Since it opened in late 2015, the Great Amber concert hall has become a prominent feature of Liepaja. Built with EU support, it has helped increase tourist numbers by 39% and led to the opening of new restaurants, venues and accommodation. It is home to one of the Baltic region’s oldest symphony orchestras, the Liepaja Music, Art and Design School, an art gallery and a restaurant.
The idea of building a world class concert hall first occurred to Liepaja’s authorities in the late-19th century. Yet it only came to fruition in November 2015 when Great Amber opened. Great Amber is Latvia’s third and largest acoustic concert hall, with a capacity of 1,320, and the first in the Kurzeme region.
The name came about by accident during public deliberation of the design. A local resident, praising Austrian architect Volker Giencke’s proposal which was then referred to as ‘Town Loop’, came up with the name ‘Great Amber’. This design later got the highest score in the tender process and was selected under the new name. Construction took 2 years and the building opened with a series of concerts.
Since then, Great Amber has become a magnet for music and arts lovers and creative talent from Latvia and beyond. Artistic director Baiba Bartkeviča has returned to her birthplace after 20 years abroad studying and working in Baroque music and contemporary dance.
Great Amber artistic director Baiba Bartkeviča admits that, at first, many Liepaja residents considered the concert hall too big and expensive. This was in spite of the fact that nearly half of the €31.2 million costs were covered by EU funding. Yet 18 months after it opened, it is never short of concerts or visitors. Local and national grants keep prices affordable and the premises are regularly rented out for popular music concerts and conferences, thus varying revenue sources.
Baiba emphasises that Great Amber’s contribution to the city’s economy has led to a shift in public opinion. This is most noticeable among hospitality and catering business owners and people renting apartments to tourists. According to city council figures, numbers of tourists in Liepaja increased by 39% in 2016. Most visitors were from Lithuania, Germany and Russia. The concert hall is also popular with people from Riga and the Kurzeme region, where Liepaja is situated.
Despite only having been open for a short time, Liepaja’s Great Amber concert hall has won several prestigious awards for its architecture and acoustics. The latter were designed by Karlheinz Müller, one of the foremost specialists in the field. As artistic director Baiba Bartkeviča says, the reputation of the acoustics has spread quickly and international artists are now willing to go to Liepaja.
However, for Great Amber to establish itself in the consciousness of Europe’s music lovers, there is still work to be done. The aim is to become one of Europe’s best-known acoustic concert halls and the best concert hall in the Baltic in the next few years. Full of determination, Baiba’s certainty that this can be achieved is enhanced by her belief in the strength and perseverance of the people of Liepaja. ‘It’s quite understandable – we constantly have to battle the wind,’ she laughs.