Concert halls around the world

A trip to some of the world's most spectacular concert halls.

Hamburg is not the only city with spectacular concert buildings: other cities also boast concert halls that have become famous for their acoustics and their historical significance, and are now true landmarks. Here is a (completely subjective) list of the most interesting concert halls around the world.

Berliner Philharmonie :Architect: Hans Scharoun / opened in 1963

The Berlin Philharmonie is like a prototype of the modern concert hall. It was designed by Hans Scharoun, one of the leading representatives of organic architecture. The organic approach develops the shape of the building based on its planned use. In this case Scharoun took it literally that music was to be the centre of things, actually placing the orchestra in the middle for the first time, while the audience sits in tiered rows of seats arranged around the concert platform. This became known as the »vineyard« principle, and it has been used in many other concert halls since the Philharmonie was opened in 1963, the Elbphilharmonie among them.

Berliner Philharmonie Berliner Philharmonie © Sebastian Hänel
Great Hall, Berliner Philharmonie Great Hall, Berliner Philharmonie © Heribert Schindler

Philharmonie de Paris :Architect: Jean Nouvel / opened in 2015

The Philharmonie de Paris, opened in 2015, has several things in common with the Elbphilharmonie – not only the longer construction time and higher costs than originally planned (though this applies too). The main parallel is the location outside the city centre, chosen out of a desire to attract the wider public rather than an elitist audience. Another common feature is that Japanese acoustics expert Yasuhisa Toyota was responsible for designing the acoustics in both halls – although the Philharmonie de Paris sounds very different, with a considerably longer echo. The futuristic building was designed by the French architect and Pritzker prizewinner Jean Nouvel.

Philharmonie de Paris Philharmonie de Paris © William Beaucardet
Philharmonie de Paris, Grande salle Pierre Boulez Philharmonie de Paris, Grande salle Pierre Boulez © William Beaucardet

Kultur- und Kongresszentrum Luzern :Architect: Jean Nouvel / opened in 1998

The Kultur- und Kongresszentrum Luzern (KKL) was likewise based on plans by Jean Nouvel. The concert hall inside the centre is regarded by critics and musicians alike as one of world's best, thanks to its electrically adjustable sound- and echo chambers. It adheres to the traditional rectangular »shoebox principle«, and the appearance is based on a ship's hull. As at the Elbphilharmonie, water plays a major role in Lucerne. The KKL lies directly on the shore of the beautiful Lake Lucerne, and in addition two canals give the building complex its structure. The famous Lucerne Festival is held annually in late summer in the concert hall.

KKL Luzern, Switzerland KKL Luzern, Switzerland © Urs Wyss
KKL Luzern, Switzerland KKL Luzern, Switzerland © uncredited

Musikverein (Vienna) :Architect: Theophil von Hansen / opened in 1870

Geht es um die beste Akustik, fällt auch immer wieder der Name Musikverein. Mit seinen Kronleuchtern, Säulen und Deckengemälden ist der »Goldene Saal« sicher auch einer der schönsten Konzertorte der Welt. Ein wahrer Tempel für die Musik, aus dem nicht nur alljährlich das berühmte Neujahrskonzert der Wiener Philharmoniker in alle Welt übertragen wird. 1870 eröffnet, diente der Saal mit seinen idealen Proportionen und der perfekten Nachhallzeit auch als Vorbild für viele weitere Konzerthäuser bis weit in das 20. Jahrhundert hinein.

Musikverein Wien Musikverein Wien © Creative Commons
Musikverein Wien, Goldener Saal Musikverein Wien, Goldener Saal © CEphoto, Uwe Aranas

Koninklijk Concertgebouw (Amsterdam) :Architect: Adolf Leonard van Gendt / opened in 1888

For the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, to name one example. Inaugurated in 1888, the Grand Hall likewise follows the »shoebox principle«, and has some of the best acoustics in the world. Moreover, the magnificent building has fine Art Nouveau decorative elements. The orchestra in residence is the Concertgebouw Orchestra: in the meantime, the ensemble is an independent organisation, but its round sound has been strongly influenced by its home venue. In surveys of critics, the Concertgebouw Orchestra regularly vies for first place with the Vienna Philharmonic and the Berlin Philharmonic.

Het Concertgebouw Het Concertgebouw © Hans Roggen
Het Concertgebouw, Grote Zaal Het Concertgebouw, Grote Zaal © Hans Roggen

Carnegie Hall (New York) :Architect: William Burnet Tuthill / opened in 1891

»How do I get to Carnegie Hall?«, a person out for a walk is said to have once asked the violinist Jascha Heifetz. Heifetz replied: »Practise!«. The anecdote proves that an appearance in Carnegie Hall is still equivalent to a knighthood for every musician. It's true that the brick building looks rather unprepossessing from the outside, but the acoustics of the Grand Hall with a capacity of 2,800 is legendary. The inaugural concert in 1891 was conducted by none other than Tchaikovsky himself. Two years later, Dvořák's famous »New World« Symphony had its premiere here. Even the Beatles played Carnegie Hall: their 1964 gig went down in history as »the night when Carnegie Hall went berserk«.

Carnegie Hall Carnegie Hall © Jeff Goldberg / Esto
Isaac Stern Auditorium Ronald / O. Perelman Stage Isaac Stern Auditorium Ronald / O. Perelman Stage © Jeff Goldberg / Esto
Isaac Stern Auditorium Ronald / O. Perelman Stage Isaac Stern Auditorium Ronald / O. Perelman Stage © Jeff Goldberg / Esto

Walt Disney Concert Hall (Los Angeles) :Architect: Frank Gehry / opened in 2003

From America's east coast to the west coast – and back to modern times. Los Angeles has one of the most interesting concert halls in the world from an architectural point of view: the Walt Disney Concert Hall, which opened in 2003. The home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra was designed by Frank Gehry, whose Deconstructivist style had previously turned the Spanish city of Bilbao into a tourist magnet with his remarkable Guggenheim Museum. Experts often refer to the so-called »Bilbao effect«, a term which has also been applied to the Elbphilharmonie. Thanks to its concert hall, Los Angeles now has one more major tourist attraction!

Walt Disney Concert Hall Walt Disney Concert Hall © Gehry Partners, LLP

Suntory Hall (Tokyo) :Architect: Shōichi Sano / opened in 1986

The great popularity of Western classical music in Asia is reflected not least by the many concert halls built there in the last few decades. But with Tokyo's Suntory Hall, architect Shōichi Sano and his acoustics expert Minoru Nagata really scored a hit. (Nagata is the founder of the company Nagata Acoustics, where Elbphilharmonie acoustics  designer Yasuhisa Toyota also works.) Suntory Hall is one of the world's most prestigious concert venues; when it was inaugurated in 1986, it was the first Tokyo concert hall to be built exclusively for orchestral concerts.

Suntory Hall Suntory Hall © Wikimedia Commons

Sydney Opera House :Architect: Jørn Utzon / opened in 1973

Last but certainly not least – it goes without saying that the Sydney Opera House cannot be omitted from this list. Thanks to its iconic roof, it has become THE landmark of Australia, and undoubtedly one of the world's best-known buildings. The complex actually consists of five theatres, with the nearly 2,700-seat Concert Hall being the biggest. The original design came from Danish architect Jørn Utzon. But Utzon fell out with the Australian government during construction, and ended up leaving the project. The complex was then completed by local architects, which resulted in numerous delays and compromises. The Sydney acoustics don't have a particularly good reputation. But architecturally speaking, no other concert hall can come close to the Sydney Opera House – well, almost no other…

Sydney Opera House Sydney Opera House © Hamilton Lund

Text: Simon Chlosta, last updated 12 Nov 2020

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