The Philharmonie: an architectural and cultural icon
Since its opening in 2005, the Philharmonie in Kirchberg, known officially as the Grande-Duchesse Joséphine-Charlotte Concert Hall, has established itself as a focal point of the Grand Duchy’s capital.
Designed by Christian de Portzamparc, it stands as a testament to Luxembourg’s modern sensibilities - although a view inside usually remains a privilege limited to those watching a concert in its winding interior.
But a guided tour through its concert halls, artists’ green rooms and along its suspended walkways offers a unique opportunity to see one of Luxembourg City’s architectural markers up close. Taking place every Sunday in English, they make for a worthwhile cultural and architectural excursion to a lofty and sophisticated building usually brimming with people.
Of course, it’s no issue getting to the Philharmonie due to its central location on the Kirchberg plateau. Frequent buses aside, parking is easy - Glacis, Auchan and Parking Indigo are all readily available and all but empty on Sunday mornings - and trams stop right in front of it every ten minutes.
Better yet, Kirchberg’s latest futuristic food court, Infinity Shopping, is directly opposite Philharmonie. If you catch the tram a little early, you’ll have ample time to grab a coffee at Golden Bean (which opens at 9am on weekends) before heading across the street.
The tour begins at the artist’s entrance (to the right of the main entrance) at 10am sharp. This, one quickly realises, is where the various musicians, artists and conductors also walk through before their performances. What follows in the journey’s first leg is a view of the Philharmonie’s cavernous, behind-the-scenes interior.
This part of the tour - and the building, for that matter - cannot be accessed unless as part of the tour or as a designated artist. The green rooms (or the lounge areas where musicians and conductors may wait and prepare themselves before a show) are all typical of Luxembourgish glitz.
Spacious green rooms
Besides grand and bulging vanity mirrors, the rooms all stand out for their chic interior design. Honestly, some of them might beat flats in the city in terms of decoration and space.
But a tour of Philharmonie can’t just be backstage hallways and breakrooms. The tour quickly, through a back entrance, turns towards the Grand Auditorium. Spacious and modern, the stage comfortably seats 140 performers and hundreds in the audience.
Seeing this space empty (save for the tour attendees) is remarkable. Standing on the stage, viewing the room from the premium booths and testing the acoustics yourself - by means of a whistle - really emphasises the sheer size of the room somehow hidden within the columns of the Philharmonie.
As part of the Grand Auditorium’s magic, the guide will also point you towards the Grand Ducal booth and divulge a secret hidden within the design of the room’s central organ - a secret perhaps best left as a surprise.
Viewing the central halls of the Philharmonie, flanked on all sides by over 800 bone-white pillars, is a spectacle in and of itself. Again, there’s something special about seeing the building totally empty and one really gets a sense of the scale and depth of this closed-off space.
Further, up on the suspended walkways as well as on the pristine floors of the halls, one notices how the Philharmornie’s interior is exclusively made up of curving vanishing points - a deliberate and impressing architectural motif.
A few words on the building’s most marked aspect - its columns - is followed by a view of a side hall contained within one of the Philharmonie’s sand-dune shaped flanking structures. I, for one, never considered that these auxiliary structures were hollow, and the natural aesthetic of the whole building really comes into its own here.
The Salle de Musique de Chambre, located at the back of the Philharmonie, feels much different from the Grand Auditorium. Where the latter is blocky and grandiose, the former feels more naturalistic and incorporates leaf shapes and sloping walls. Again, it is explained, acoustics were key in its design. Indeed, one can’t even whisper onstage without it being heard in the back rows.
Of course, the content and breadth of the tour always depend on the Philharmonie’s current activities, and after a short stroll back through the back rooms, the tour concluded for us. In our case, our group visited the morning after the New Year's Concert (with many attendees having been there the night before) and yet the Philharmonie was in pristine condition.
Before leaving, the guide explained that the tours were actually remarkably popular, with sometimes upwards of 30 people in tow. Sure, it can be a tight squeeze backstage and in the Grand Auditorium’s booths, but this hardly takes away from the experience. The building is more than large enough to accommodate a few tour attendees on a Sunday morning.
As a cultural and architectural landmark in our midst, a guided tour of the Philharmonie isn’t just for the architecture nerd and the classical music enthusiast. For once, seeing the place from the inside really underlines one of Luxembourg’s most intricate and iconic buildings.