Luxembourg's new concert hall heralds the Grand Duchy's transformation from humdrum hub of Eurocrats to cultural capital.
Christian de Portzamparc, the designer of New York's LVMH tower and France's only Pritzker Prize winner, is the architecture world's newest music man. "I love creating buildings for music. They express the dialogue between hearing and sight," de Portzamparc says. His latest project, Grande-Duchesse Joséphine-Charlotte Concert Hall in Luxembourg City, is just one of several high-profile buildings that promise to remake this administrative center into a cultural presence by decade's end. In June, Grand Duke Henri, Luxembourg's head of state, christened the $70 million hall (named in honor of his recently deceased mother), the new home of the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra. Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki's Eighth Symphony, commissioned especially for the hall's opening, inaugurated the house; the performance by orchestra, chorus, and soloists was led by music director Bramwell Tovey. The building, comprised of three distinct spaces, becomes fully operational in mid September, with the opening of the chamber music and electro-acoustic halls.
Located on the Place de l'Europe in the bureaucratic EU enclave of Kirchberg Plateau, de Portzamparc's complex screens out the bland buildings that surround it, like the European Court of Justice and the Secretariat of the European Parliament. The architect focused on creating a new domain within the large triangular plaza: the main auditorium, with seating for up to 1,506 people, for orchestral performances; the chamber music hall, with 302 seats; and the 120-seat electro-acoustic hall, for experimental music.
De Portzamparc originally imagined a ring of trees surrounding the concert hall that visitors would walk through "to enter the realm of music," he explains. When he realized he couldn't fit the greenery on the site, he turned the façade into a "forest" of 823 columns, placed three to four deep. The spacing between the columns—their density recalling a Greco-Roman peristyle—varies along the length of the building, suggesting music's changing tempo. "It's like a filter," de Portzamparc says. "From inside you don't have to look out, but you can see everything" through strips of glass between the six-story-high columns, which create a fanciful play of light and shadow—"a curtain of light," as de Portzamparc calls it—in the curving foyer gallery that surrounds the hall.
Inside, eight towers, each containing four levels of loge seats, seem to dance along the perimeter of the auditorium. "I wanted the public to populate the walls of the space," de Portzamparc explains. "It's good for the musicians to see people all around them. And it's good for the audience to feel close to the performers." The hall's interior, all black except for the dark red pearwood of the loges, contrasts with what de Portzamparc calls the "snowy light" of the soaring foyer around it.
In addition to this project, the architect has designed Paris's Cité de la Musique and is finishing another melodious mini-metropolis, the Cidade da Musica in Rio de Janeiro, due for completion in 2007. Rising in Rio's suburb of Barra de Tijuca, de Portzamparc's newest creation embraces its surroundings with vast open-air terraces—sheltered by cantilevered roofs—and reflecting pools and gardens.
Though smaller in scale, the Luxembourg complex will be a busy one. In addition to concerts by the resident Luxembourg Philharmonic, audiences will hear six visiting orchestras this season, including the Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Riccardo Muti (September 11), and the New York Philharmonic, with Lorin Maazel (November 14).
And new cultural projects for the tiny monarchy are soon to follow: the Center for Amplified Music, a.k.a. the Rockhal, opens in October; the Grand Duke Jean Museum of Modern Art, designed by I. M. Pei, debuts next year; and an expansion of the National Library, by cutting-edge German Modernists Bolles + Wilson, will be completed in 2010.
For the schedule of 200506 concerts, log on to www.philharmonie.lu.
RAUL BARRENECHE is a contributing editor for T+L.