AWhen he got off at the Kronberg S-Bahn station for the first inspection of the building site in 2014 and saw “the disintegrating park pallet” in front of him, he initially got a shock. Architect Volker Staab recalled the beginnings just before the opening of the Kronberg Academy’s Casals Forum. But the idea of planning an entire quarter at the entrance to the city around the ensemble consisting of the study center of the elite academy for young string players, the concert hall and an adjacent hotel with a whole “topography of paths and squares” appealed to him. What was important from the outset was the opening towards Viktoria Park and the intended openness of the concert pavilion.
The result is a quarter of particular aesthetic appeal, but behind which there is “hard science”, Angela Dorn (Die Grünen) was pleased: She could not imagine “a nicer interface” for her two areas of responsibility, said the Hessian Minister for Science and Technology Art now shortly before the first public concert among the works in the Casals Forum, which are still under high pressure. It was also a nice picture to see the architect and the acoustician Martijn Vercammen from the Peutz Consult office laughing happily together in the hall.
A whole new quarter of music
Because, as Staab reported, he was not at all enthusiastic at first when Vercammen drew “a lot of small baroque balconies” into the concert hall design: “I thought, but that’s really the end of it”. Ultimately, however, “the round balconies were extremely enlarged” determined the entire shape of the hall. The result is a curved space that is almost reminiscent of the shape of a string instrument itself, and which musicians enthusiastically said after the first acoustic test that it felt and sounded as if you were playing inside a violin.
The client, the Kronberg Academy, which was organized as a foundation, arranged the architect and acoustician to work together as “partners on an equal footing” in an unusual way, as Raimund Trenkler, founder and director of the Academy, describes it. Trenkler wanted an acoustic “powerhouse” for the handpicked students, currently 35 string players and pianists from 17 nations. At the same time, the hall should also be usable for large chamber orchestras. But orchestras need volume for a good sound, soloists above all need sound reflection, says Vercammen. Wanting to see both combined is tantamount to the desire for the “jack of all trades”, admits Trenkler.
“Powerhouse” for handpicked students
How the 550-seat concert hall, which is the only one specifically planned for chamber music in the Rhine-Main area, really sounds, will be shown in many facets and a rich program with 24 concerts at the ten-day Kronberg Academy Music Festival that is now beginning. In the future there will be around 80 concerts each year in the Casals Forum, which also includes the 150-seat Bechstein Hall in the Study Center. There are already talks about using it by other organizers, for example with the Hessian Broadcasting Corporation and the Rheingau Music Festival, which already cooperates with the Kronberg Academy. “We don’t have to market the hall at all,” says Trenkler happily. The questions would come by themselves.
In addition to the students, alumni and lecturers of the Academy and the Kremerata Baltica, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe (COE), which is still based in London but will start its continental European tours from the Taunus after Brexit, will often be heard in Kronberg in the future want. In addition, the Frankfurt Bridges Chamber Orchestra, made up of refugees and local musicians, will have the opportunity to rehearse and perform in Kronberg.
The chamber orchestra, which relies on diversity, and the European cast of the COE, as Trenkler explained, fit into the overall concept of the Academy, which sees itself strongly connected to the principles of Pablo Casals, who gave the new forum its name. The Catalan cellist was “a fighter for peace” and always “upheld human values with integrity”. The idea exemplified by Casals, that art and music should be in the service of people, corresponds entirely to the Academy’s mission statement. It was no coincidence that it was founded on October 27, 1993, on the twentieth anniversary of Casals’ death. The anniversary of the founding 30 years ago will be celebrated in 2023 in the Casals Forum, which will then surely be completely completed.