Pricey new concert hall opens in Helsinki

Finland will officially open the Helsinki Music Centre concert hall Wednesday, a state-of-the-art building which has taken more than a decade to complete and costs 188 million euros ($271 million).

"It's just incredible how the composer's thoughts and the composition come alive and float through this space so vividly," Paeivi Kaerkaes, an oboist with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, told AFP between rehearsals for Wednesday evening's gala opening.

Kaerkaes and her orchestra have until now played at the iconic Finlandia Hall next door, a building designed by legendary Finnish architect Alvar Aalto to resemble a swan's wing.

But experts have long agreed that the acoustics there leave much to be desired and are better suited to conferences.

The new centre was dreamed up by Finnish architect agency LPR, while world-famous Japanese acoustic designer Yasuhisa Toyota designed the main concert hall.

Kaerkaes said that performing in the new Centre after playing for 30 years in Finlandia Hall was like "seeing the Mona Lisa for the first time".

"It's about time Helsinki got a proper music hall," said acoustic engineer Henrik Moeller, who helped design the acoustics for the Music Centre's five smaller performance spaces.

He said he was especially impressed by the main hall, where the audience is "sitting in music", as opposed to the monophonic, flat acoustics of Finlandia Hall, where the audience was simply "looking at music."

The nearly round, arena-like feel of the main hall seats 1,704 people and allows visitors to sit somewhat behind the orchestra if they want to, in order to better watch the conductor's interaction with the orchestra.

The idea for a new music venue in Helsinki was floated in 1992 by the renowned Sibelius Music Academy, but it wasn't until 10 years later that the city gave the green light to build the new hall.

The lengthy process was slowed at times by controversy over funding for the massive project and some opposition to the demolition of a 100-year-old train depot to make room for the modern building.

Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen will inaugurate the concert hall at its gala opening at 5:30 pm (1430 GMT) Wednesday, where the Radio Symphony Orchestra will christen the hall with works by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius and Igor Stravinsky "The Rite of Spring".

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