CONCERT – The Île-de-France National Orchestra’s performance at the Salle Pleyel concert hall this evening marks the end of classical music in this legendary venue.
A final note for the Salle Pleyel? It’s likely that the Île-de-France National Orchestra is playing the very last classical music performance in the history of this mythical concert hall, on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris’s 8th Arrondissement. Built in 1927, the Salle Pleyel was the only Parisian concert hall solely dedicated to symphonic music until the arrival of La Philharmonie, the large classical music complex in La Villette that will be inaugurated next 14 January 14.
The state, which has owned the Salle Pleyel since 2009, will hand over the running of the site to a private operator, whose identity will be revealed in January. There was just one condition: quality pop, rock, chanson, and jazz programming …but no classical music, to avoid competition with La Philharmonie.
The decision seems rather authoritarian to some, who have struck up judicial proceedings and petitions to enforce respect for the history of “this old lady who’s given so much to symphonic music,” as Fabienne Voisin puts it. But Voisin, the general manager of the Île-de-France National Orchestra (ONDIF to its friends), is not leaving the Salle Pleyel with a heavy heart. “It’s the end of one adventure, but the beginning of another, extraordinary one.”
Make Way for Musc Education “The construction of La Philharmonie is the result of the change of the role of orchestras,” according to the manager’s analysis. “Our group’s 95 permanent musicians dedicate a great deal of their working hours to music education: pre-concert talks, participatory workshops for discovering instruments, and composition workshops for children. Due to a lack of space, at Salle Pleyel we could only do lectures.” La Philharmonie includes purpose-built rooms for the popularisation of classical music.
“We can no longer be charged with elitism!” hammers homes Fabienne Voisin. “This evening, we’re giving a concert of film music, a chance for the public to discover that it already knows the classical repertoire without necessarily realising it. The soundtrack to A Clockwork Orange? Rossini! Natural Born Killers? Mussorgsky. Our repertoire is emotion.”
Moving East The other facet of the debate is the question of the public’s willingness to travel. Will the Salle Pleyel’s faithful make the trek to La Villette? ONDIF, one of La Philharmonie’s associate orchestras, is directly concerned by this question. 50% of its regular public are Parisians, mostly from the western end of the capital, and the other 50% are Île-de-France residents from the suburbs or inner suburbs – also in the west. Not to mention the growing competition in the vicinity: a new auditorium has just opened at the Maison de Radio France. Another new hall is expected on the Île Seguin, in Boulogne-Billancourt.
Will La Philharmonie manage an eastern breakthrough? “Its greatest advantage is that it’s visible!” Fabienne Voisin retorts. “A family can come spend a day there, between a concert, workshops, a museum, and a restaurant. With the Salle Pleyel, you had to go inside to see what was going on.” Who knows? Will art music suddenly become a huge craze in the years to come, as fine cuisine has today? Will the Salle Pleyel get “its” repertoire back then? Fabienne Voisin has doubts: “Once we have halls with the right acoustics, I’m not convinced that we’ll want to return to the Salle Pleyel…”
Article published in Le Parisien on 19 December 2014. Translated by J. A. Macfarlane
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