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Dazzling German concert hall takes its bow

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Billed as a cultural monument ready to rival the Sydney Opera House, Hamburg's Elbphilharmonie came in six years overdue

Billed as a cultural monument ready to rival the Sydney Opera House, Hamburg's Elbphilharmonie came in six years overdue (AFP Photo/John MacDougall)

Hamburg (AFP) - Germany premiered a spectacular new concert house Wednesday in the northern city of Hamburg, billed as a future national landmark and global attraction, albeit after a cost explosion.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Joachim Gauck were among 2,100 guests invited to the inaugural evening concert under tight security at the grand hall of the Elbphilharmonie, which has electrified critics with its audacious design and world-class acoustics.

Billed as a cultural monument ready to rival the Sydney Opera House, the building came in more than six years overdue and at 10 times the initial budget, with a cost to the city-state of 789 million euros ($829 million).

At a pre-opening news conference, Hamburg Mayor Olaf Scholz defended the project, saying that its sold-out concert schedule through July and the more than 500,000 visitors who have already flocked to the building proved the Elbphilharmonie was winning hearts.

"It was a difficult birth but they have adopted the child," he said of the 1.7 million residents of Germany's second city who have footed the bill.

Jutting out from the city at the end of a pier on the Elbe River, the Elbphilharmonie has a boxy brick former cocoa warehouse as its base, with a breathtaking glass structure recalling frozen waves perched on top.

Sandwiched between the two levels, a public plaza protected by giant curved glass windows offers stunning views of the harbour, the spires of the charming old trade centre and Hamburg's temperamental skies.

Scholz insisted that the Elphie, as the two-hall concert house has been nicknamed, would be a building for the people, with diverse events appealing to visitors beyond the well-heeled classical music set.

"It is my aim that every pupil in a Hamburg school will see a concert here," he said.

The completion marks a rare urban development success story in Germany, which has been plagued by planning disasters such as Berlin's international airport, now five years behind schedule and counting.

To claw back some of the investment, Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, who also designed Beijing's "bird's nest" Olympic stadium and the Tate Modern gallery in London, added posh apartments, restaurants and a luxury hotel complete with an on-site meditation consultant.

The programme for the opening has been kept secret but is meant to span 400 years of music history, including Beethoven, Wagner and contemporary composer Wolfgang Rihm.

For those not lucky enough to snag tickets, a music-and-light show will be staged in the evening, projected on to the Elbphilharmonie facade.