domingo, abril 19, 2015

La Philharmonie de Paris defines a musical experience for the 21st century


The location of La Philharmonie de Paris, the recently inaugurated concert hall in Paris, is a statement in itself: it’s based right next to the Boulevard Périphérique, which is some sort of an eastern border for the French capital.

That Boulevard separates the wealthy Parisian center from the less fortunate suburbs. Hence, La Philharmonie aspires to become into much more than a music venue -it’s committed to a social purpose.

“This is a new vision for a concert hall”, says Laurent Bayle, the Philharmonie’s Director. “Classical music has been concentrated in the west of the city, which is wealthy; the Salle Pleyel, Radio France, the Théâtre des Champs Elysées. From this place, we can reach out to a whole new audience – we can unite the suburbs and the city centre”. With this in mind, Bayle aims to “break down the barriers, shake up the ritual of the concert, prioritise education programmes for young people and make links between musical genres”.

The most recent and direct precedent of a music hall conceived for the 21st century is la Cité de la Musique, a small venue that materialized the ideas Pierre Boulez had for how music should be played in these times. (That building offers flexibility for contemporary works and also hosts a museum and rooms for educational events.)

Paris audiences for classical music are aging at an alarming rate -the average age is around 60-, so the new hall’s leaders are making a significant effort in putting up what they call “eclectic programming”, one that includes jazz, world music, hip-hop and electronic music. (There are special promotions for families with tickets for concerts at 12 euros.)

La Philharmonie is a concept that could only be feasible in a country like France, where culture and education are considered fundamental pillars of the society, supported by a great financial aid from the government. The construction of the hall reached almost 400 million euros, which generated controversy -political disputes, strikes, budgetary miscalculations- enhanced by the fact that the opening was recurrently delayed. (Even when it took seven years to finish it, the concert hall was opened with unfinished details.)

The other feature that has been unanimously praised by the critics is the structure of the hall. Designed by Jean Nouvel, la Philharmonie is a juncture of two approaches on the architecture of the concert hall. On one hand, it’s based on the traditional shoebox model established by 19th century theaters; and on the other, it takes inspiration from the more recent “vineyard” model from the 20th century, where the orchestra is located in the center and the audience “surrounds” the musicians. This setup allows the public to be fairly close to the action. La Philharmonie possesses banks of seating that offer what several reviewers have described as an intimate experience.

Besides the 2,200-seat concert hall, la Philharmonie has rehearsal rooms with public galleries, workshop spaces where staff can take care of the children while their parents enjoy the concerts, and there’s also a gallery space that currently hosts the vastly successful exhibition on David Bowie paraphernalia. (Cafés and restaurants are also part of the complex.)

La Philharmonie de Paris represents what music must be for the 21st century: all-encompassing, accessible, thought-provoking. Performing arts administrators not only must inject enthusiasm to classical music, they also need to exploit the social component inherent to making music. At the end of the day, sound is nothing but alterations, so music should shake us, putting us in touch with the artists who create those beautiful vibrations. In that contact belies the social in music -and that’s what la Philharmonie seems devoted to.

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