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On Forbes: How Munich Throws Away its Cultural Capital

Munich Bungles Decision on New Concert Hall

The debate about a new concert hall for Munich, the wealthy and culturally rich capital of Bavaria, has been going on for at least a decade. At its center is the seemingly untenable situation that a city featuring five symphonic orchestras, three of which are world class (or nearly so, not counting the superb chamber orchestra) has zero suitable, acoustically decent halls.

Moreover, the unquestionably best of its orchestras, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (BRSO)—led by elite conductor Mariss Jansons, does not have a hall of its own. Currently, the BRSO splits its time between the smallish 1,200-seat Herkulessaal (restored and inaugurated only in 1953; comprehensive revamping prohibited by landmark protection laws) and the acoustically challenged, oversized 2,400-seat Philharmonic Hall at the Gasteig, an ambitious Social Democrat culture project as was typical in the ’80s.


The worst possible solution

What turns out more terrible than that fact itself is the handling of the issue on the part of the politicians. In 2013 the Bavarian Prime Minister Horst Seehofer (Christian Conservative Union) made it the explicit goal of the government to get a new hall built. Seehofer, ever prone to change his mind, spoke with the mayor Dieter Reiter (Social Democrats) and city officials. Despite plenty of time and many proposals, no agreement was reached until Monday. And now that an agreement has allegedly been announced, it amounts to the worst possible solution: There will not be a new concert hall. Instead, the Philharmonic Hall will be gutted and intensively renovated—starting 2020.


Alternative proposals

One of the earlier concrete proposals—to the usual chorus of naysayers—was to build new hall with a capacity of 1,800 on the unused lot behind the Royal Stables (Marstall), right next to the opera. The idea was dropped when the space-constricted lot was deemed an insufficient improvement over the Herkulessaal. Another proposal looked at real estate in the museum quarters where the famous Pinakotheks are located; yet another looked at the Congress Hall on sitting on the museum island in the Isar River which served as a concert hall from 1954 until the late ’80s. A clash with the extant expansion plans of the Deutsches Museum, the world's largest museum of science and technology, nixed that. Another looked at land that might be reclaimed from the central train station.

In response to the latest decision, Sepp Dürr, Parliamentarian for the Green Party, aptly tweeted: “Careful, @BRSO. Christian Democrats think tearing down Philharmonic Hall is the bee’s knees. In Bavaria, the dumbest solution is the most likely. #fail.”Critics of the decision, however, are not so kind: Munich music critic and author Klaus Kalchschmid, when asked about the latest concert-hall plans, did not mince words: “Utter bullsh*t, is what I think it is. Complete nonsense.” Commentary in all the papers has been equally scathing, if less colorful in print. Kalchschmid continues, “Why would you even consider a ‘solution’ that would capacity and create a bottleneck for years by closing one hall? It seems absurd. Especially when a commission, or so I understood it, had recently recommended the new building at the Finanzgarten [a centrally located 200.000 square foot plot, but currently something of a dead spot] was the preferred or even ideal solution. Why would they ever go back to the hoary idea of refitting the Philharmonic Hall and think it a solution?”.


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Anonymous said...

The ideal solution would be, of course, to both renovate Gasteig AND to build a new hall for the BRSO - for all the Munich radio orchestras in fact.

jfl said...

I agree... the other way around. The Philharmonie at the Gasteig is not as terrible as it is made out to be... it is unsatisfactory and not as good as it should be. But it is the Herkulessaal that is the real problem.

The MPhil, however, is afraid that money going to a hall for the BRSO will mean that they will never see their hall meaningfully renovated... not for a few decades, at least. Which is why they actively sabotage the new concert hall which they deem a threat.

The press release from the MPhil just sent out says so much (by claiming the opposite) between the lines.