A View of the Whole – the Freiburg Ensemble House
From the street, the Freiburg Ensemble House cannot be seen. It lies behind the big white city hall, built in the 1950s, which houses at present the University Library and into which the Music School is to move over the long term. Even when you stand directly in front of the dark, compact building, you still cannot imagine what lies inside. You have to enter it and let the light-flooded hall work its effect in order to intuit that the Freiburg Ensemble House is something special in the German cultural landscape.
One house, two worlds
Two internationally known ensembles with different profiles have worked jointly in this building since May 2012. The Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, specializing in early music, and the ensemble recherche, dedicated to works of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, share office and rehearsal space. They live next door to one another and hope for mutual stimulus, in content and in organizational matters. This applies equally to research and to concrete projects, to sifting through archival material and the development of premiers, to planning of programs and making recordings.
The idea of a common house was broached in 2002. Although both ensembles go their different musical ways, there were already back then close personal ties between the members of each. Many knew each other from their student days at the Freiburg Music School. There were also substantial similarities between the ensembles: their democratic structure, inquiring musical spirit, limited public funding and the lofty idealism of the performers. They wanted not simply to serve out their time in an orchestra, but rather to realize exciting projects that they could themselves have a say in determining.
They accepted that the pay in independent ensembles was far worse than for tenured colleagues. The only thing they wanted was the improvement of their working conditions. Until 2002, the twenty-five member Freiburg Baroque Orchestra completely lacked their own practice rooms, while the nine member ensemble recherché had to rehearse as well as they could on the premises of a former furniture store.
The Ensemble Academy
The idea behind the shared house, however, goes beyond making use of synergy and extends to bringing the work of the two independent ensembles closer together. In 2004 this was achieved in the first Freiburg Ensemble Academy. The annual summer master courses for Early and New Music met with great interest from the beginning. Here not only music students but also regular orchestra musicians could receive advanced training in the special disciplines of Early and New Music. The ensembles’ jointly organized concerts have increased the overlap in repertoire and between audiences and have intermixed the music scenes.
In the meantime Freiburg has become an annual meeting place for exponents of these frequently separated genres. The unique Ensemble Academy thus fills a market niche and has been internationally acclaimed. In 2007, for example, at the invitation of the Goethe-Institut, members of both ensembles traveled to Mexico City to share with students their knowledge of historical performance practices and modern performance techniques.
From idea to the Ensemble House
The genesis of the common domicile was less straightforward. For a long time the ensembles looked for a suitable location. When they at last found a former church in which the Ensemble House could be built, backers pulled the reins in June 2009 because of the expected cost explosion. Then the city conjured up land in the immediate vicinity of the Music School: a godsend for the ambitious 3.2 million euro project. Over half of the sum was privately financed by foundations, donors and sponsors.
Since May 2012 the ensembles have finally had a home in the city and can put their work on public view. The idea is that the Ensemble House should become open and transparent; it plans workshop concerts and youth projects and would also like to offer individual courses of the Ensemble Academy during the year. Public interest is great. Over 2,000 guests came to the building’s first open house to leisurely look over the work of the local architects’ firm Böwer Eith Murken, whose concept is unique in the music world.
So that the very different sounds do not get in each other’s way at the Ensemble House, the architects made a point of using optimum sound insulation. They placed an instrument storeroom between the two large rehearsal rooms. An additional acoustic interstice separates the concrete walls and so prevents the transmission of structure-borne sound. The rooms were designed in collaboration with the acoustics expert Eckhard Kahle, who developed flexible space elements.
In the large rehearsal hall, mobiles made of wooden panels hang on the concrete wall, reflecting the sound and making it a bit warmer. The spatial acoustics can be changed with a few simple movements and adjusted to the relevant repertoire and special instrumentation. The musicians can help shape the design and realize their ideas – in great as in small. The Freiburg Ensemble House now offers spaces and concepts to enable such creative scope. And it demonstrates how a mixture of ideas, openness and tenacity can become cultural reality and an inspiring example.
works as a freelance music journalist and writer for several newspapers as for instance the Badische Zeitung, the Basler Zeitung and the Mannheimer Morgen.
Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
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