Jean Nouvel Calls Paris Concert Hall Unfinished, Snubs Opening

Nouvel says he has been treated like a "capricious star-artiste."

The stage at the Jean Nouvel–designed Philharmonie in Paris. Photo: Charles Platiau, courtesy the AP.

When the Philharmonie, Paris’s new Jean Nouvel–designed concert hall held its VIP opening yesterday evening, the star architect was conspicuously absent. He had made it clear that he believed the building was not ready to make its public debut.

Despite having spent €390 million ($456.4 million) and eight years on construction, Nouvel took to the French papers, publishing a column in Le Monde expressing his belief that “the Philharmonie is opening too early.” He claims that the decision to move forward with the opening before musicians have had ample opportunity to practice in the space and test the acoustics “does not respect architectural and technical requirements.”

The project’s budget was originally estimated to be two-thirds cheaper, and the opening had already been pushed back by six months. “A new delay would have cost a lot of money and posed problems because the [orchestral] program was finalized a year and a half ago,” Philharmonie director Laurent Bayle told Le Parisien. (In his editorial, Nouvel had asserted that “in no case was I at the origin of any cost overrun on this project.”)

Nouvel believes he has been treated as a “capricious star-artiste” and cited such “disdain” as the motivation for skipping the opening of what he believes will ultimately become the “Pompidou Centre of music.” The architect also has several high-profile art construction projects on his docket, including the new Museum of Modern Art tower in New York, Paris’s planned art island, and the Louvre‘s Abu Dhabi outpost, slated to open later this year (see MoMA Skyscraper Set to Rise with $85 Million Air Rights Purchase, Paris Will Get €150 Million Jean Nouvel-designed Art Island, and Abu Dhabi Art to Showcase Future of Gulf Museums).

Engaging a Younger Audience

The Philharmonie’s main hall, with a stage surrounded by the audience on all sides, overlooked by an array of sweeping balconies, seats 2,400. The venue hopes to engage a younger audience for its classical programming with affordable tickets. Built in the northeast section of Paris, the hall’s rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, which also hosts more modern concerts, is already being called the Cité de la Musique.

“To be honest, Paris had some grand, historic concert halls, but the Philharmonie promises a peerless live experience in terms of acoustics,” British conductor Douglas Boyd, who will conduct Paris’s Chamber Orchestra at the venue, told AFP. Early reviews indicate he may be right. Despite Nouvel ‘s contention that “the Philharmonie has shot itself in each foot,” the concert hall is already winning raves, with the Guardian‘s Tom Service noting that “I can’t remember a new hall sounding this good or this characterful at its opening.”

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