Leveraging music for cultural and economic development: part one, opera
1. Hamburg. After many many years of construction and setbacks--partly because the opera building was constructed on top of an existing historic building, the new Elbphilharmonie, finally opened in January, after having first been promised for 2009. The cost ended up as much as ten times the initial estimate, and was paid in its entirety by the local government.
Besides primary and secondary halls and related facilities, the building, located in the redeveloping waterfront district of HafenCity, includes a hotel, luxury condominiums, restaurants, and a viewing terrace overlooking the waterfront.
Hamburg is already a major destination for the presentation of musicals ("'Tarzan' and 'Lion King' Make Hamburg a Theater City," New York Times), and the Elbphilharmonie further broadens the appeal of the city as a destination for the performing arts ("In Hamburg, a New Musical Landmark for a City With Plans, NYT).
According to Mark Swed's review ("What does this critic hear at the new Elbphilharmonie concert hall? The sound of the future") in the Los Angeles Times, the building is a big attraction already, and presents concerts daily, all of which have sold out:
More than a million visitors have already taken the 2½-minute ride on a curved escalator through the “launching pad” (a tube) that leads to the main public area, a plaza with a terrace where you can walk the perimeter outdoors with stunning views of the harbor and the city, have a bite to eat and hit the ample souvenir shop. ...
There are concerts most days, all sold out through August, including a large summer festival. People are preparing to pounce the moment seats for the second season go on sale, and it doesn’t seem to matter what is being performed, be it a symphony, a string quartet, new music, early music, world music, pop or anything in between.
The vast majority of the music is classical, which has excited Hamburg’s classical community no end.
2. Paris. As part of the trend of the construction of new modern concert halls in European cities such as Helsinki and Hamburg, a new concert hall opened in 2015 ("Philharmonie de Paris: Jean Nouvel's €390m spaceship crash-lands in France," Guardian).
As interestingly, a new concert complex is about to open in the Paris suburbs. Called La Seine Musicale, it's built on an island on a site that had been an automobile manufacturing plant.
There will be a large auditorium (6,000 seats) and a smaller concert hall (1.150 seats), along with recording studios, a public garden, and retail and restaurants.
The music program won't be limited to classical music--Bob Dylan will open the auditorium with an inaugural concert on April 22nd.
In the US, suburban music halls have had some difficulties maintaining interest, in part reflecting perhaps less interest in high culture, although many universities maintain active performing arts programs, Still, the opening of high quality concert facilities in suburbs in part is an indicator of the maturation of suburban communities as "complete places."
3. Chicago. Since the Great Recession, a number of opera companies shut down (San Diego, New York City, etc.), and audiences have been declining. Unlike in Europe, there appears to be less demand in the US for classical music-related programming.
And local opera companies face competition from the digital broadcasts of the New York City-based Metropolitan Opera, shown in a network of theaters across the country. Likely this cuts into the local audience for live performances, since they can see very high quality productions on the screen for less than the cost of a ticket to a local production.
Crain's Chicago Business writes about the Lyric Opera ("Can Lyric Opera survive the 21st century?," on the challenges faced by the opera company. From the article:
It's showering subscribers, who long ago stopped packing the house season after season, with thank-you notes, more efficient valet parking and other perks. Operagoers will now find a sushi kiosk in the lobby on some nights and also reusable lidded beverage cups, the better to enjoy one's cocktail during a performance of "Carmen."The article mentions how the Company hasn't had a sold out season since 2001-2, and discusses the various initiatives Lyric Opera is taking to maintain interest, increase ticket sales, and generate other sources of income.
Lyric's product, grand opera, employs singing, acting, visual arts and sometimes dancing to tell stories in a powerful way. It is also old-fashioned and costly.
To keep operations sustainable through the 21st century, Lyric has to court new subscribers and ticket buyers in a changing arts world that values casualness and flexibility.
That's why Lyric's to-do list is almost as long as "Tristan und Isolde": Court single-ticket buyers, hang on to subscribers, cut costs, update the stage and systems, and modernize marketing.
It's doing all that in "a business environment that is less predictable and more volatile than any of us can ever remember," says Anthony Freud, Lyric's general director and CEO.
4. Berlin. The Frank Gehry designed Pierre Boulez Concert Hall opened last Saturday. From the Atavist piece, "Music for the thinking ear":
... Frank Gehry’s oval design, with no stage, merely a center, genuinely seems to open up, in the spirit of Boulez’s long-held desire for a flexible salle modulable, the possibility of the “thinking ear”: to engage, to reflect, to make itself part of the performance. The greatest possible distance between the conductor and the most distant member of the audience (682 seats in total) is just 14 meters. There is intimacy—the intimacy, its initiators hope, of collaborative endeavor.Also see "Frank Gehry's new jewel-box concert hall in the heart of Berlin," Los Angeles Times. From the article:
The 682-seat hall is tucked into one corner of a four-story building from 1955 that was designed by architect Richard Paulick to store sets for the Berlin State Opera, where Barenboim is music director. The building, which sits rather anonymously on a corner in the Mitte district, in the heart of Berlin, backing up to an important civic plaza called Bebelplatz, is now the headquarters for the Barenboim-Said Academy, a conservatory that includes young Israeli and Arab musicians.Conclusion. An email comment I received on this article originally made the point that the average US city is fine with funding facilities for professional sports, less so for the arts.