Radio Broadcast from the Hamburg Elbphilharmonie

Nagoya University of the Arts
Fortunately, I had an opportunity to visit a new concert hall of Hamburg, Elbphilharmonie, and to collect data on a concert of NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester, live recorded by NDR Kultur (NDR) for its radio broadcasting, on Sunday, October 8, 2017.

The venue is a hall of classical music in Hamburg, the construction of which took 10 years, starting in 2007 and being completed in January, 2017. In the building, there are large and small halls, an observation deck, and a hotel, and it has a control room for recording and broadcasting of NDR. A noteworthy fact is that the hall was built with an unprecedented concept that constructing a hall on top of the shipping warehouse built in the 1960s, and, when all is said and done, the acoustic design of the hall was designed by a Japanese world-class and top-notch acoustic designer, Mr. Yasuhisa Toyota.

I watched the web live broadcast of the opening concert in Japan, and seeing the inside and outside of the building, which I have never seen anything like that before, I was interested in the hall at once. Since then, I kept hoping to do collect data and report on the building. I finally got a chance to contact Mr. Toyota and NDR’s Tonmeister through a friend of mine, and fortunately, I had opportunities to interview Mr. Toyota in the hall in August 2017 and to collect data on the radio broadcasting recording by NDR in October 2017. In this article, I will focus on reporting on the recording of concerts by NDR and introduce the acoustic design of the hall with the interview with Mr. Toyota.

The Elbphilharmonie Hamburg:

Elbphilharmonie opened on January 11, 2017 in the Port District of the Germany's second largest city, Hamburg. "El" comes from the Elbe River, which flows from the Czech Republic through the east part of Germany to the North Sea, and this hall is located on a side of Elbe River, facing to its estuary.
In 2017 Elbphilharmonie © Sophie Wolter
In 1967 Kaispeicher A  © Zoch
 A cross-sectional view  © Herzog & de Meuron / bloomimages
A cross-sectional view  © Herzog & de Meuron
Großer Saal © Michael Zapf

Originally, Hamburg was an important city for German classical music, where great composers,  Telemann, C.P.E. Bach, Mendelssohn, Brahms and Mahler were worked here. Especially, Telemann performed in a concert hall, "the Baumhaus," which used to be situated very close (ca.100m) to where Elbphilharmonie is, many times. From time to time, a large merchant ship goes by with whistles on the river by the hall, and you can feel that this hall of classical music is built in the most symbolic place of the Hafen City of Hamburg. About the construction of the hall, following is an outline of information from an article "From News Archive News 17-02” on Nagata Acoustics’ website.

In 2002, the City of Hamburg started to work on redevelopment of its port area and planned to annex a concert hall on top of the old shipping warehouse, Kaispeicher A (Pier Warehouse A), a landmark of the port town, Hamburg. Design of the building was worked out by Herzog & de Meuron,  Switzerland, construction was carried out by Hochtief, Germany, and the acoustic design was planned by Nagata Acoustics, Japan.

The construction started in 2007 and was originally planned to be completed in 2010. However, since it was such difficult construction, the construction period was delayed significantly. The construction was finally completed in 2017. Upon its opening, NDR Sinfonieorchester Hamburg changed its home base to this new building and was renamed NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester. In the building, there are a large hall with 2,100 seats for mainly classical orchestral music and a multipurpose small hall, with 500 movable seats, mainly for chamber performances and a wide range of other performances, including pop and theater performances. It also houses a hotel and condominiums.

This building became a new landmark of Hamburg, and tickets for every single performance in the halls have been sold out since its opening. 8F floor of the building is open to the public as a ''Plaza'' where people can enjoy view of the city, and the floor is always crowded with many tourists. The Plaza also plays a role as an entrance to the large hall and the small hall, located on the upper floor.

Shape of the hall is a Vineyard style that seats are placed surrounding the stage, and the reverberation time of the large hall is normally 2.3 seconds and 2.4 seconds when vacant seats are full (T-30). Also, the keyword for the design of inside the hall was "Intimacy." Architectural theme is "close" in both visual and acoustic aspects. It was the most important theme for the design of this venue.

About the concert:
The concert was with the Balthasar Neumann Choir,
NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester, 8.October 2017
founded by the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester's principal Conductor, Thomas Hengelbrock, in 1991. This Choir has excellent young soloists from within Europe, mainly in Germany.In this concer, Musique funèbre by Witold Lutosławski, a Polish composer,  and Mozart’s Requiem were played in the form of attacca. A concert with the same program were held each day on Friday, October 6th, Saturday, the 7th, and Sunday, the 8th, and each one of these three concerts was recorded. I attended the concert on the final day. This concert was broadcasted on NDR's cultural radio channel, NDR Kultur from 8:00 p.m. on Monday, November 20.

Recording System:
The hall is equipped with a perfect quality broadcasting and recording system by NDR. The core of equipment in the control room is digital console LAWO mc2 66, DAW is 2 sets (one for main and another for backup) of Magix Sequoia with PCIe card, RME MADI FX inserted. The monitor speakers are Neumann KH 420s set in surround style. In addition, Lexicon 960L and 2 sets of PCM 96 Surround are set for reverb. It is now the highest standard model of classical music recording production in Germany, and it enables so musical approach to orchestra recording.
NDR’s Studio in the Elbphilharmonie
Digital Console, LAWO mc2 66
Back side of the Console
DAW Magix Sequoia, Lexicon 960L 

Recording team:
The recording team was organized with five fantastic people, 2 Tonmeisters, 2 Tontechnikers, and 1 Stagetechnik. The 2 Tonmeisters were Mr. Udo Potratz who served as a balance engineer, and Mr. Helmut Burk who served as a music producer. They both are freelance Tonmeisters who graduated from HfM Detmold - Hochschule für Musik graduated Tonmeister. Mr. Potratz graduated from Folkwang University of the Arts, Essen Germany where he studied jazz music, and then, he studied at HfM in Detmold to become a Tonmeister. 
The Team,  Jan Merget, Helmut Burk, Philipp Neumann, Ray Böge, Udo Potratz

Since his graduation from HfM in Detmold, he has been working as a balance engineer/producer. Mr. Burk used to belong to Germany Gramophone until 2000, but as the recording center in Hanover was closed, he became a freelancer. Since before he had retired from his previous job, he has been involved in many recordings of German Gramophone. He carried out recordings with Leonard Bernstein, Pierre Boulez, Maria João Pires, and Yuja Wang.The 2 Tontechnikers were Mr. Jan Merget and Mr.Philip Neumann, young sound engineers who belongs to NDR, and the Stagetechnik was Mr.Ray Boge, a freelance Stagetechnik, who provided technical support and handled microphones on the stage. In the music recording and broadcasting, it is indispensable that musical aspect and technical aspect unite together at the high level. In this recording, each staff had specific role, and setting and recording were perfectly done.

Microphone arrangement and mixing:
The figure shows the microphone arrangement in this recording. 3 sets of omnidirectional microphones were used for the Main Microphone System. As the main AB, DPA 4006s were installed with an interval of about 110 centimeters behind the conductor’s podium at the height of about 5 meters, being hanged by a three-point hanging system.As groß AB = Large AB, which plays a role as Room Microphone, Neumann KK 183 was installed with an interval of about 5 meters in the seating area about 7 m from the stage. 
In addition, as so-called “Outrigger,” Neumann KK 183 was suspended upside down on the left and right side of the stage.Spot microphones were set for each section: Wide cardioid Neumann KK 143s for strings, Cardioid Neumann KK 184s for brass, woodwinds and timpani, cardioid Schoeps MK 4 for vocal soprano, alto, tenor, and bass soloists, and cardioid Schoeps MK 21s for the chorus. For the chorus behind trumpets and timpani, bi-directional KM 120, which theoretically makes the sound from the lateral directions of the diaphragm negative infinity, was placed behind trumpets and timpani.In the Mixing, Lexicon 960L was used for reverb and AUX send and returned from the spot microphones. 
All these spot microphones were time-aligned to the main microphone, DPA 4006. Since the main microphones picked up enough timpani and brass sound, materials taken by some of the spot microphones were not used for mixing. However, some materials were sent to the 
reverb at Pre-AUX to gain just reverberation.

Special Interview:

I did mail interview with Mr.Potratz and Mr. Burk in January 2018.

Tonmeister, Udo Potratz, Balance Engineer
Q. Please let me know about your career.
Tonmeister, Udo Potratz
A. I have graduated from Folkwang University of the Arts, Essen, Germany as a Jazz Musician and after that finished the Tonmeister career at Hochschule für Musik in Detmold/Germany also with Diploma. Since then I am Balance Engineer and Aufnahmeleiter and have worked for NDR, Deutschlandradio, Emil-Berliner Studios, Coviello Classics, platin media productions and Arvato and also own the classical Label Es-Dur.

Q. Please let us know about the philosophy of music recording and broadcasting. 
A. The music is made by the musicians. The work of the recording team consists in creating the best possible conditions to transport the music experience to the listener and (especially in case of a production situation) to give support and constructive feedback to the musicians.  
Q. How do you get the recording of such philosophy in technically? How is the relation between the main microphone and the spot microphone?
A. I always try to find a balanced sound - which is a question of taste - yet with the main microphone and experiment with the height and distance. There is no general rule what to do with the spot mikes but in most cases I use delay for the spots.

Q. How is your impression about recording the orchestra at this new hall? Please tell us the impression of the hall and the impression of the equipment.
A. It is indeed a great experience to have the opportunity to do recordings in this great sounding hall. (also the chamber music hall "Kleiner Saal" has great acoustics).

Tonmeister, Helmut Burk, Music Director
Q. Please let me know about your career.
A. After receiving the Tonmeister-degree at Hochschule für Musik Detmold I worked for 13 years in Deutsche Grammophone Gesellschaft as Editor, Balance Engineer and Recording-Producer. Afterwards I worked for broadcast as well as for different CD-labels in classical music production. 

Q. Please let us know about the philosophy of music recording and broadcasting. 
A. The recording should be transparent and should have space, it should make use of the natural acoustical situation.

Q. What is different about producing, the live broadcast, the recorded broadcasting, the CD production?
A. Recorded broadcast offers sometimes the possibility of postproduction: if it was possible to record one ore more rehearsals or several concerts of the same program you can use material from there for corrections. Live broadcast always is „on air“ as it is. „Pure“ CD – Production is ideally without audience (sometimes broadcast productions are used for CD release as well) Then you have the possibility to have several takes of the same musical parts, which should give you more editing possibilities. It is also possible to work on specific spots 

Q. How is your impression about recording the orchestra at this new hall? Please tell us the impression of the hall.
A.The acoustics in the new hall is very clear and bright ; as the Reverberation Radius*  is quite wide, we put the main microphones more distant as we used to do before. In this case we put ca.5m height.

* Reverberation Radius...The ”critical distance” from the sound source at which the levels of direct and diffuse sound are equal in a given space. From the SCHOEPS Colette Modular System user guide pdf

Q. In this live broadcasting. You were as Music Director, How do you have relationship with an orchestra or a conductor?

A.During the rehearsels I do not interrupt (as one could / would do in a CD production); however in the rehearsel breaks or after the concerts I speak to musicians and the conductor about things that I noticed while listening
Music Director, Helmut Burk and Balance Engineer, Udo Potratz

Q. How did you work after the recording? Please let us know the post-Production.
A. Corrections using the other recorded concerts of the series plus rehearsels. This concert series was  Fri, Sat, Sun, 3 nights. Reducing noises caused by the audience. I used Sequoia’s Spectral Cleaning and Take Changing.

Acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota
I did a interview with Acoustician Mr.Yasuhisa Toyota, Nagata Acoustics of Elbphilharmonie Acoustic designer on August 28, 2017 at the cantine in Elbphilharmonie.

Q. Please let me know about your career.
A. I was born in Fukuyama-city, Hiroshima prefecture in Japan. My parents love music, my father was playing Traditional Japanese musical instrument Shakuhachi and my mother was playing Koto. And I sometime listened to my father's record then I really into the classical music. Since I was a junior high school I started a saxophone at the brass band and an oboe at the high school. That day I thought I would like to be work near the music in the future.
Acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota
I entered Kyushu Institute of Design, Acoustic Design Department and learned deeply about the acoustic design of the concert hall, as much as, I was playing oboe in the University orchestra. After graduate I start to work in Nagata Acoustic Design. In 1981, when I was 29 years old, I was deeply involved in the acoustic design team at Suntory Hall Tokyo Japan. This project leader was founder Mr. Minoru Nagata. After that, I was worked for the Sapporo Concert Hall Kitara which was completed in 1997, and Muza Kawasaki Symphony Hall which was completed in 2004. Since the project of the Walt Disney Concert Hall began in 2001 then I moved to Los Angeles U.S. It was completed in 2003. In recent years, I worked for Philharmonic de Paris in 2016, Pierre Boulez Saar in Berlin and also this hall in 2017.

Q. Please tell us the philosophy of this Elbphilharmonie acoustic design.
A. This hall's acoustic designed is for a classical music orchestra concert properly. However, I think it is quite difficult to express the philosophy in brief words in words. For example, when express a hall, there is called reverb time, especially sound engineers listen to it often, but I think that reverb time is similar like a liquor alcohol. If here is the same alcohol percent different kind of liquor, it does not become a similar taste feeling. You can imagine it. When thinking about the acoustic design of the hall, I think that sound will not well transfer to the audience unless the musicians can’t hear well each other. In other words, I think that the ''Stage Acoustic'' is most important.

First of all, the orchestra consists of many instruments. Of course, everything instruments is important. But in designing the acoustic of the hall, It is necessary to think about the role and priority of each instrument. In acoustically, I think strings instruments are the most fundamental instrument group in the orchestra. For example, you can imagine the instruments playing in outdoors. I think that the brass and woodwinds instruments can be hear well volume and well tone in the outdoors, as there is actually a brass band. But you can imagine that strings instruments are diffuse outdoors and it is not good hearing. Also, woodwinds and brass instruments often play obligato phrases to musically contrast with string instruments. I think that it seems to be "additional flower" to a strings instruments field. In other words, I believe that acoustic must support the strings instruments so that it always hear well in the concert hall. On the other side, the orchestra, for example,  Mozart and Mahler is very different composition and sound. But if we change the way of thinking, The instruments are added more and more to the ''Classical Orchestra'' style strings 10-8-8-6-4 and each other 2 woodwinds and 2 horns and 2 trumpets timpani. So that core is it. From this story, the first of all in the stage layout, we must think about string instruments the first. It is important for players to hear each other, and what we realize is the ''Riser''. It adjust the height of the instrument. 

This is a real story. In 1986 at the Suntory Hall, The ''riser'' was installed for the first time in Japan. It is like a the Berliner Philharmonie.
Until then, Japanese orchestra used the wood panels for this mean. Unfortunately, at the beginning of the opening Suntory Hall in 1986, Japanese orchestra did not use ''riser''. But it was used for the first time when Sergiu Celibidache and Munich Philharmonic Orchestra came to Japan. Then we and audience were surprised by the difference. Afterwards the The Japan Philharmonic Orchestra first used it. From this stroy, there are many members in orchestra, It is difficult to take a consensus, and there is a hate to change, but this riser not only changes the height but also fixes the position to sit at the same time. Therefore, the members of the core of string instruments will always be able to play in the same environment.
I introduce one episode in relation orchestra and Hall. The Walt Disney Concert Hall was completed in 2003, the opening concert, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, Los Angeles Philharmonic was playing on Britain's very big piece. The first rehearsal was the hardest for me. One musician told me "I can not hear each other sounds." And after the second rehearsal, they asked me. "What changed?, It is easier to play than before." I did not anything."  I think that it is because the musicians have become accustomed to the environment and know how to hear each other's sound well.Now I think that Elbphilharmonie and the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester are still "in process". The orchestra has own history and proceed towards the future. I think it is very difficult to turn the consensus of all the members' opinions toward one direction in any orchestra.If I express about orchestra to something, I think that it is a kind of "animal" composed of living human beings. When It goes well, when we can hear a big animal playing an one instrument. Then concert hall will be a part of that big instrument.

Q. Please let us know about your future dreams.
A. My dream is to listen to the music at that "hall". I've been involved in the sound of various halls, but I was not able to relax and listen to music. in the further, I would like to listen to music relax in the those hall. I don't think that as time goes by, the hall sound changes with materials. My real dream is that in that hall, the orchestra and music culture are grew up with the audience and change in a good direction.


I think that the design of this hall is unlike anything I have ever seen before, but its concept is very clear. A lot of people are interested in it and enjoying a new landmark in Hamburg. Acoustics of the hall felt very clear and close, and I felt like touching the performance. Such wonderful hall, it has the highest quality recording studio, and it was organized so that concerts can be broadcasted and transferred to outside the hall. 
Generally, in such a concert hall, just about 2,000 people can enjoy a concert one night, but use of radio or web streaming enables people all over the world to enjoy a musical experience. Currently, even in Japan which is far away from Germany, we can listen to the live broadcasts, and the more I listen to the broadcast, the more I would like to actually visit the venue and to have a real musical experience there. I think that it will be a new model case of the future relationship between halls and audiences.
I would like to thanks to NDR Tonmeister Mr.Hans-M. Kissing for kindly support about my report. and once again I really appreciate to Mr. Potratz, Mr. Burk, and Mr. Yasuhisa Toyota for introducing their practices and philosophies.

This report was originally contributed to Japanese PROSOUND on April 2018, Vol.204 issue. 
Japanese to English translate supported by Hitoshi Sugie.