Illustrated by Andy Friedman

Hélène Grimaud shares her love of the Berlin Philharmonic.

April 13, 2011

“My first concert performance in Berlin was fifteen years ago—I have to pinch myself to believe it has been fifteen years—and I performed Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Berliner Philharmoniker in the iconic concert hall. Claudio Abbado was conducting. Ever since then I’ve had a sentimental connection to the city. If you have a good first experience in a place, it tends to repeat itself, and somehow that belief has always been confirmed for me in Berlin. It’s very much an adoptive hometown and creative retreat, not just for me and other musicians but also for painters, sculptors, and architects.

“A great hall has its own identity, and the asymmetrical Berliner Philharmonie, on the edge of the Tiergarten, is like no other concert hall I know. It’s a masterpiece, designed by German architect Hans Scharoun in the 1960’s. There is a sense of vastness in a venue that accommodates more than two thousand people. But at the same time there is a true sense of intimacy with the audience when I sit down to perform.

“Acoustics are tremendously important. Every note I play is borne out of the previous one—so what happens to sound in a space actually creates the music itself. In a concert there is a physicality to the sound, and at the Philharmonie it surrounds you. I have returned many times. When I play there, the music goes right through the core of my being.”

French pianist Hélène Grimaud’s new album, Résonances, is available now on iTunes. She is also cofounder of the Wolf Conservation Center (nywolf.org), in South Salem, New York.

Music Central

“The Grand Hyatt Berlin (2 Marlene-Dietrich-Platz; 800/233-1234; grand.hyatt.com; doubles from $300) has a wonderful spa overlooking the five-hundred-acre Tiergarten. And it’s just a five-minute walk to the Berliner Philharmonie (1 Herbert-von-Karajan Str.; 49-30/254-88-999; berliner-philharmoniker.de)!”

Gallery Scene

“The Galerie Mehdi Chouakri (117 Invalidenstrasse; 49-30/2839-1153; mehdi-chouakri.com) is a spectacular place to see avant-garde works by emerging artists.”

Top Shop

“Local artist Hinrich Kröger sells ceramic plates and wall hangings at his charming workshop, Atelier Hinrich Kröger (13 Gipsstrasse; 49-30/282-2729; galerie-hinrich-kroeger.de), in the Mitte district.”

Pre-Theater Bistro

Restaurant Borchardt (47 Französische Str.; 49-30/8188-6262; dinner for two $150) is the place for a Wiener schnitzel before heading to a show at the Berliner Philharmonie.”

Grand Hyatt, Berlin

With its low-key, beveled façade, the Grand Hyatt hangs back in a neighborhood known for its postmodern architecture; however, inside, it's all skewed angles and bright blocks of color and chrome, paying homage to Berlin's history as a center of Expressionist art. The 342 rooms are understated modern, done in beige and brown, and separated from gray marble bathrooms (many with rain showers) by sliding partitions. The usual panoply of five-star amenities are in place, with three restaurants (Vox is a perennial top-rated spot in Berlin), two bars, and Berlin's favorite rooftop spa, which helps to make the Hyatt the preferred hotel during the Berlin Film Festival every February. But during the week the property is filled with business travelers, who appreciate the hotel's easy access to the city's new main train station and airports.

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