Photo Journal: Salle Pleyel, 'the Carnegie Hall of Paris,' Reopens with Restored Art Deco Glamor and Improved Acoustics

Classic Arts News   Photo Journal: Salle Pleyel, 'the Carnegie Hall of Paris,' Reopens with Restored Art Deco Glamor and Improved Acoustics
The Orchestre de Paris has finally returned home. And the French capital itself, long considered the only major music capital without a decent symphony hall, can hopefully consider that matter solved. Following a four-year, €30 million refurbishment, the Salle Pleyel reopened last week with a September 13 gala concert featuring Christoph Eschenbach and the Orchestre de Paris playing (fittingly) Mahler's "Resurrection" Symphony (No. 2).

The Salle Pleyel, which was built in 1927 by the piano manufacturer of the same name, was destroyed by fire only nine months after its opening. The subsequent rebuilding, done (in the words of many reports) "on the cheap," left the auditorium with poor acoustics; none of the subsequent remodelings made any improvement. The Pleyel had long been considered inadequate as a home for an ensemble of the stature of the Orchestre de Paris, or for tour visits by the great orchestras of the world.

In its early days, the Pleyel hosted Stavinsky, Ravel and Debussy, Miles Davis and Louis Armstrong. among others. It will now be home to the Orchestre de Paris the Orchestre philharmonique de Radio France, as well as for the London Symphony Orchestra during its Paris visits. There will also, presumably, be more international orchestras eager to play in Paris.

The renovation was initiated by real estate tycoon Hubert Martigny, who bought the venue in 1998. (Now that the hall has become the home of the state-sponsored Orchestre de Paris, the French government will pay him €1.5 million in rent annually until 2054, at which point the state will get title to the building.) The refurbishment has recaptured the Art Deco splendor of the original, according to Jorg von Uthmann of Bloomberg News: he writes that "concertgoers who remember the old, dreary hall will be agreeably surprised by the sober elegance, beginning with the lobby, which could be the lounge of an ocean liner." He adds that the comfort and visibility have been improved, and the number of seats (formerly blue, now burgundy) has been reduced from 2,370 to 1,913.

Most importantly, serious attention has been paid to the acoustics by architect Fran‹ois Ceria and New York-based Artec Consultants. The ceiling has been raised and side balconies added to create a bigger space in the auditorium.

And did all that work have the hoped-for effect? "The mastery of the instrumentalists is immediately perceptible," wrote Jean-Louis Validire in Le Figaro, who added that the acoustic was very good for voices, both solo and in chorus (even though he wasn't thrilled with Eschenbach's direction). Writing for ConcertoNet, Simon Corley found that Artec has "worked a miracle: a sound which is natural and direct, with a formidable precision, but, thanks to a light reverberation, without any overly analytic chill ... [and] reproducing with remarkable fidelity every dynamic nuance."

Validire observed, however, that Eschenbach and the Orchestre de Paris have a new (if preferable) problem: having spent four years in exile at the Th_ê¢tre Mogador (a former musical theater and movie palace), where they had to push just to make themselves heard, they must now recalibrate their entire style of playing to match their hall's new acoustic.

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