A New Concert Hall for Bucharest – How Could It Be Built?

The lack is obvious. From local and foreign artists to music managers and the general public – everyone agrees that the Romanian capital needs a new concert hall.

The expectations regarding the requirements such a building should meet are somewhat decipherable. What remains unclear is who, how and at what cost could build it.

Although the “George Enescu” Festival has been steadily turning into a major European event over the last two decades, there have been no new concert halls built in Romania since 1973, when the Large Hall (1,155-seat capacity) of the National Theatre in Bucharest was finished.

But that’s not a proper concert hall suitable for classical music performances, as neither Sala Palatului [The Palace Hall] is. Erected in 1960, this hall is very well-placed, in the proximity of the Romanian Athenaeum. The second advantage it brings is the fact that it can accommodate a total of 4,060 people.

Nevertheless, it is adequate for pop-rock performances, apart from its original destination – to host various congresses and large-scale reunions. “A genuine concert hall shouldn’t use amplified sound”, explains architect Dorin Ștefan, complaining that all music venues in Bucharest face similar problems to a lesser or more serious extent, including the Atheneum “that also has some «migrating» sounds, because it is round shaped”, the architect adds.

The opinion is shared by flutist Cătălin Oprițoiu, Operations Manager at the Bucharest Symphony Orchestra: “The Palace Hall is an acoustic catastrophy. It is too large, while the classical music market in Bucharest is made up of 2,000-2,500 spectators. The Enescu Festival offers a misleading image of the public, as many people, who are not classical music devotees, attend it. Also, others are just visiting Bucharest.”

Equally categorical is Mihai Constantinescu, director of Artexim, the organiser of the festival: “The Palace Hall does not provide the necessary conditions to accommodate a concert. For the festival, we need to set up the hall and the acoustics are very costly. The concerts organised there use microphones, but you cannot use microphones for a big orchestra. We also use amplifiers, but they represent 10% of the sound, because we cannot have it any other way.

Besides the technological challenges and financial constraints, the biggest problem is that some artists don’t like to play in a hall that doesn’t fulfill their requirements. “Anne-Sophie Mutter said it very clearly – she wants to play at the Athenaeum. Likewise, Perahia wants to play only at the Athenaeum,” Constantinescu says.

Bigger is not necessarily better for classical music

Last, but by no means least weighty, is a remark made by Zubin Mehta in the current edition of The Art of Living: “I hope that somebody is thinking of building a new hall; that should be a priority now, because the Enescu Festival is fantastic. When you read the names of all the orchestras and the conductors, and the soloists… it’s like Salzburg. You need a big hall, but you know that big halls don’t always guarantee for acoustics. This wonderful public deserves good acoustics”.

Both The Romanian Athenaeum (inaugurated in 1888) and Sala Radio the Radio Hall (built in 1961) are too small. The first has 794 seats; the latter can receive 982 people. Their capacity makes up just a quarter of the total number of spectators that The Palace Hall can hold. Make no mistake, every couple of years during the “Enescu Festival”, even a venue as big as The Palace Hall is full, but what about the rest of the time?

Relying on data about those who regularly buy tickets for classical music concerts in Bucharest – thus excluding the hundreds who receive free invitations from sponsors of the “Enescu Festival” – Cătălin Oprițoiu believes that a new hall wouldn’t be worth accommodating more that 2,500-2,600 people.

How should the new concert venue look like

In Dorin Ștefan’s view, a new concert venue should be made up of a main hall for 1,500 spectators, placed next to a smaller (500-seat) one. “The hall would most likely be rectangular and, of course, with natural acoustics and no amplification,” the architect says. Needless to add that a reception area, foyers, cloakrooms, a restaurant and parking spaces are sine-qua-non.

Classical music editor Petruș Costea specifies other conditions for the new hall. Firstly, it would be most welcome for it to pe placed somewhere close to in the Athenaeum, “so that the public could move effortlessly from one concert to another”. Secondly, “the acoustics problems are not insurmountable. A good team of experts brought from abroad, then for the construction itself, a company can be chosen after an open tender,” Costea thinks.

Where could the money come from

Over a century ago, the Romanian elites of the time came up with the fund raising idea known as “Donate one leu for the Athenaeum!” Started in 1865, the campaign lasted for 28 years. Eventually, the money donated from ordinary citizens covered only a little part of the total construction cost, but what mattered was that it created what would be described as a ‘buzz’ in contemporary internet marketing terms.

The people got excited with the idea of contributing to a special building dedicated to art which is regarded today as a landmark of Bucharest.

Over the time, Romanian Governments were pressed to bow to the wishes of the people. Given the age of social media we are part of today, the success of a similar campaign would require significantly less than three decades. “Do you remember when the Government of Adrian Năstase wanted the building, which was then unfinished, of the National Library? Although the building site had been abandoned for years, the will of one man was enough for the works to restart. After a media scandal, the Government renounced any claims to the building, and the works stopped suddendly. Recently, the Government gave money for finishing the new Orthodox Cathedral. Thus, money can be found”, Costea believes.

Cătălin Oprițoiu – who describes his orchestra as “compelled to adopt a nomadic status, moving from one concert hall to another, from one rehearsal room to another” – the Bucharest Symphony Orchestra is willing be part of any initiative supporting the building of a new concert hall in Bucharest.

In his turn, Dorin Ștefan wants to join such an endeavour. On November 2014, during the “Leadership and performance” event organised by The Art of Living magazine, he publicly suggested setting up an NGO pursuing the goal of reviving the “Donate one leu…” campaign, not for restauration of the Athenaeum (as it was done in the early 1990s), but in order to build a brand new concert venue.

Taking advantage of the 22nd edition of the “George Enescu” Festival, our magazine is also announcing its intention to support the gathering of any concerned stakeholders. May this article be a small but firm step towards briging together like-minded people from the artistic and business world!