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Well-staged design

Across Austria, contemporary concert halls and open-air stages astound with their exciting architecture.

Author: Michaela Schwarz

Never before has it been so hard for concert lovers to make up their minds. Throughout Austria, contemporary concert halls and open-air stages are leaving visitors spoiled for choice with exciting architecture, perfect acoustics and a unique ambience.
The Austrian national anthem praises a land of mountains and the world of culture a land of music. In light of that, it is hardly surprising that Austria also boasts the tallest concert hall in the Alps. Even so, the arlberg1800, which takes its name from the altitude at which the building is located, creates a powerful impression. This modern hall for contemporary art and concerts spreads across the square in the centre of the winter sports resort of St. Christoph like a wave, and is surrounded by traditional Tirolean houses. The design of the building is intentionally reminiscent of sound waves – an idea that is continued in the interior of the arts centre with undulating forms and curves that are pleasing to the eye.  At the heart of the building, two thirds of which is concealed within the mountain on which it stands, is the concert hall. The auditorium has a minimalist design, is clad in luxury pinewood, dominated by its flowing sidewalls and has an eight-metre high ceiling.  Thanks to clever planning, it offers a perfect sound experience. An impressive setting for classic and contemporary works, as well as themed festivals and jazz, world music and sound installations.
Superlatives, part two
Barely two hours’ drive away from the highest concert hall in the Alps is the largest orchestra pit in the world – in the Festival Hall of the Tirolean Erl Festival. But that’s far from the only reason to take a closer look at this spectacular building, or even better, to sit down on one of the 862 seats in the concert hall. Built in 2012 as an addition to the traditional Passion play hall, the building draws both architecture and music lovers to Erl in droves. With a design full of sharp angles and straight lines, this visually stunning building rises from the ground as if it were a mirage. The motto of this year’s summer festival is “Full Steam Ahead” – and the broad-ranging programme is as powerful as it sounds, featuring nine new operas, including the Ring of the Nibelung and Rossini’s Guglielmo Tell, six concerts and ten chamber music evenings, all of which are sure to thrill the audience.
A stage as a swimming island
Austria’s floating stages have a charm of their own, especially on hot summer days and evenings, all the more so as some of them are architectural works of art. The lakeside stage in Lunz, for example, is a real quick-change artist. During the day, when the cool waters of the Lunzer See tempt bathers to take a refreshing dip, the roof is lowered, allowing swimmers to use the stage as a floating island and sun terrace, while the forestage is used as a diving board into the lake. If a concert is being held, the roof is raised again to provide visitors sitting in the lakeside stands protection, should it rain. And the performances are as progressive as the small stage is elegant. The wellenklaenge festival attracts international artists who want to strike new and visionary sound paths without letting borders get in their way, and who seek dialogue with other genres and the audience.

Resonating stages

  • „Wolkenturm“ v Grafeneggu, Spodnja Avstrija © Österreich Werbung / Werner Kmetitsch „Wolkenturm“ v Grafeneggu, Spodnja Avstrija © Österreich Werbung / Werner Kmetitsch
  • Montforthaus in Feldkirch © Petra Rainer Montforthaus in Feldkirch © Petra Rainer
  • Montforthaus in Feldkirch © Petra Rainer Montforthaus in Feldkirch © Petra Rainer
  • Large concert hall in Montforthaus Feldkirch © David Mattiesen Large concert hall in Montforthaus Feldkirch © David Mattiesen
  • Tirol Festival Erl © Peter Kitzbochler Tirol Festival Erl © Peter Kitzbochler
  • arlberg1800 concert hall © arlberg1800 arlberg1800 concert hall © arlberg1800
  • arlberg1800 Concert Hall © Elias Hassos arlberg1800 Concert Hall © Elias Hassos
  • "wellenklaenge" festival, Lunz am See © Wellenklänge / Herbert Raffalt "wellenklaenge" festival, Lunz am See © Wellenklänge / Herbert Raffalt
  • Alban Berg room © Carinthischer Sommer Alban Berg room © Carinthischer Sommer
The charm of contrasts
Not directly on the shores of the lake, but nevertheless just a short distance to Lake Ossiach, is the modern Alban Berg Concert Hall of the Carinthian Music Academy – an exciting contrast to the historic baroque Ossiach Abbey next door. The semi-transparent construction is an eye-catcher but most of the concert hall is underground. The walls and ceiling are lined with tiles made of spruce taken from the region, creating an appealing atmosphere – as the British Youth Orchestra, the Graz Chamber Philharmonic and, of course concert-goers from all over the world, will be able to see for themselves in summer 2016. The Liszt Centre in Raiding is an equally interesting symbiosis of old and new. The modern concert hall and the 16th-century cottage in which Franz Liszt was born are a flamboyant combination set in a simple rural village in Burgenland.
On cloud seven
The Cloud Tower open-air pavilion in Grafengg is especially impressive. The structure, made of concrete, steel and glass, rises a good 15 metres and is level with the crowns of the giant trees surrounding it. The daring design of the pavilion provides a modern counterpoint to the fairy-tale castle of Grafenegg at the other end of the park, and inserts itself harmoniously into a natural hollow in the landscape that was further accentuated by the creation of a hillock using displaced earth. Thanks to its cleverly devised soundboard, the pavilion is considered to have some of the best acoustics of any open-air auditorium in the world. At this year’s Midsummer Night’s Gala in June, the Cloud Tower will be celebrating its tenth birthday with a spectacular musical mix of past, present and future. Every Saturday until 13 August, the Tonkünstler Orchester Niederösterreich, the orchestra in residence, and other leading ensembles with outstanding soloists, will be presenting musical programmes of the highest standards.
Innovation driven by tradition
Finally, let’s head back west - to the province where innovative architecture is almost a tradition. In Feldkirch in Vorarlberg the new Montforthaus has been causing a furore since autumn 2015. Like a rounded pebble in a riverbed, this contemporary building sits in the flow of the historic city centre. Another revolutionary feature is that the auditorium was turned on its axis so as to provide a front entrance on all three sides. The flowing white facade has a transparent centre across the entire length of the front to provide a view into the interior. And even its foyer is impressive: The huge space extends the entire height of the building and with a white sculptural staircase that leads to the open galleries the whole effect is rather reminiscent of the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
And the programme? Well, that’s as creative as the setting in which it is presented. In three cycles each year, the Montforter Zwischentöne concert series promotes a new form of dialogue between music and the audience. The first cycle innehalten - Pause, Muße, Auszeit begins on 20 June with the Austrian premiere of music by the contemporary composer Toshio Hosokawa intertwined with music by Antonio Vivaldi. One can also take time to reflect in style on the building’s roof terrace. From here there is a wonderful view of the old city – and you can see even more clearly just how perfectly this modern building with its strong personality blends into its historic surroundings. Modern architecture in Austria even has angles and edges when it is full of flowing forms.
The Grafenegg festival in Lower Austria © Alexander Haiden / Alexander Haiden The Grafenegg festival in Lower Austria © Alexander Haiden / Alexander Haiden

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