Monday, June 13, 2011


Late in the 19th century, recognising the need to improve its cultural base, Amsterdam held a competition to build itself a concert hall on a block of wasteland by an old canal outside the city. The winner, a student of the architect who had designed the Rijksmuseum, and who just happened to be on the judging panel, set off to Leipzig where its hall was recognised as the very best. Armed with measurements and ideas, he returned to Amsterdam where practicalities and others intervened, and with a shift here, a widening there, more of this and less of that, the Concetgebouw was eventually finished and opened in 1888.

Foresight, planning, and not the least a goodly dose of serendipity and luck, had given the world the justly famous Concertgebouw sound. It is astoundingly beautiful. But more on that later.

Today the canal had gone, the marshlands are a not particularly attractive urban park, bordering a stadium, with the Van Gogh Museum nearby and the Rijksmuseum on the edge of the old city. It deference to the design history, the new extension for public space, restaurant and bars, has a prow so the Rijskmuseum can be seen in the distance and the link acknowledged.

The main hall (there is an original small recital hall and a newer jazz room) is creamy white and gold with chandeliers and red upholstery . It seats around 2000. A narrow single pillar supported gallery runs around three sides with choir stalls /seating either side of the organ. It is much closer to a square than rectangular, and the concert platform is very much part of the place rather than at one end of it.

Red carpeted stairs from high up next to the organ are the stage entrance - a precipitous descent for instrument carrying soloists or ladies in big dresses.

We were on a tour during rehearsals for a Messiah. Here we are in the roof, where an effervescent tour guide is demonstrating how good the air recirculation is.

The Concertgebouw website with a virtual tour is here.

1 comment:

Jim Thompson said...

Thanks so much for the informative post. I listened to a YouTube video of a concert staged in the Concertgabouw and was fascinated by both the audio and visual ambiance of the hall.