A tale of two cités: can the Philharmonie de Paris bridge the social divide?
Built on the boundary between the capital’s banlieues and its affluent boulevards, the new state-of-the-art concert hall aims for social transformation through the arts. We take a peek and ask what makes the perfect concert hall
The first purpose-built public concert hall in Europe, Oxford’s Holywell Music Room, is a compact, elegant space which seats just 200 people and hosts intimate concerts and student recitals. Prior to its first opening, in 1748, classical music had been performed in churches, royal courts and artistocratic houses. But the emerging middle classes needed something more: they were making music at home but wanted to hear it in public spaces, to meet like-minded people and to put their cultural tastes on show. Societies of music lovers sprang up in major cities with the purpose of setting up orchestras and building concert halls. In 1813, the newly formed Royal Philharmonic Society of London commissioned the architect John Nash to renovate the Argyll Rooms opposite what is now the Apple Store on Regent Street, London, and created a concert hall. Similar societies in Leipzig, Vienna and Liverpool were responsible for the building of new halls for music. As the industrial revolution progressed, the concert halls got bigger, with venues such as Birmingham’s Greek temple-style town hall of 1834 and steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie’s famous 1891 concert hall in New York, becoming symbols of civic pride and industrial new money.
More recently, concert halls have been conceived with broader social purposes in mind. The Royal Festival Hall was built as part of the Festival of Britain to raise spirits after the war; Birmingham’s 1991 Symphony Hall was seen as crucial to the regeneration of an economically depressed city and Sage Gateshead opened in 2004, providing a world-class concert hall and a focal point for community music and education in the north-east of England. The latest concert hall project with far-reaching social ambitions is the Philharmonie de Paris, which will open next month on the eastern edge of the French capital.
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