Frankfurt Soundscape: Daniel Libeskind's "One Day in Life"

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Forget Mozart in the jungle. How about Mozart in the rail depot? Ligeti in the kitchen? Architect Daniel Libeskind plays the city like a jukebox. 

What happens to a metropolis when you sow music into its secret pockets for a day? For 24 hours, on May 21 and 22, architect Daniel Libeskind will turn the entire city of Frankfurt into an underground music scene. Audiences will follow the twisting lines of Libeskind’s musical taste, from a concert of midcentury modern classics in a World War II bunker to Mozart in a rail depot, Beethoven in a boxing ring, and Ligeti in the working kitchen of a medieval palace, among other performances. The architect describes this scattered extravaganza, which he calls “One Day in Life,” as “a 24-hour journey in music through the unknown city. It’s a labyrinth: People will choose their routes between places they’ve never seen.” 

The project originated with a chance encounter. Stephan Pauly, artistic director of Frankfurt’s rebuilt concert hall, the Alte Oper, thought it would be nice to get an artist in a nonmusical field to come up with some programming ideas. He happened to be attending a lecture that Libeskind gave on music and architecture, and made a spur-of-the-moment offer: “I told him, ‘There are no preconditions, no results I already have in mind. You have carte blanche.’” 

Libeskind had a quick answer: “When I walk through New York or Beijing or Berlin, I see that people’s heads are always full of music. And I thought, Why don’t we organize one day in the life of a city, something fantastic and evanescent?” The result will involve 180 musicians spread out among 18 locations. Listeners can buy tickets for as many as ten events. 

Libeskind, who was a child virtuoso on the accordion, has a musical background that is unusually broad and deep, and he’s picked a repertoire as varied as the venues. Some works suggested an ideal location: the 17th-century composer Marin Marais’s Le Tableau de l’Opération de la Taille, a disconcertingly vivid musical depiction of an operation, for instance. “I don’t want to listen to this in a concert hall,” Libeskind says. “I’d like to hear it in an operating room.” Miraculously, the head of the Hospital zum Heiligen Geist, an amateur musician, agreed to block an OR for the performance. “We’ll have to put on robes and masks and booties in order to hear it,” Libeskind says. “But it means the moans of the patient won’t be abstract.” Tickets at

Justin Davidson is the architecture and classical music critic for New York magazine.

Image Credit: Alte Oper Frankfurt/Norbert Miguletz