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Tuning the Philharmonie organ's 6,441 pipes
Culture & Life

Tuning the Philharmonie organ's 6,441 pipes

1 3 min. 25.08.2015 From our online archive
When the doors of the Philharmonie are closed for visitors over the summer, the concert house undergoes its annual maintenance, which this year included the tuning of its concert organ. Wort.lu/en got to take a look behind the scenes.
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(CS) When the doors of the Philharmonie are closed for visitors over the summer, the concert house undergoes its annual maintenance, which this year included the tuning of its concert organ. Wort.lu/en got to take a look behind the scenes.

The organ was built by Berlin company Schuke, a renowned workshop that has built organs in over a dozen countries, including Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the US, Israel, Russia, Australia, Peru, Germany, Norway, Iceland, Italy, Austria and of course Luxembourg, with many other projects still ongoing.

The organ at the Philharmonie was designed together with architect Christian de Portzamparc to match the interior of the main auditorium, turning into more than just an object in the room but an eye-catching design-piece in its own right.

Every two years it is tuned, while every ten years a thorough cleaning of the instrument is necessary. 

A one-week job

The organ counts a total of 6,441 pipes, spread across 81 so-called stops on four manuals and pedal. There are two keyboards – one connected mechanically with the organ, as well as a mobile keyboard that is connected digitally and can be moved around the stage or auditorium.

For the tuning process, Thomas Abel, who works for Schuke in Berlin and spent a week in Luxembourg for this job, checked and adjusted every single pipe. There are a variety of different mechanism to achieve this, for example metal pipes can feature a small flap at the top that can be unrolled or bent to change the pitch. Alternatively small metal sliders at the bottom of the pipe can be lowered or raised.

Abel usually travels with a suitcase full of different tools adapted to the different types of pipes that he needs to tune. He works by ear, a craft carefully honed over the years, and any distractions in the room are unwelcome, despite the booming sound of the instrument itself.

But elsewhere in the Philharmonie work is also underway to get the house in ship-shape for the start of the next season.

Outside, the white shell structure is being cleaned to return it to its bright colour and get rid of weeds growing in the gaps. Window cleaners are also busy inside and outside of the building.

In both auditoriums stage mechanics, lights, speakers and the like are checked, as well as emergency exits, fire extinguishers and other safety measures throughout the house.

The upholstery of all seats is thoroughly cleaned over the summer, broken seats are repaired and they are also checked for squeaking so audiences during the season can enjoy concerts without any unwanted noises.

The stage's hardwood floor is given a new polish, while backstage, storerooms for music stands are sorted and an inventory is carried out across the building, from coffee cups and towels in the artist lounges to cables and other equipment in the house. 

New season organ concerts

So, while all seems quiet at the Philharmonie from the outside, there is much going on within its walls over the summer.

The new season at the Philharmonie kicks off on September 5 with a concert by the Staatskapelle Berlin under conductor Daniel Baremboim, with Wagner and Elgar on the programme.

The 2015/16 season also features a series of organ concerts. On December 13, Wolfgang Rübsam will be playing a selection of Bach pieces. On January 22 next year, organist Maurice Clement will be joined by musicians on the flute, trumpet, violin, violoncello and percussion for a night of music by a handful of composers.

On June 13, 2016, meanwhile the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Alexander Shelley teams up with US organ star Cameron Carpenter for the concert “Hollywood – Manhattan”.

For the full line-up visit philharmonie.lu