Stockholm’s Konserthuset, the concert hall, is an historic building in the middle of Norrmalm, the area north of Stockholm city centre. Redeveloped as part of the city’s expansion during the 20th century, Norrmalm is now home to many major shops. The hall was purpose built in the 1920s as a home for the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra and as a venue for the annual Nobel Prize Ceremony, and it still fulfils both functions today. It is on the corner of two major roads, Kungsgaten and Sveagatan, but the hall’s front faces onto Hötorget, the Haymarket, an historic square which is still home to a market. Across the square is the former PUB department store where Greta Garbo once worked.
Architect Ivar Tengbom designed the concert hall in classical style with an emphasis on Swedish arts and crafts. Outside is a statue of Orpheus by the Swedish artist Carl Milles, while the inside is softly lit, intending to lead from dark to light as in a Greek temple. The original wall lights based on flares, the statues of Greek gods, mosaics of Orpheus and the grand staircases lit by huge Orrefors crystal chandeliers, which was exhibited at the Paris 1925 exposition, can all still be admired. The foyer’s furniture and décor is in the classical style and is all now carefully restored. The elaborate marquetry on the concert hall doors includes references to recent events such as World War I. The concert hall interior was partially reconstructed in the 1980s introducing a new organ. What survives is very handsome and not only is the organ a distinguished instrument (there are organ recitals at Thursday lunchtimes) but the acoustics now make a fine home for the orchestra.
The Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra was founded by the composers Wilhelm Stenhammar and Hugo Alfvén in 1902 (two years before London’s oldest orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra). There was an interregnum due to lack of funds between 1910 and 1914, but the orchestra has been on a permanent footing since 1914 and the new concert hall reflects this confidence. Music directors have included such luminaries as Vaclav Talich, Fritz Busch, Antal Dorati, Gennadi Rozhdestvensky, Paavo Berglund, and Andrew Davis. Currently the orchestra’s chief conductor is the Finn Sakari Oramo, who has been winning plaudits for his performances with the orchestra.
The orchestra plans around 200 concerts annually at the hall, playing around half itself and inviting guests for the other events. Around these concerts are chamber music, jazz, world music and rock, programming a wide mix of events. The orchestra runs a number of festivals during the year, and recently celebrated the anniversaries of both Sibelius and Nielsen with a big festival where the orchestra was joined by invited guest orchestras. Each spring there is a weekend of music by a contemporary Swedish composer, in 2016 it is Mats Larsson-Gothe and the Cape Town Opera Company who will be coming from South Africa to perform his opera Africa Prophetess.
The Composers Festival in the fall devotes a couple of weeks to the music of a living international composer, such as Thomas Ades, Steve Reich and Per Nørgård. This year, as an exception, the festival explored the music of the French sisters Lili Boulanger and Nadia Boulanger (Lili, 1893-1918 a child prodigy who died young and Nadia, 1887-1979 a pedagogue who taught a huge range of composers). There was a concert with Marc Soustrot (chief conductor of the Malmo Symphony Orchestra) conducting the RSPO in terrific performances of Nadia Boulanger’s rarely performed and mammoth Fantasie Variee, and Lili Boulanger’s large scale setting of Psalm 130. There was also an intriguing lunchtime recital with the actor Fredrick Lycke performing songs by two of Nadia Boulanger’s pupils, Michel Legrand and Burt Bacharach. This latter concert was in the hall’s soup concert series, where the audience is served soup before the concert and sits at their tables to enjoy the music, quite a different experience from lunchtime concerts in the UK.
These concerts take place in the smaller hall, the Grünewald Hall so-called because walls and ceiling are covered in paintings by the Swedish painter, Isaac Grünewald. Though created under the supervision of the architect, Ivar Tengbom, it creates a very different impression to the clarity of the main hall and foyers.The hall’s director, Stefan Forsberg is keen that it be seen as Stockholm’s living room, and there are a constant series of events there. Not only a wide range of concerts, but exhibitions, children’s concerts and holiday activities and, of course, at least two coffee shops in the building. So it is well worth checking out if you are in Stockholm.
If you cannot make a concert, the building is worth a visit. Guided tours can be booked on thehall’s website but you have to email firstname.lastname@example.org if you want it in English. If you are visiting the hall for a concert, there are plenty of places to visit beforehand. Just up the road in Kungsgatan is the Stockholm institution Vete-Katten, a coffee house which sells a wonderful selection of pastries including their famous cinnamon buns. Near the concert hall the indoor market is definitely worth checking out, and the Kungshallen has a wide range of food outlets.
Stockholms Konserhuset, Hötorget 8, Stockholm, Sweden, +46 8 786 02 00