Orchestrating harmonious revival in Katowice

Orchestrating harmonious revival in Katowice

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The inauguration of the new headquarters of the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra (NOSPR) took place on 1 October 2014 in Katowice – a city located approximately 80 km northwest of Krakow. Thanks to financial support from the EIB and other European funds, the facility, featuring a concert hall with seating for 1800, was completed in an impressively short period of just 2.5 years.

“It’s a whole other world,” commented first violinist Rafał Zambrzycki-Payne on Katowice’s new concert venue. The great Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1935 in Warsaw by Grzegorz Fitelberg, who led the ensemble until 1939. After the war, in 1945, the orchestra was revived in Katowice. For many years the orchestra performed in a concert hall from the 1970s where the acoustics were not conducive to group performances without the use of an additional sound system.

As Poland’s leading orchestra, the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra is a cultural ambassador for its country on international stages. A new era has just begun for fans of music and the orchestra, which certainly deserves to perform in a concert hall that can be described as one of the most outstanding and modern cultural venues.

Dreams come true

For the former Mayor of Katowice, Piotr Uszok, in office for 16 years, this is a “dream come true.” In fact, almost 80% of the cultural infrastructure of Poland was destroyed during the Second World War and for many years culture did not receive much investment. Since Poland acquired significant resources from the EU structural funds and its citizens became more affluent, development in this field has also gained momentum. In the course of the last few years alone, several concert halls in cities such as Gdansk, Szczecin, Łódź, Białystok, Krakow, Wrocław, and now Katowice have been built and inaugurated.

The Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra is financed by the Ministry of Culture, Polish Radio and the city of Katowice. Although the population of Katowice is only approximately 300 000, it is the capital of Upper Silesia and attracts an additional two million people from surrounding areas. The new headquarters of the orchestra, which has been a cultural ambassador for Katowice on stages in many countries for nearly 70 years, is another symbol of the changes taking place in the city.

Great acoustic potential

The acoustics of the 1800-seat concert hall meet the highest standards. They were designed in cooperation with world-renowned company Nagata Acoustics, which also designed the Walt Disney concert hall in Los Angeles and the recently inaugurated Philharmonie de Paris.

The noise emitted by ventilation installations has been reduced to the minimum to ensure that concerts and studio recordings take place without disturbance. To achieve this effect, these installations were mounted on the exterior of the building, while inside the Great Concert Hall diffusers designed for the particular needs of the venue were installed. Additional rooms were created surrounding the concert hall to isolate it from external noise, including rehearsal rooms, dressing rooms and a Chamber Music Hall with seating for 300 people. For the same reason, the roof and walls were built using reinforced concrete. The designers also proposed using anthracite-coloured concrete for constructing the walls as a reference to Silesia’s mining traditions.

The concert hall has an unusual shape – the audience seating is designed to resemble a vineyard and the balconies surrounding the stage on all sides seem to grant listeners closer contact with the musicians. The acoustic solutions used on the ceiling and walls are also unique thanks to special reliefs in the shape of waves. Attention to detail was paramount when designing the concert hall. With its best practice design, the NOSPR is a unique place for not only the best symphony orchestra in Poland, but also for other ensembles and musical events. The facility also offers young listeners access to a rich musical education.

The square in front of the NOSPR is just as impressive with cascading stairs, a “dancing” fountain, and two hectares of park with trees and inviting lawns. Nearby, visitors can marvel at a garden of art offering a wide range of attractions – an amphitheatre, spacious installations and a hedge maze in the shape of a map of Katowice from the 1920s. It is no wonder then that the building aspires to be named the most modern music facility not only in Poland, but in Europe.

A larger renovation project

The new concert hall is only one part of a larger project involving the reconstruction of Katowice’s city centre.

Just a few years ago, this area, the site of a former coal mine in the heart of Katowice, was a place of decay and desolation. Now, following implementation of a complex revitalisation process, it has been transformed into a cultural hub that is becoming a symbol of this Silesian city. It is also now home to the International Congress Centre, linked with the legendary Spodek arena, and the new headquarters of the Silesian Museum.

In 2011, the EIB earmarked financial support for the reconstruction of the Katowice city centre for the amount of some EUR 65 million, which helped finance, among others, the construction of the NOSPR concert hall. EIB Vice-President Lászlò Baranyay, who took part in the inauguration ceremony of the NOSPR concert hall, said: “We are proud that we can participate in this revitalisation process, which has already resulted in the increasing attractiveness of this post-industrial Silesian centre.”