A CONCERT HALL THAT CAME OUT OF A SWISS MOUNTAIN
I should explain...
I have been personally involved with this fantastic project for over 20 years. In 1988 or 1989 I was in Berlin for Christmas, and my friend Wieka Muthesius, then an architectural student of Professor Alfred Grazioli, now his wife and business associate, showed me her student project of a concert hall for Gstaad inside a mountain. I was profoundly struck by this fabulous idea, and I didn’t think of it merely as a student project, but immediately regarded it as a valid scheme that should be built. I have a long association with Gstaad, and I knew the Festival and the echoey tent, in which one hears the rain and hail and aeroplanes passing overhead as an accompaniment to the orchestral tones. And I felt that Gstaad and the Festival deserved, and needed, a proper venue for its major performances. So each time I was in Berlin, I asked Wieka how the project was going, and each time the answer was that it was going nowhere. It remained an idea, a set of drawings...
In July 2001 I was in Gstaad, and I met the then Festival Director, Eleanor Hope, and talked to her about the scheme. I’d had correspondence with her, and she’d written to me: “ How interesting that you have a friend who has a concept and plans for a concert hall and conference centre in a mountain – because this is precisely what Yehudi Menuhin wanted, and to this end he brought in the famous architect I.M.Pei to Gstaad some ten years ago. It came to nought, because no-one was willing to address the subject of money.” Then I spoke to my old friend Markus Kappeler about the scheme. I’d had the idea that he, as a businessman, and latterly a business consultant, and now veering towards retirement, and with his connections in Gstaad, would be ideally placed to bring this project from idea to reality. But his first reaction to my suggestion to take on that task was negative. He thought that such a project was too big for Gstaad, that it was too expensive, and that there weren’t enough hotel beds, parking spaces etc. And we left it at that.
A couple of years later Markus emailed me. He wanted to know the names and address of my architect friends... I was thrilled at his change of attitude. He must obviously have found some very positive resonance to the project in the arts, business and official circles in Gstaad.
I had now been attempting literally for years to arrange a meeting between my architect friends Wieka and Freddy in Berlin, and my businessman friend Markus in Gstaad. And in June 2005 I at last had the opportunity of doing so: I threw a lunch party in a mountain chalet halfway between Gstaad and Les Diablerets, where Wieka happened to be staying at her chalet. And there, then, I introduced Wieka to Markus and his wife Marlis. Architect met businessman. That luncheon could well be regarded as the launch party of Les Arts Gstaad.
There is unanimous agreement that the Concert Hall should be a concert hall, and not a multi-purpose hall that would serve none of its intended purposes satisfactorily. But I know from the London music scene that the Royal Festival Hall (3000) and the Queen Elisabeth Hall (1000), which were planned and built to house solely concerts, both serve other forms of entertainment. The RFH has a long summer season of ballet, during the season of BBC Promenade Concerts in the Albert Hall; and the QEH also presents opera and dance in its repertoire. The RFH made great technical improvements to the flexibility of its stage in the recent complete renovation of the building. “Today’s demanding varied programme at the Royal Festival Hall has required a radical improvement in stage set-up, lighting and production. Turnaround has been streamlined by new backstage facilities: the stage has been re-configured and equipped with lifts that allow it to move in eleven separate sections; the choir benches can be wheeled out to provide a level floor for staged and dance performances.” Internet architectural report. So my recommendation is that the platform/stage of the concert hall should be utterly flexible. At least the forestage should be on a lift that can be lowered to form an orchestra pit. It is quite unacceptable to have the orchestra on floor level, and for the audience to have to look at the dancers’ feet through the conductor and his waving baton, through the string players’ heads, and through the harps and the double basses. And while London has halls and theatres of every shape and size, Gstaad will have only one major purpose-built performance venue, so it had better be a flexible one... There should be a lift to bring the piano onto the stage from below.
The fact of Gstaad having a concert hall, now also planned with a museum and other facilities, will radically affect not only the economy of the town, but also the policy of the Festival, which will have to broaden out into the other performance genres, opera, dance, play, and will need the necessary stage facilities for that extension of policy. There will also be other enterprising promoters who will welcome good facilities in the concert hall.
With the site for the building being long and narrow, between the railway lines and the mountain, there is the danger that the auditorium might also be long and narrow, which would mean that many members of the audience would have to sit far away from the action on the platform/stage. To avoid this serious disadvantage, my recommendation is for the auditorium to be fan-shaped. It would then spread out at the back up over the railway lines, and over the bridge connecting the site with the reception block on the other side of the rails, perhaps even over the reception block itself. This would be an aesthetic gain, turning the three separate elements of the complex, main block, bridge, reception block, into one building of promisingly interesting shape.
For ambiance and aesthetic I recommend that the rows of seating be circular.
It is essential for the entire space at the platform/stage end of the building, on all levels, to be devoted solely to the requirements of the performers and technicians. Here should be the dressing rooms and green rooms and canteen for the soloists, chorus, orchestra and stage staff. These rooms should have windows wherever possible.
The various galleries and other spaces at the museum end of the main building, should all be available as foyers and terraces for the concert audiences.
The reception block should have escalators and ample lifts, to give comfortable and quick access for the audiences from ground level to bridge level. This could again interestingly affect the shape of the building, with possibly sloping angled walls.
I congratulate Markus Kappeler on his great success in bringing this wonderful project so far, and wish him final success in its happy completion.
Peter Zander 22 Romilly Street London W1D 5AG U K + 44 (0) 20 7437 4767
U K Mobile + 44 (0) 79 20 12 55 09 email@example.com Version 2 with RFH quote 1 11 2009