Paris' new concert hall is radical in design, acoustics and location
Paris is known for its many Belle Epoque cultural landmarks - ornate museums, gilded theatres, the stately Eiffel Tower. But its brand-new concert hall that has just opened comes from a different era. The ultra-modern, multi-layered, crested structure, designed by French architect Jean Nouvel and planted in the northeast of the French capital, would not look out of place in a glittering, modern desert city such as Doha or Dubai.
The stage of its main, 2,400-seat concert hall is enveloped by the audience, with sweeping, curved balconies surrounding it on all sides, designed to give concertgoers both better views and acoustics.
This is La Philharmonie, Paris' new, bigger home for orchestral events. It's an ambitious bid to retain the city's standing in a world where emerging nations are increasingly building their own massive temples to culture.
"It's utterly right that Paris should have a big auditorium for classical music," says the director of the Paris Opera, Stephane Lissner.
The project took eight years and 386 million euros (HK$3.5 billion) to build - a budget blown out to three times its initial estimate by inflation, its inherent complexity and a desire to make it a lasting monument like the 37-year-old Pompidou Centre or the National Library (Bibliotheque Nationale, opened in 1996). Yet despite 600 workers toiling day and night to meet the government deadline, La Philharmonie is not entirely ready.
Nouvel says "several months" is needed for the final touches to be complete. But once they are, "it will be one of the most remarkable symphonic buildings existing". The main hall's acoustics were designed by two masters in the field: New Zealand's Harold Marshall and Japan's Yasuhisa Toyota.
The idea to have the stage surrounded by seats, like in Berlin's Philharmonie, is to have the farthest spectator just 32 metres from the orchestra conductor instead of 47 metres in the Salle Pleyel, located on the other side of the city near the Champs-Elysees and until now the premier concert hall in Paris.
The decision to put the new Philharmonie in Paris' 19th arrondissement, a still largely working-class area that's rapidly becoming a trendy neighbourhood, was based on various reasons. Space was available in the Villette park there, where it's part of the existing Cite de la Musique complex, and it is close to the Conservatoire de Paris of music and dance.
Perhaps more importantly, though, is the geographical outreach to younger French people who feel excluded from concerts by the elite, much older crowd that usually attend. To that end, tickets are to be sold much cheaper than had been the case when orchestras played at the previous halls in central Paris. The building has also been designed so that people can walk up on its roof.
"To be honest, Paris had some grand, historic concert halls. But the Philharmonie promises a peerless live experience in terms of acoustics," says British conductor Douglas Boyd, who in July will take up the baton over Paris' Chamber Orchestra at the Philharmonie.