One of "wonders of the world"
Hamburg (dpa) - In November, director Christoph Lieben-Seutter finally moved into his office at Hamburg's new Elbphilharmonie concert hall, with its breathtaking panoramic view of the bustling Elbe River harbour. Now, with the opening concert at the futuristic venue only days away, the 52-year-old Austrian tells dpa about the series of problems which dogged the ambitious project and the euphoria the city feels ahead of the big night.
dpa: Was the wait worth it?
Lieben-Seutter: Absolutely. The Elbphilharmonie is more impressive and even more exciting than we could have imagined during the past 10 years.
And your impression after the first rehearsals in the Grand Hall?
That was one of the most tense moments. After construction is completed, you can't change the acoustics much more. So the tension was really, really great. But then it was a huge relief. After a few minutes we knew, this is super, this sound is the real deal.
Is it true that nearly all the tickets for the first season from January to June are already sold out?
They are not only nearly totally sold out - the fact of the matter is that when we add more concerts we can watch how the tickets are quickly snapped up. The demand is crazy.
How do you account for such euphoria?
The Elbphilharmonie has become one of the wonders of the world. Word has got around. Journalists from around the globe have already enthusiastically written about the architecture. This also shows how the Elbphilharmonie is operating in a dimension that we here in Hamburg can scarcely grasp. You can read where they talk about this being the first outstanding building of the 21st century and that the only place that can stand up to comparison is the Sydney Opera House.
The headlines weren't always so positive - we only need to mention the years of construction delays and the cost increases.
This is also part of our success story: From scandal project to happy ending. This is certainly part of the attraction.
Do you still know at what point the turnaround set in?
It took place in successive phases. Hamburg's perception of things was always faster than in the rest of the world. The enthusiasm that was so great in the city at the outset quickly changed into horror when the construction problems emerged. Around the world, the view was 'It's an exciting project, so of course it is going to cost more. That's normal, don't worry.' But then during the final months, Hamburg people became more and more excited when outside the region, people were more sceptical.
How long will this euphoria last?
This building is so great that it certainly has a great career ahead of it. I assume that at least into the middle of 2018 we will see huge demand.
And afterwards? How are you going to keep your audience?
With quality. The concert programme must fulfill the promise of quality and innovation made by the architecture. Otherwise people will visit only once. And the concert organizers renting the Elbphilharmonie also have this feeling, that this is a very special place, and so their content must also be special.
Some concert organizers are fearful of ruinous competition because the ticket prices for the Elbphilharmonie are, in some cases, cheaper than at other venues. Have these disagreements been resolved?
They have not only been resolved, but we are now in the process of setting up a model example across Germany for cooperation between private and public organizers.
Looking back, how many times over the years have you thought of quitting?
Just once. That goes back a long time. In early 2009 I briefly went through a crisis when I realized that mistakes were made in the contractual construction and that a project had been awarded without sufficient depth of planning. It became clear to me that nobody could guarantee when this would be completed. But then I warmed to the idea that I was not merely leading a concert house here, but rather that I was involved with an exciting and thrilling project. From that point on I never regretted a single day.