PARIS (Reuters) - In the northeast of Paris, steps from the roar of the ring road, hundreds of thousands of aluminum birds soar across the angular carapace of the new Paris Philharmonic, their inlaid wings a lyrical counterpoint to the otherwise colorless spot.
With the opening of a new symphony hall far from the capital’s elegant boulevards on former slaughterhouse grounds, Paris hopes to inspire a new generation of music lovers while revitalizing the Porte de Pantin area linking the city and under-served suburbs.
Two weeks after its official opening attended by President Francois Hollande and a host of dignitaries, workmen are putting the final touches to the roof, walkways and facade.
Designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, whose designs include Copenhagen’s concert hall and the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the project has been controversial since its 2006 inception, both over its location and its price tag, now nearly doubled from a preliminary estimate of about 386 million euros ($433 million).
In advocating a first-class symphony hall for Paris, Philharmonic President Laurent Bayle has cited “larger social stakes” — that it be accessible to all and that its primary aim be to introduce music of all kinds to young people.
That dovetails with a push by city and regional authorities for a Greater Paris to share municipal facilities and bring improved cultural access to those in outlying areas cut off by the “peripherique,” the busy, multi-carriageway road that rings the city.
“The Philharmonic is the first landmark in the future Greater Paris,” said Bayle, calling the project a “marvelous addition to the east of Paris that is undergoing major change.”
The building is next to the “City of Music” center of smaller concert-halls, a music museum and exhibition space dating from 1995 around La Villette park.
About 30,000 visitors attended an open-house weekend at the Philharmonic that showed off the myriad sound-proof educational rooms where an array of drums, lutes, violins, trombones and other instruments await the young and curious.
While programming mid-week is more sophisticated fare, weekends offer many family events and parents can listen to concerts while their kids participate in workshops.
“It’s not about lowering standards, we just have to show people that it’s easy to go out and hear music,” Philharmonic spokesman Philippe Provensal said.
The jewel of the building is the elegant 2,400-seat symphony hall, whose acoustic panels recall birds in flight. Panelled in blond wood and outfitted with black velvet seats, the hall has been designed with both sound quality and comfort in mind, such as the space allowing air to circulate behind the balconies.
The space can be configured 17 different ways for a maximum seating of 3,650.
Disagreements with the administration over costs and technical issues led Nouvel to boycott opening night.
“We had a building that wasn’t entirely finished and an architect who wasn’t there — but it was a huge international success,” spokesman Provensal said.
Editing by Michael Roddy