Where We Stand

Piano Music in the Planetarium

Hamburgische Staatsoper
Kent Nagano

© René Buttermann

The Journey

Modern piano music in the Sternensaal of the Hamburg Planetarium: can this even work?

It is above all a conceptual challenge to transform the complex structures into living images. The works should not be perceived as random products at the first hearing, but as masterly creations.


  • Yejin Gil
  • Sophie-Mayuko Vetter
  • Kent Nagano
  • Nick & Clemens Prokop

The Solution

In the concept phase it quickly became clear that the standard settings of the existing technology would not be sufficient.

The decisive factor was to create a visual correspondence for each compositional handwriting.

The relatively small stage was a starting point for this. From there, events spread across the sky. The audience sat in reclining upholstered chairs and were able to let their eyes wander with the music.

Our concept had to ensure that the concert, despite three artists involved, developed a large span bow. We achieved this by using different visual effects in a targeted manner.


  • Karlheinz Stockhausen
  • Pierre Boulez
  • Unsuk Chin
  • Luigi Nono
  • John Cage
  • Peter Ruzicka

© René Buttermann

© René Buttermann

© René Buttermann

The Sculpture

Anyone who knows us knows that projection alone is not enough. For "Where We Stand" we constructed a luminous frame and "The Gate" focused in an unusual way on the concert grand as the starting point of the show. After all, the music should not be degraded to a soundtrack.

The Sound

The Sternensaal was initially unsuitable for concerts. That's why we had to simulate a pleasant room that matched both the music and the visual staging.

TYE SOUND EXPERTS used the 3D possibilities of a so-called wave field synthesis system to mix the live piano sound as well as the required feed tapes.

The trick was that the sound of the concert grand was raised slightly above its natural volume. In connection with the strong visual impressions, an absolutely natural and precisely audible sound emerged, which could stand and float in space.

The Visuals


The music plumbs gravitational fields, and that can be seen in the dome. Time and again, the piano throws particles into space, which form a universe. The movements of these sections are caused solely by gravitational fields, which change depending on the music. These makes the celestial bodies dance or forces them into star clusters.


Nono's piece hides. The pianist plays himself, i.e. a tape runs in parallel. This causes the piano to break, just like waves that overlap. This is formed on the dome, which is constantly deforming. Except for the lynchpin of the piece; the dome opens like a flower to reveal the view of a monstrous moon occupying the entire surface.


Three hammer pieces, which above all are listening exercises – whether one comes along at all. Hence the seismograph, which begins to beat out over the piano and notes the subtleties of the music. As short as the pieces are, Unsuk Chin's music misses the whole sky. This can (and should) create a dizzying impact.


...and suddenly a memory of Chopin invades the room. Color circles dance to music like long exposures of star movements. However, the seemingly safe reason varies. A cosmic ballet gets out of step and finally blurs.


The piano spits a new semantics into space, which accelerates rapidly: as if it were no longer intended for human ears. It's machine code. What begins visually as calligraphy quickly draws the dome beyond recognition. Behind it, concrete patterns of movement are no longer recognizable by the viewer.


The picture freezes to Peter Ruzicka's piano sketches. Artistically processed landscape motifs from "Vineta" accompany the individual pieces until the end sounds in complete darkness. After the large visual opening, the concert leads to a concentration of listening.

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