Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Orchestre de Paris, Philharmonie de Paris, review: 'elegant eclecticism'

The Telegraph

4 out of 5 stars
Philharmonie de Paris: the inaugural performance
Philharmonie de Paris: the inaugural performance Photo: CHARLES PLATIAU
In the great tradition of French grands projets, the Paris Philharmonie opened last night with a glittering display of political grandstanding, endlessly flowing champagne, and an unabashed assertion of French cultural values. The Philharmonie is the long-awaited centrepiece of the Cité de la Musique, touted as the largest musical complex in the world. Clustered on the north-eastern edge of town, hard by the roaring traffic of the Périphérique ring road, the Cité contains a conservatoire, several medium-sized performance spaces, and a museum of musical instruments. Towering over them, like some inscrutable silvery, snaking totem is the new Philharmonie.
It’s been a desperate rush to finish the building designed by Jean Nouvel on time, and it shows. There’s chipboard underfoot in some areas and no hand-dryers in the loos. But the result is a wonder, with the architect’s typical mix of playfulness and severity. Along the corridors, forests of black metallic stalactites undulate tipsily above one’s head. Inside the auditorium the balconies dip and curve like ski slaloms, and clusters of wing-shaped panels float in whimsical clusters from the ceiling.
It has cost a fortune – €390 million to be exact, around three times the original budget. But as President Hollande said in his pre-concert speech, what does a few million matter when culture is at stake? Nothing unites a French audience quite like an appeal to their country’s great cultural heritage, and Hollande seized his chance, linking this grand opening to the terrible events of January 7. Those terrorists want to close down the life of the mind, he told us. They divide people, whereas culture unites. No nation is better placed to assert the power of culture than France, home of the Enlightenment. Parched and weary though the audience was (Hollande was somewhat delayed, having come hotfoot from a French aircraft carrier), it was visibly stirred.
As Hollande was whisked away by his minders, the champagne arrived, and the thirsty haut monde jostled around the bar like camels at an oasis. Then out we stumbled into the jet-black corridors, and eventually into the brilliant, white‑and-cream auditorium.
What followed was a long, cunningly contrived concert from the Orchestre de Paris, conducted with unobtrusive elegance by Paavo Järvi. Four movements from Fauré’s Requiem, in which the orchestra was joined by its own choir and two fine soloists Sabine Devieilhe and Matthias Goerne, provided the reassuring continuity with the French tradition. Henri Dutilleux’s mini-violin concerto Sur le même accord, and a brand-new Concerto for Orchestra from Thierry Escaich gave us chic French modernism. Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé and Piano Concerto, the latter played with electrifying brilliance by Hélène Grimaud, provided the link between the two. Escaich’s concerto was a brilliant but overstuffed compendium of ear-tickling modernist gestures, which borrowed shamelessly from Ligeti’s Piano Concerto, among many other things.
One could hardly imagine that the grand maître of French modernism, Pierre Boulez, would approve such eclecticism. He was the guiding spirit behind the Cité de la Musique but this concert, which focused on the more sensuous side of modern music, gave notice that his era is passing. There are new, more urgent priorities. Beyond that Périphérique lie Paris’s poor suburbs and the sullenly rebellious banlieues. The Philharmonie’s directors are determined to reach those people, which is why the building is located in such an unfashionable part of town.
The prize is proving that classical music really is a universal gift of European civilisation; the danger is losing the rich audience that has traditionally been classical music’s mainstay in Paris. It’s a huge gamble, which we must hope they win.

No comments: