History of a Concert Hall

There were suggestions of the Radio Orchestra being discontinued, or merged with the Concert Association’s orchestra, which comprised 80 musicians, and perhaps even moved to Malmö or Gothenburg.

Radio Director Olof Rydbeck, Music Director Karl-Birger Blomdahl, and company doctor Sven Paulsson called on then Minister of Communication, Olof Palme, in 1966, and spoke of the need for a home, a workplace, for the orchestra. Blomdahl said that the Radio Orchestra performed 120 times per year in radio and TV, with an audience that was the equivalent of 25 full concert halls. The company doctor stated that ‘the orchestra is not well’.

Not until further calls on several ministers of finance and communication were made, and the local programme was downsized, did his Royal Highness commission the Board of Construction to initiate planning in December of 1971, with architect Bertil Löndahl as project manager.

Planning of Berwaldhallen

The culvert beneath Berwaldhallen. Before planning could begin, the Big Music Studio, which Berwaldhallen was then known as, was moved, from a planned location at the end of Karlavägen, down to Strandvägen. Österleden, which had previously come out in a tunnel below Oxenstiernsgatan, had then disappeared eastwards. The current plot also grew, at the expense of one of Strandvägen’s lanes.

Berwaldhallen was placed deep down in the rock for three main reasons – by placing two thirds of the volume below ground, much of the sensitive environment on Djurgården was spared, the music studio was acoustically protected from outside noise, and the orchestra platform level did, through a blasted tunnel, get direct access to the Radio House and the far TV studios, which was advantageous from a transport point of view.

Planning concluded at the beginning of 1974, and resulted in a facility on three levels – with the main entrance on a mezzanine level between ‘the mountain foyer’ at the bottom, and a bright, upper foyer. The concert hall was given its hexagonal shape both for reasons of acoustics, and for the hall to be experienced as more intimate by the audience. Above the concert hall is a technical floor for lighting and ventilation. The commissioner was Sweden’s National Radio, and architect Björn Berntson was the project manager. The architects were Erik Ahnborg and Sune Lindström, and engineer Anders Grönman was the planning manager.

Berwaldhallen in Models and Perspectives

A good way of illustrating the building was to build models. The exterior model shows that most of the valuable trees could be saved. An interior model gave the impression of an almost round concert hall where everyone in the audience sat quite close to the orchestra.

For a complete musical experience, a good orchestra and good acoustics aren’t the only requirements. It’s also important that the view is good from all seats, that you sit comfortably, and that everyone has access to good temperature fresh air. Audience seats were ergonomically designed with wide chairs and large spaces between the rows.

The acoustics expert hired was one of the best of his time; Vilhelm Lassen Jordan from Roskilde, who had previously worked for the Sydney Opera House, among others. In a barn outside Roskilde, he kept models of concert halls from across the world, including Berwaldhallen. With the help of a tone generator and a microphone, he tested the acoustics from all audience seats. On the floor of this model, Magnus Enhörning and Tage Olhagen from Swedish Radio could, like in this image, try to experience the hall.

In a series of perspectives, Lisa Bauer illustrated the project. The important thing was to convince all the decision makers that the concert hall was needed. Swedish Radio and its big brother TV had different views on how the hall was to be used. Radio wanted a radio concert hall, while TV wished for a more flexible TV music studio. That conflict was won by Music Director Magnus Enhörning and Superintendent Allan Stångberg, who both fought on radio’s side.

Big Bang

In September 1976, we could listen to the beautiful music of the first explosives. The day after, the Big Studio was renamed Berwaldhallen.

Blasting was performed by Skanska. When the façade by the big staircase was blasted into existence, the rock suddenly collapsed. The rock wanted to disappear beneath the ‘resting elephants’ at the top. Much to our delight, however, the beautiful Stockholm granite with streaks of black diabase, so well celebrated in song by Bengt-Emil Johnson – worth a read by the lower stairs level – appeared again.

The master builders were Reinhold Gustavsson Byggnads AB, who achieved beautiful concrete pillars by the stairs, and decorated the exterior with a handsome, vertical concrete palisade – which has been likened to frozen music. In the summer of 1979, the hall was invaded by Italian plasterers who created the beautiful plaster ceilings in the foyers, and the acoustically active balconies in the hall, which were cast without joints, all in one piece.

Construction of Berwaldhallen is Completed

Of the entire volume of 48,000 cubic metres, the auditorium itself only makes up a quarter, meaning that each audience member gets access to 10 cubic metres of air, which is an acoustic feature for achieving a reverberation time of around 2 seconds – thus the great ceiling height in the hall. The platform has a surface area of around 300 square metres to house a symphony orchestra of 100 musicians, the Swedish Radio Choir, the Chamber Choir, and TV photographers. Behind the orchestra is the choir stall, which is, however, rarely used for choir concerts. At the top, just under the ceiling, a place for a concert organ has been prepared.

The acoustics experts’ request for a hard platform floor was granted with an African wood, Muninga. The walls in the hall, made from light birch, have moveable panels. The enormous heating capacity of the rock is surprising. The hollow in the granite maintains – just like at the underground stations – a constant temperature of around 18 degrees, all year round, summer and winter. With the help of heat from stage lighting and a fiery audience, the temperature tends to be around 20 degrees.

From a sound isolation point of view, the hall has double concrete walls, which have been placed directly on the rock, with a metre between the walls. Fresh air reaches each and every audience member, without making a sound, coming from under each seat, and the orchestra gets fresh air from behind the walls around the platform. The used air is ventilated away, without distracting noises, above sound traps in the ceiling. In 1979, the building cost 58 million SEK, of which fittings and technical equipment cost 14 million SEK.

Opening of Berwaldhallen

At its opening on November 30th, 1979, the hall was named Berwaldhallen after our great symphonist Franz Berwald who lived from 1796 to 1868. The programme included Berwald’s Sinfonie Singuiliere, Sven-Erik Bäck’s commissioned piece Vid Havets Yttersta Gräns (At the Far Frontier of the Ocean), and Hector Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique – the orchestra was supposed to make a lot of noise. The conductor was Herbert Blomstedt.

The foyer walls had been decorated with Hans Viksten’s Musikmagi (Music Magic). Carl Eldh had contributed two sculptures depicting Franz Berwald, one at the artists’ entrance, and one outside the main entrance. Hertha Hillfon shows ceramic sculpture Vindens Dotter (Daughter of the Wind) in the upper foyer. Two months before the opening, the hall’s acoustics were tested at a concert, when acoustics expert Vilhelm Jordan Lassen shot the compulsory pistol to measure the reverberation time.

Behind the Scenes

The musicians have their green rooms and changing rooms behind Berwaldhallen’s platform. The conductor’s and soloists’ dressing rooms, rehearsal rooms and a cafe can also be found there. Loading is done via a ramp directly from Strandvägen to the garage where there is space for TV’s OB bus (Outside Broadcasting). A blasted tunnel under the rock means that the orchestra and all transports get direct access to the Radio and TV house without stairs and lifts.

The light and sound control room is treble-glazed and has good visual contact with both orchestra and audience. Above the whole hall, there is a fan room level, and there are spaces for lighting above Berwaldhallen’s platform. The instrument rooms include space for the musicians’ own instruments, and in bigger rooms there is also space for percussion instruments, grand pianos, harps, and so on. The stage has, in later years, been equipped with hydraulically adjustable tiers, managed through a computer programme.

Berwald Hall in the Future

The ravages of time are wearing on Berwaldhallen, which is no longer a fresh-faced teenager. The walls need to be refreshed, both internally and externally. The carpets bear signs of many a public event. The hall is also rented out to external concerts, shareholders’ meetings and conferences, which wear down facilities. Walter Bauer’s beautiful idea of flowers and foliage outside the upper foyer, to mirror the seasons, should now be realised.

On the wish list is a small chamber music hall close to Berwaldhallen. The big symphony orchestra and the choirs also need more rehearsal rooms and bigger green rooms with a good restaurant. Berwaldhallen is, after all, a workplace every day of the week. And Törnerska Villan, the old summer house, has now been renovated and painted green. It is now home to all of Berwaldhallen’s administration.

Text: Erik Ahnborg
With many thanks to Lennart Johansson

From blueprint to reality