Interview – Tom R. Schulz [Elbphilharmonie] [Hamburg on Tour]

Photo by Maxim Schulz

Following a hugely successful launch event last year, Hamburg on Tour (organised by the Hamburg Convention Bureau GmbH) will return to Shoreditch, London for another lively and vibrant showcase of food, art and live music this weekend (Saturday 1 & Sunday 2 September), bringing with it a fabulous one-of-a-kind pop up event – HAMBURG FESTIVAL!

Hamburg’s Metropolitan Region hosts over 100 lively festivals each year and with the opening of the iconic Elbphilharmonie Hamburg concert hall last year, the Hanseatic City is now more than ever a thriving music capital.

Ahead of the event, we caught up with Tom R. Schulz, Pressesprecher / Spokesperson for The Elbphilharmonie, to discuss this year’s event, the history of the concert hall and all that Hamburg has to offer.

The Elbphilharmonie. Photo by Ralph Larmann

Talk us through the background of the Elbphilharmonie. How did the project come about?

Elbphilharmonie’s origins date back to the late 20th century. Initially it was the private initiative of an architect named Alexander Gérard and his wife, the Arts historian Jana Marko. Back then, in the late nineties, the red brick building that forms the lower part of Elbphilharmonie, stood alone. This was the Kaispeicher A: a huge, seven-storey warehouse mostly used for goods like cocoa, tea, and tobacco, that had replaced a previous warehouse (first erected in 1875 on the same site) that had been destroyed during WWII.

As part of a major development project in the 90s, Kaispeicher A had been destined to become an office tower, however, Gérard and Marko, who had been investigating concert halls all over the world, insisted this should be the new purpose of Kaispeicher A. Their idea: Empty out the interior and bring in a state of the art concert hall.

Having been contacted by Gérard and Marko, Swiss architects Jacques Herzog & Pierre de Meuron (who had found new fame for their work on Tate Modern) began work on the transformation in 2001, they presented their ideas to a thrilled Hamburg public in 2003 (who subsequently donated funds to the project alongside wealthy investors), and in February 2007, the parliament unanimously agreed to build Elbphilharmonie.

Despite a number of delays and complications that set the project back a number of years (and cost a whopping 789 million Euros! – more than twice the initial estimate), the building finally opened in November 2016, and the excitement hasn’t faded to this day!

To date, Elbphilharmonie has welcomed over 7 million visitors, and more than 1.2 million concert-goers since the opening of the Grand Hall in January 2017. 

The concert hall opened in January 2017. How has the opening changed the cultural scene in Hamburg?

Greatly! It has been an enormous success in terms of concert attendance. Subscription numbers for the upcoming season are through the roof, which proves that many concertgoers are locals keen to visit more often and enjoy some wonderful music.

Elbphilharmonie now draws a young and extremely diverse audience, with the Plaza has become a huge tourist magnet, welcoming up to 18,000 visitors each day.

In previous years it was musical theatre that Hamburg was most associated with culturally; now it’s predominantly the Elbphilharmonie, with its world-class architecture and music programme.

Photo © Iwan Baan

Can you talk us through the upcoming programme? What are some highlights to look out for?

The upcoming season presents world renowned orchestras, conductors and soloists, along with a wide range of great concerts from local orchestras and ensembles, and numerous World Music and Jazz offerings.

Two composers in residence are featured extensively: Sir George Benjamin (UK) and Olga Neuwirth (Austria). The season begins with an extended homage to music from Poland, followed by a short festival dedicated to the music of Charles Ives.

Other highlights include: The Greatest Hits festival in early November, features a host of daring contemporary music; another festival exploring the diverse musical history of Venice in Easter 2019; and the Internationales Musikfest Hamburg in April/May 2019.

You are the Press Representative/Pressesprecher for the Elbphilharmonie. Talk us through the main aspects of your role. What does a typical day involve?

Main duties include: Communicating the music programme of HamburgMusik gGmbH (the city-owned firm that presents roughly a third of the total programme of the Elbphilharmonie); communicating with various media outlets about Elbphilharmonie; showing the press and many other important people and groups around the building; writing press releases; building and maintaining relations to domestic and international media; giving interviews; overseeing the media re: the General and Artistic Director, and so much more.

The Elbphilharmonie is very passionate about its policy of music for all. Can you tell us a little more about that and why its so important to make Elbphilharmonie accessible to all?

The Elbphilharmonie was never envisioned as an elitist temple for the happy few classical music lovers. It was founded on the firm belief that good music, no matter the origin, is one of the essential nutrients for the human soul. Elbphilharmonie aims to provide for this need to the best of its abilities. The excellent music programme is accompanied by an extensive school and family programme which includes workshops and concerts for children. Alongside those are five other community ensembles: Public Orchestra, Family Orchestra, Experimental Orchestra, Gamelan Orchestra, Choir, all demonstrating Elbphilharmonie’s sustained engagement in this field.

You’re going to be representing Elbphilharmonie at Hamburg On Tour. What can people expect from the event?

Hamburg On Tour is an event organized by Hamburg Convention Bureau which is associated with Hamburg Tourism and Hamburg Marketing. The aim is to highlight the multi-faceted values of Hamburg, mostly in terms of the rich music scene the city has to offer. John Lennon’s often quoted remark “I was born in Liverpool, but I was raised in Hamburg” may stand as a symbol for the inspirational qualities of the city for the music making and the music loving soul.

There will be small tours around the Boiler House led by singer/musician/presenter Stephanie Hempel (adapted from her professionally guided ‘Early Beatles’ tours in St. Pauli); exhibits from some of the most influential festivals in the area, including: Reeperbahn Festival, Wacken Open Air, and Elbjazz; local music presentations from Molotov and Elbphilharmonie; a host of culinary delights; the beloved local soccer team, FC St. Pauli, will feature … Who wouldn’t want to attend such an event?

What makes Hamburg such an essential tourist destination?

The friendliness of its inhabitants, the air, the harbour. The fact that it is so green and such a great place to live. The river Elbe, the Alster (another river, disguised as a lake in the middle of town) … the list goes on!

Where are the best places to eat and drink?

Carl’s Brasserie and Restaurant just opposite Elbphilharmonie are both good. Paris Bar. Many bars and joints all around Schanzenviertel, Eimsbüttel,  Ottensen. For great Italian food and ambiance Der Etrusker (Grindelviertel) never lets you down!

Visitor Information:

Address: The Boiler House, 152 Brick Lane (part of the Old Truman Brewery)

Opening hours: 10am – 11pm on Saturday 1 and 10am – 6pm Sunday 2 September


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