What makes a great concert hall? The conductor? Acoustics? The design? All these elements come together in the concert halls of the world’s top classical music cities.
In addition to the venues mentioned below, there’s the beautiful architecture of the Sibelius Hall in Lahti, Helsinki and the fabulous Frank Gehry–designed Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, which scores a double whammy as it is also noted for its record-beating acoustics. And for sheer romance, you can’t beat a balmy open-air operatic concert at the ancient Arena in Verona, Italy.
Opened in 1888, Amsterdam’s neoclassical Concertgebouw is one of the world’s best-loved concert halls, proving that not everybody heads for the city intent on boozy weekends, clubbing, and soft drugs. The Great Hall is universally revered for its perfect sound quality, and the concert hall is home to the renowned Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, as well as the Netherlands Philharmonic and Chamber orchestras. The concert season runs from September to June, with free lunchtime concerts held year-round at 12:30pm every Wednesday. The Robeco Summer Nights series of jazz, classical, and opera-lite concerts take over the hall for summer.
In a city more renowned for its Chinese opera and martial arts than Western-style classical music, the controversial and blingy glass dome of Beijing’s Center for the Performing Arts has nevertheless been a resounding success with the burghers of Beijing. The concert hall, known locally as the “Giant Egg,” opened in 2007 and includes three performance halls seating a massive 5,452 people, as well as a mesmerizing calendar of orchestral concerts, classical and contemporary dance, hard-hitting drama, and opera—Chinese and Western in style. There’s also much on offer for families, from traditional acrobatic shows to the musical version of Kung Fu Panda.
The Philharmonie sits in the Berlin’s stylish Kulturforum, built when the city was divided by the Iron Curtain to show the people of East Germany what they were missing. Designed by Hans Scharoun and opened in 1963, it is one of the world’s great concert halls thanks to its acoustics, and it is home to the world-acclaimed Berlin Philharmonic, which was brought to fame by impresario Herbert von Karajan during the post-war period. Sir Simon Rattle has led the orchestra since 1987. Concert seasons start at the end of August, and there is also a full schedule of concerts in the smaller Chamber Music Hall.
Historic Boston’s neoclassical Symphony Hall opened in 1900; it was built for the Boston Symphony Orchestra and still remains home to the leading orchestra. The architects of the auditorium employed an acoustics expert to ensure the quality of sound, placing it among the best concert halls in the world. Led by youthful Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons, a full schedule of orchestral and operatic performances occurs from September through June, while the crowdpleasing Boston Pops, who first played in 1885, join in with crossover concerts in the summer months.
Opened in 1871 by Queen Victoria, the barrel-shaped Royal Albert Hall is a massive venue with an audience capacity of 5,272. These days, it is best known for the Proms, the popular classical music concert that runs between July and September and features some of the best artists in the world at decent ticket prices. Other mainstays of London’s classical music scene include the Royal Opera House (ballet as well as opera) and the two concrete monstrosities of the Barbican and South Bank, whose aesthetic deficiencies are more than compensated for by the quality of their concert repertoires.