The old adage “If you build it, they will come&Rdquo; took on a new twist in Lucerne, Switzerland. In the early 1990s, the concert hall for the International Music Festival (established in 1938 by Arturo Toscanini) had most certainly passed its best-before date.
“IMF couldn’t grow or develop any further or fulfill the needs of sponsors,” recalled Rosie Bitterli (currently Chief of Culture and Sport for Lucerne) as we spoke in her office. “If Lucerne didn’t invest, the Festival’s chances for survival were slim and we’d have problems positioning Lucerne internationally.”
Doing nothing was not an option. With a population of just over 60,000, Lucerne plays host to a five-week summer festival that annually presents some of the finest orchestras, chamber ensembles and soloists on the planet. The largely sold-out concerts are a boon to the local hotels, restaurants and many other tourist attractions for this beautifully situated city (at the foot of Mount Pilatus and on the shores of Lake Lucerne). After arriving by train from many other cities and countries, these spectacular cultural events are just a few steps away.
Without this festival, Lucerne’s prestige as one of the places on the planet to savour world-class artists would be greatly diminished. And so a new set of public/private partnerships began to evolve.
In 1998, after five municipal votes and the extraordinary skills of French architect Jean Nouvel came to fruition, the Kultur and Kongresszentrum Luzern (KKL) opened its doors. The Festival was here to stay and able to grow its programming and audience, further enhancing the area’s reputation for high-quality performances and infusing millions upon millions of Swiss francs into the economy.
With Niagara’s own performing arts centre (and school—more about that in a moment) being given the green light, perhaps there are things we can learn from the Lucerne experience.
Beyond the municipality, canton (province) and the Festival, any business related to tourism soon found its way to the table as the plans developed to build KKL.
“We all wanted to maintain Quality Tourism,” explained Bitterli. “We all brought what we could and we did it together. People are very proud of what we have achieved.”
Along with the two levels of government, a new oversight foundation was set up along with a further foundation whose mandate was the establishment of Switzerland’s fourth largest art museum—its new home would be part of KKL. These four entities own the building (which features a nearly 2,000-seat concert hall, the museum and a variety of other flexible spaces that draw many conventions to the building every year). Bitterli went on to say that the city and canton own the biggest part of KKL consortium, a private company has been hired to manage the building and the Lucerne Festival remains at arm’s length, responsible for the programming during its contracted weeks. Those who program or use the house are not involved [in its governance].
As complex as that structure may appear, having attended 46 concerts over 38 days, I can say with confidence that all aspects of this arrangement are working seamlessly to the advantage of tourists/music lovers and the performers alike.
Now celebrating ten years of the concert hall’s popularity and magnificent acoustics, the Lucerne Festival is not about to rest on its laurels.
Further expansion is planned: education will be a key component.
Michael Haefliger, the Festival’s artistic and executive director is working on plans for still another building. Remarkably similar to the simultaneous construction of a new performing arts centre and relocation of the Marilyn I Walker School to downtown St. Catharines, the proposed Salle Moduable in Lucerne will show the world even more artistic endeavours but also train the next generation in their craft.
“The new performance hall will be an incubator for the students in the school program, encouraging experiments in music theatre, and multimedia,” he said during our conversation between performances.
Next month we’ll look further into these exciting developments in Europe and Niagara. JWR