserspeicher«, a new warehouse called »Kaispeicher A« was erected. The Hamburg architect Werner Kallmorgen was commissioned with the design. Like its predecessor, the new Kaispeicher A was geared to storing goods such as cocoa, tobacco and tea.
With the rise of container traffic, Kaispeicher A lost its importance in the 1990s and ultimately stood empty. In 2003, Hamburg project developer Alexander Gérard commissioned Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron to design a new concert hall on top of the old Kaispeicher. On 28 February 2007, the Parliament of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg voted in favour of building the Elbphilharmonie. On 2 April 2007, the foundation stone was laid.
The preparations for gutting the Kaispeicher A began. Its foundation walls were preserved, while the whole of the inside was gutted using 25-ton excavators. By the beginning of 2008, around 650 new reinforced concrete piles had been added to the 1,111 existing piles that anchored the Kaispeicher A in the river Elbe. The foundation of the Elbphilharmonie was cast.
Out of the gutted Kaispeicher A, the Elbphilharmonie grew a further 17 floors. In 2010, the last level was added: the 25th floor. The installation of the innovative glass facade began on the ninth floor, which was the first level above the foundation walls.
In April 2013, after many months of building freeze, the Elbphilharmonie partners signed a reassignment agreement. From this point on, the internal construction made major advances: the first 21 panels of the white skin were installed in the upper balconies of the Grand Hall. The 10,000 wall and ceiling panels were created out of a mixture of natural plaster and recycled paper, and fulfil the highest requirements for fire protection as well as for acoustics.
On 31 January 2014, five fitters attached the last of the 1,100 glass elements to the edge of the rolling rooftop. This concluded the construction of the facade and the exterior of the Elbphilharmonie was now complete.
The Elbphilharmonie Plaza opened to the public on 4 November 2016, two months ahead of the Grand Opening of the concert hall. An extensive deck and a new public space for Hamburg at the same time, the Plaza also serves as the junction between the old warehouse and the modern glass structure above it. Visitors have access through two large s-shaped glass elements to the »Outer Plaza«, a unique outdoor walkway around the whole building.
The inauguration of the Elbphilharmonie was celebrated on 11 January 2017. In attendance was German Chancellor Angela Merkel and numerous other guests from the worlds of culture and politics. The first concert in the Grand Hall was performed by the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra under the baton of Principal Conductor Thomas Hengelbrock. One of the many highlights: the world premiere of a commissioned work, created especially for this occasion by the German composer Wolfgang Rihm.