© LAC-Foto Studio Pagi
© LAC-Foto Studio Pagi
Lugano Arte e Cultura (LAC) is what German speakers have described as a Kulturpol. No less than four other arts organisations call this place home, who, with an impressive array of visiting artists, are currently showcasing works as varied as Paul Signac's Neo-Impressionist paintings, a contemporary Neapolitan play and a towering slow-motion video installation at the time of writing alone. The Orchestra della Svizzera Romana is resident at LAC. The performance spaces at their disposal boast the cutting edge in aesthetic and acoustic design. They include a large auditorium, the Art Museum on three levels, a studio theatre, a space for electroacoustic music and much more. As the word Kulturpol suggests, here diverse art forms meet and interact.

Not that they speak much German in Lugano. With a population of just 70,000, the largest city in the Italian-speaking Ticino Canton in Switzerland is punching well above its weight in cultural terms. It also has the requisite resources to underpin such an ambitious project. A recent boom has turned the city into Switzerland's third largest banking centre. The subsequent infrastructure updates have done little to rob this mini-powerhouse of its Swiss-Italian charm. Traffic-free streets roll lazily into the swish Via Nassa – Lugano's Champs-Élysées – at the end of which the city opens up to glorious views of Lake Lugano.

© LAC-Foto Studio Pagi
© LAC-Foto Studio Pagi

It is on this patch that LAC is to be found. Here, the German moniker for the Ticino region – Sonnenstube (“sunny spot”) – could not feel more appropriate. Architect Ivano Gianola's glass façade breathes in a broad panorama of the lake (“LAC” is both an acronym and a play on words), and magically reduces the distinction between the bright internal foyer (the Hall) and the outside piazza studded with reclining coffee drinkers. The design incorporates the Renaissance cloisters of the frescoed Chiesa di Santa Maria degli Angioli, as well as the exoskeleton of the Grand Hotel Palace, which was burnt out in the 1970s and eventually found its way into the hands of the city council.

The 15-year building project was blighted by not untypical difficulties, landing a final bill of 210m CHF (today £166m). But bad memories will by now be a thing of the past after praise has been so consistently lavished on LAC's various artistic programmes. Most exciting of all is LuganoMusica, the successor to the shorter summer series the Lugano Festival, for which artistic director and former Zurich Tonhalle administrator Etienne Reymond has created a programme that is as adventurous as it is classy. “Un quadro – una musica” asks various artists to construct their own programmes using a painting of their choice from the Art Museum as their starting point. There will be three commissions in the 2017/18 season, one of which will see players spread throughout the entrance hall to deliver their parts from myriad vantage points.

Yet it is the strong presence of renowned visiting artists that will put Lugano's programme on the musical maps of the many. Gianandrea Noseda and the Teatro Regio di Torino, Bernard Haitink and the Mozart Orchestra and Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra are just some of the names that will appear this season. The high quality facilities have demonstrably proved a draw. When the Mariinsky Orchestra was invited to play, artistic director Valery Gergiev wanted to know who designed the auditorium's acoustics. The answer was Müller-BBM: one of the two best acousticians in the world, according to Reymond, and the people also behind St Petersburg's Mariinsky II. That was enough for Gergiev, who promptly accepted the invitation.

© LAC-Foto Studio Pagi
© LAC-Foto Studio Pagi
On entering LAC's Sala Teatro, the eye is met with an expanse of chestnut-coloured pearwood, its shoebox form skimmed with undulations and jutting blocks all fashioned from the same deliciously resonant material. Inbuilt flexibility makes the space adaptable to the various artistic activities that take place here. The stage's back wall moves forward to reduce the platform for performances of theatre, and backwards to extend it when large orchestras are in town. The anterior portion of the stage sinks to create a pit large enough for 80 players. As soon as the requisite funds are available, LuganoMusica plans to host fully-staged opera.

This is nevertheless an unfussy piece of acoustic design that steers clear of gimmickry. The likes of the openable echo chambers used in Lucerne's KKL are here nowhere to be seen. Instead, Reymond likens the hall to a violin that must be played by the orchestra until it masters its relatively constant sound properties. Curved walls steer the sound to 1,000 seats on two tapered levels – a sensible number for a city of Lugano's size – whilst the hall's total volume of 10,000m³ is large enough to accommodate high decibel playing. Fine-tuning is still underway, with acoustic-engineers on hand to manipulate a 9-panelled shell that surrounds the stage until the right calibration has been settled on. These are minor alterations to a bright, sumptuous acoustic full of character. Attending a concert here, one sees the orchestra playing on the stage below, but has the sensation of sitting within an aural field with no specific origin.

© LAC-Foto Studio Pagi
© LAC-Foto Studio Pagi

LuganoMusica also has the 100-seater Teatrostudio at its regular disposal, another shoebox design in which moveable seating allows for a more total reconfiguration of space. This is where the most challenging end of the series' output will be played, with programmes of Dutilleux and Kurtág both scheduled for this current season. Reymond speaks of his audience as friends whom he wants to take by the arm and guide through new musical territories. He notes that cultural tastes morph only gradually, and hopes that it will one day be possible to perform such composers in the larger Sala Teatro. For now, Reymond is keen not to reveal all of his grand schemes at once. One imagines he has plenty in his back pocket, and LuganoMusica looks set to get better and better.

Click here for events at the LAC Lugano Arte e Cultura. 

 

Article sponsored by Fondazione LuganoMusica.