PARIS (Reuters) - The new Philharmonie de Paris concert hall in the French capital this week hosted the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Simon Rattle in a program guaranteed to test its acoustic mettle.
On the basis of Wednesday’s concert of the pioneering German composer Helmut Lachenmann’s “Tableau” and Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection”, with soprano Kate Royal and mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kozena, Rattle’s wife, as soloists, plus the Radio Netherlands Choir, the hall passed with flying colors.
Mahler is known for being loud and over the top, and there were nine double basses, two harps, two piccolos, an organ and a huge battery of percussion, plus an oversized orchestra, to ensure the audience -- packing the 2,400-seat hall which opened in January -- got their money’s worth. Every note and detail came through gloriously. When two piccolos or two clarinets were performing, it was immediately evident that two separate instruments were tooting away. Every entry by the harps, on the far right of the stage, registered aurally, without having to glance over.
The Philharmonie is intended to give Paris a hall to rival the world’s best, like the Disney Hall in Los Angeles or even the Berlin ensemble’s own home hall.
Paris has the Theatre des Champs Elysees on ritzy Rue Matignon where Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” had its premiere in 1913, and the renovated Salle Pleyel, but they are both in pricey parts of town with no room for expansion. The Philharmonie comes as part of a theater and conservatory complex where all three events on Wednesday night were sold out.
Rattle and his Berliners delivered the kind of concert that is going to make the Philharmonie a go-to destination in Paris, even though it is in a northern part of the city, near the Peripherique ring road and beside the former la Villette slaughterhouse, which did not tend to attract any but the most intrepid tourists. The complex is of a piece with Budapest’s Palace of the Arts and others designed to draw the punters to areas in need of an infusion of visitors and their cash.
Rattle’s programming masterstroke was to include the piece by Lachenmann, known for getting musicians to play their instruments in unconventional ways. After a boisterous opening passage, the harpist swept the strings of her instrument with a bow instead of plucking them, the double basses produced an ethereal sound by bowing below the bridge and the percussionists rapped on the edges of their music stands.
Lachenmann is a master of these unconventional techniques and the connection Rattle intended was that Mahler, writing a century earlier, does similar things. He has the double basses slap their strings with their bows and percussionists play on the edges of their instruments with a brush. His sound palette, including having a brass ensemble hidden in the upper wings, is extraordinary.
That same word can be applied to this concert and to the new hall. The Philharmonie is launched on its mission to resurrect an out-of-the-way corner of Paris.
(Michael Roddy is the arts and entertainment editor for Reuters in Europe. The views expressed are his own)
Reporting by Michael Roddy; Editing by Janet Lawrence