The Elbphilharmonie

Elbphilharmonie © Maxim Schulz

A visit to the Elbphilharmonie is a special experience for all the senses. The music, of course, takes centre stage. In the Grand Hall this assumes a double meaning: the terraced rows of seats rise up high around the stage in a circle. This creates an extraordinary sense of proximity to the musical action. Especially since Yasuhisa Toyota’s acoustics make every note ring out as clear as crystal.

As you make your way around the building, there are amazing views to discover at every turn. Because this concert hall – designed by the Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron – was built right in the middle of the Elbe River.

A shimmering wave of glass on a solid brick warehouse from the 1960s, and between them a publicly accessible viewing platform that functions as a meeting place and launch pad for discovering the rest of the building: not only the Grand Hall and the Recital Hall, but also the hotel, restaurant and souvenir shop.

The special materials used in the interior design invite you to touch and feel them, especially the acoustic wall panelling in the Grand Hall and the Recital Hall. And touching is also expressly allowed in the Elbphilharmonie World of Instruments in the Kaistudios, where musical instruments from around the world await to be played and discovered.

The Laeiszhalle

Laeiszhalle © Maxim Schulz

The Laeiszhalle is a Hamburg venue steeped in tradition – the place to go for exquisite musical experiences, with a special focus on early music, song recitals, chamber music and jazz.

When it first opened its doors on 4 June 1908, the Laeiszhalle was Germany’s biggest, most modern concert hall. It’s an important neo-Baroque landmark in Hamburg and a focal point of the city’s music life.

Besides top international artists, the venue also provides a professional setting with an elegant, familiar atmosphere for Hamburg musicians – with the Symphoniker Hamburg, the venue’s resident orchestra, leading the way.

Cecilia Bartoli Cecilia Bartoli © Claudia Höhne
European Union Youth Orchestra European Union Youth Orchestra © Claudia Höhne
Quatuor Ébène Quatuor Ébène © Claudia Höhne
Elbphilharmonie Kaistudio Elbphilharmonie Kaistudio © Claudia Höhne
Alan Gilbert Alan Gilbert © Peter Hundert
Workshop Kosmos Klang Workshop Kosmos Klang © Claudia Höhne
Martin Grubinger Martin Grubinger © Peter Hundert
Backstage Backstage © Peter Hundert
Chick Corea Chick Corea © Peter Hundert
Patricia Kopatchinskaja Patricia Kopatchinskaja © Peter Hundert
Elbphilharmonie Kleiner Saal Elbphilharmonie Kleiner Saal © Peter Hundert


»There is no serious music or unserious music, just good music and bad music.«

Leonard Bernstein

The programme at the Elbphilharmonie and Laeiszhalle is all about quality, diversity and breaking down genre boundaries. Lively interpretations of classical masterpieces are just as important as the discovery of contemporary music from various cultures – performed by the world’s best artists and the resident orchestras and ensembles of the two halls: the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra, Ensemble Resonanz and Symphoniker Hamburg.

The great stars of jazz are a regular presence here, and they pave the way for the rising stars of the scene. The intensive »Reflektor« mini-festivals, in which exciting artists take charge of the programme and invite their favourite musical friends and colleagues to the Elbphilharmonie, are always a very special experience.

March 2021 Lindberg »Tempus fugit«
NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra © Sophie Wolter
Review: a year with coronavirus
Anna Vinnitskaya / #ElphiAtHome Anna Vinnitskaya / #ElphiAtHome © Philipp Seliger
September 2020 Season Opening
None © Peter Hundert
Claire Huangci »Elbphilharmonie Sessions«
Elbphilharmonie Sessions: Claire Huangci Elbphilharmonie Sessions: Claire Huangci © Daniel Dittus
June 2019 Reflector Nils Frahm
Erlend Øye / stargaze / Nils Frahm Erlend Øye / stargaze / Nils Frahm © Daniel Dittus
December 2018 Angélique Kidjo
Iveta Apkalna – The Elbphilharmonie's Titular Organist
Iveta Apkalna Iveta Apkalna © Peter Hundert
11 January 2017 Grand Opening
Elbphilharmonie Eröffnung Elbphilharmonie Eröffnung © Ralph Larman

Architecture and Acoustics

The Elbphilharmonie is a total work of art combining breath-taking architecture, excellent acoustics and a unique location. The Herzog & de Meuron architecture firm breathed new life into the traditional brick base, placing the concert hall on top like a glittering crown to great effect.

The Elbphilharmonie is a special place to let your soul soar and to embolden your senses to discover new things.

»I know that I have done my job as an acoustician well, when audiences no longer perceive the large distance to the music.« :Yasuhisa Toyota

Grand Hall

The vineyard-style architecture means that no member of the audience sits further than 30 metres from the conductor in the Grand Hall. The music literally takes centre stage.

Elbphilharmonie Großer Saal Elbphilharmonie Großer Saal © Sophie Wolter
White Skin

The Grand Hall’s wall panelling is called the »white skin«, in reference to the 10,000 plaster fibreboards that make up the surface of the walls and ceiling. It reflects the sound into every corner.

Elbphilharmonie Großer Saal Elbphilharmonie Großer Saal © Wilfried Sander

The foyers of the Grand Hall, ranging over many floors, reflect the building’s overall architectural concept: they offer fascinating glimpses into the various levels around the concert hall as well as great views of the port and the city.

Elbphilharmonie Foyers Elbphilharmonie Foyers © Peter Hundert
Recital Hall

The Recital Hall is arranged in the classic shoebox style. The French oak panelling with the gently undulating waves reflects the sounds wonderfully into every corner of the space.

Elbphilharmonie Kleiner Saal Elbphilharmonie Kleiner Saal © Daniel Dittus

This is home to the Elbphilharmonie’s extensive music education programme, with concerts and workshops for all age groups. Pop and jazz concerts are also held in Kaistudio 1.

Elbphilharmonie Kaistudio Elbphilharmonie Kaistudio © Peter Hundert

The Elbphilharmonie as we see it today is the work of the architects Pierre de Meuron, Jacques Herzog and Ascan Mergenthaler. Their studio also designed the Tate Modern in London, the Allianz Arena in Munich and the Olympic Stadium in Beijing.

Jacques Herzog / Pierre de Meuron / Ascan Mergenthaler Jacques Herzog / Pierre de Meuron / Ascan Mergenthaler © Maxim Schulz

The »Tube« is one of the Elbphilharmonie’s architectural highlights: from the main entrance, the 82-meter curved escalator leads up through the old warehouse.

Tube Tube © Oliver Heissner

Visitors can enjoy a unique 360° panorama over the port and the city from a height of 37 meters. Whether you’re a Hamburg local or a tourist, a concertgoer or hotel guest, the viewing platform is perfect for a stroll with a view.

Plaza Plaza © Maxim Schulz

Yasuhisa Toyota is one of the world’s most renowned acousticians. Besides the Elbphilharmonie, he was also responsible for Suntory Hall in Tokyo and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

Mehr über die Akustik in der Mediathek
Yasuhisa Toyota Yasuhisa Toyota © Michael Zapf
Glass Facade

Curved and printed facade elements transform the Elbphilharmonie into an enormous crystal that reflects the lights and colours of the sky, the water and the city.

Facade Facade © Gilda Fernández-Wiencken

The Elbphilharmonie’s roof structure gets its unique elegant lines from eight large, curved surfaces. 6,000 shimmering sequins fitted on the roof produce impressive light reflections.

Dach der Elbphilharmonie Dach der Elbphilharmonie © Michael Kohls

Architecture and music – inseparable in the Elbphilharmonie

An organ for everyone

The Grand Hall organ honours the idea of the Elbphilharmonie as a »concert hall for everyone«: it doesn’t tower high above and out of reach, it is built into and around the terraced rows of seats, and is elegantly integrated into the architecture. Feeling and touching expressly allowed! The surface of the pipes is coated with a custom-made protective layer to ensure they remain in optimal condition.

The sound of an organ is produced by the air flowing through the pipes. From the organ console, the organist can »pull out« individual stops to switch ranks on or off, producing different timbres. When playing, the organist can choose from several manuals – i.e. keyboards – and sets of pedals, which are played using the feet.

The Elbphilharmonie organ was built by the renowned Bonn-based organ building company Klais, and has 69 stops. There are also four registers integrated into the reflector above the stage.

In addition to the mechanical console located directly in front of the instrument, the Elbphilharmonie’s organ can also be played from a mobile console that is pushed onto the stage for concerts.

The Elbphilharmonie organ is made up of almost 5,000 pipes varying in length from 11 millimetres to more than 10 meters. Most of those are made of tin, and around 400 are made of wood, some of which is more than 180 years old, guaranteeing outstanding, long-lasting quality.

From »cutting, smoky« to »bell-like, iridescent«: the tones of the Elbphilharmonie organ are manifold and create a warm sound that fills the Grand Hall. This organ is optimised for music from the nineteenth century onwards and for the requirements of contemporary music. The Elbphilharmonie’s titular organist is the Latvian star organist Iveta Apkalna.

Organ © Claudia Höhne

One organ – many divisions

  • 1 Wind Supply and 2 Console

    The Wind Supply – 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 Console – 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.

  • 3 Choir and 4 The Great

    The Choir: 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.

    The Great: 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.

  • 5 Swell and 6 Solo

    The Swell: 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.

    The Solo: 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.

  • 7 Pedal Division and Echo

    The Pedal Division: 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.

    The Echo: 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.

© bloomimages

A new landmark emerges :Milestones in the Elbphilharmonie’s story

1875 Kaiserspeicher

With 19,000 square metres of storage space, the »Kaiserspeicher« at the tip of »Kaiserhöft« was the largest warehouse in the port.

Harbour Harbour © Ellert & Richter Verlag
1966 Cocoa, Tobacco, Tea

Destroyed during WWII, Hamburg took the decision to blow up the ruins of the Kaiserspeicher. In its place a new warehouse was erected. Like its predecessor, the new Kaispeicher A was geared to storing goods such as cocoa, tobacco and tea.

Kaispeicher (1967) Kaispeicher (1967) © Zoch
2003 On the Drawing Board

Since the 1990s the warehouse 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 2 April 2007, the foundation stone was laid.

Drawing Drawing © Herzog & De Meuron
2008 Creating Space for Something New

The preparations for gutting the Kaispeicher A begin. 1,111 existing piles anchor the Kaispeicher A in the river Elbe. The foundation of the Elbphilharmonie is cast.

Entkernung (2007) Entkernung (2007) © Oliver Heissner
2010 Aiming High

Out of the gutted Kaispeicher A, the Elbphilharmonie grows a further 17 floors. In 2010, the last level is added: the 25th floor. The installation of the innovative glass facade begins on the ninth floor.

Kaispeicher (2010) Kaispeicher (2010) © Oliver Heissner
2013 Major Advances

In 2013, after months of building freeze, the Elbphilharmonie partners sign a reassignment agreement. From this point on, the internal construction make advances: the first panels of the white skin are installed in the upper balconies of the Grand Hall.

Weiße Haut Weiße Haut © Gilda Fernández-Wiencken
2014 Last Piece of Puzzle

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.

Facade (2009) Facade (2009) © Yvonne Ehnert
2016 Plaza

The 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.

Plaza Plaza © Oliver Heissner
2017 Grand Opening

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.

New York Philharmonic New York Philharmonic © Chris Lee