Olivia Capadose profiles one of Berlin’s most intimate concert halls…
When row Z seating in a sweaty concert hall isn’t doing it for you any more and ticket prices start to rise, you’ll find the intimate environment and straightforward concept of the Piano Salon Christophori beginning to beckon.
Nestled in a quiet Wedding street, the salon is one part of the privately funded cultural centre Uferhallen, which provides a platform and space for artists looking to work, study and perform. Set up in 2007, it makes use of a garage complex formerly used by Berlin’s municipal transport services for vehicle repairs.
The architecture of the 1926 building offers big spaces, high ceilings and natural light, providing an ideal space for dance productions, artists in residence, sound studios, and a range of concerts. This hub of creativity has now become internationally renowned both for its innovative production and as a venue for world-class performance.
Once inside the Salon Christophori, it’s hard not to get lost. The workshop-cum–venue crammed full of piano paraphernalia is messy, but mesmerising. The walls are lined with old piano parts – strings, hammers, lids – and every corner is bursting with other musical curiosities and miscellaneous ‘old things’.
The founder of the salon is the doctor and piano fanatic Christoph Schreiber, who confesses to being a bit of a collector. “I used to collect stuff,” he says, but “now it’s the stuff that comes to me, so I’ve stopped actively looking. Except for a good, old harpsichord of the massive kind – which would be a great addition…”
He trails off dreaming of his fantasy harpsichord and something tells me the place will continue to evolve. Towards the back of the room is a clearing, lit atmospherically, which is reserved for performances. Ranging from classical recitals and concerts to jazz and occasional experimental performances, this space has been graced by big name musicians (violinists Sayaka Shoji and Alexandra Soumm (violin), pianists Kit Armstrong and Stanislav Ioudenich, cellist Nicolas Altstaedt) from all over the world.
“The idea behind the salon is nothing new,” says Christoph. It harks back to the nineteenth century, to the time of the Salle Pleyel in Paris and the Saal Duysen in Berlin. These two salons, which rivalled one another as manufacturing workshops, were where art was born: luminaries such as Frederick Chopin were drawn to the places not only because of the quality of beautifully crafted pianos, but because of the unconventionally intimate atmosphere and audience proximity.
It is the audiences’ proximity to the music that makes the Salon Christophori so unique and whilst Christoph is careful not to take credit for the idea, it would seem that the salon provides something that is sorely missed in classical music performance today. There is something to be said about doing it the old way when an 80-Euro ticket to a concert at the Philharmonie resigns you to far flung seats and a pair of binoculars.
Arriving at the salon feels like discovering a secret. Although there may be something unlikely about the idea of the world’s most exceptional musicians, usually reserved for the grandest of concert halls, being tucked away in an old garage, this adds to the unpretentious charm of the place. World-renowned Classical Violinist Sayaka Shoji, accompanied by the most expensive Strad Violin ever sold, has become a regular at the salon because she enjoys the atmosphere so much.
Many of the musicians have their own keys and use the space for rehearsals and warm-ups. The audience demographic varies from young to old and from classical connoisseur to first time concert-goer. The close atmosphere – and the wine on offer – make it easy to get lost in the magisterial minutes of Beethoven or the soft whimpering of baroque violin, and in another non-traditional touch, payment for the concerts is given at the end on a donation basis.
“Performing at the salon is special event every time it happens,” says French pianist Julien Quentin. “I get to play there every few weeks and to have such an industrial space turned into an atelier and concert space could only happen in Berlin. In between the old instruments, lamps and piano parts, the audience really feels at ease. The mood means that the public can really get in to the music and many people stay on after the concert to talk and enjoy a drink. It’s a one-of-a-kind atmosphere”.
It seems that Christoph has got something special going. I ask him what the future looks like for the salon but he reminds me that it “is just a hobby”. It was set up with “intended un-intendedness” and will continue to be a place for musicians and the public discover and enjoy music. Simple as that.
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