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CLASSICAL  March 2006

CLASSICAL March 2006

Subject:

Musical Venues in Paris

From:

James Tobin <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sat, 11 Mar 2006 15:06:24 -0600

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text/plain

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I hope this might be of some use to anyone planning a musical trip to
Paris--or one that includes music, as there are so many other satisfying
reasons to visit what, from certain viewpoints, may be the greatest of
all cities.  It is based on my recent visit and I would be glad if persons
more recently and better informed than myself would write about access
to music in other major music centers--London and Munich, for instance,
also.

Opera is perhaps the musical form most associated with Paris.  Currently
the Opera Bastille, at the famous plaza of that name, is the main venue,
because of its state of the art facilities.  The 19th Century Opera
Garnier was dark during the past week.  There is also the Opera Comique.
All are readily available on the web, for schedules and tickets.  (My
attempt this week to visit the Opera Bastille for a performance of the
ballet La Bayadere, which I once saw brilliantly performed at the Met
in New York, was doomed, however, by an unforeseen event which was
interesting in itself.  Arriving at 6:45 pm to pick up our tickets, we
were met at the closed door by someone who would not let us in, saying
firmly that the performance had been cancelled.  No reason until I pressed
him.  Other people inside put up on the glass small printed explanations--
higher than one could read, but I eventually got hold of a copy (and a
cash refund): a strike called initially by university students protesting
a proposed law making it easier to fire student workers had been joined
nationally by up to a million union members striking in solidarity; the
day after, Le Monde reported that the government, which had sworn not
to pay any attention to the students' protest, evidently thought better
of this plan.  As it happens, the day after the strike, as we approached
our hotel across the street from the Sorbonne, we saw a long line of
police vans on the Boulevard St.  Michel and evidently arrests had been
made.  A concerned passerby, alerting us to this turn of events, assured
us that we would not be seeing this on TV.) There were student chants
on into the night.

We did see opera, though, as I just reported in another post, at the
Theatre du Chatelet conveniently located near the Seine.  This is a
theatre where Sarah Bernhardt played, and is a splendid place.  It has
a weekly concert series on Sundays.  I found the acoustics good, the
sightlines less so, and the prices high.  Going there that night (Wednesday
this week) was a difficult decision for me, because across town, as I
was aware during the performance, the Orchestre de Paris, under Edo de
Waart, with Maxim Vengerov, were playing the Shostakovich Violin Concerto
#1 and Stravinsky's Sacre de Printemps.  I much concertos to opera, and
Shostakovich to Schubert, but I could not pass up a unique opportunity
in the case of the Schubert and, besides, I have recordings of the Russian
works--and can hear Sarah Chang play the Shostakovich next season in
Milwaukee.  Also, it was my last night and getting to the other venue
was more difficult.

The Orchestre de Paris is currently playing in the Theatre Mogador on
the Rue Mogador near the Opera Garnier.  The acoustics there are mediocre,
according to an article in Le Monde this week, which was the decisive
reason I did not choose to go there--having been spoiled at the Philharmonie
shortly before.  The regular home of the Orchestre de Paris is the Salle
Pleyel where, quite a number of years ago I attended performances of
Stravinsky's Renard, Chant du Rossignol and, as I recall--but not
well--Mavra.  The Salle Pleyel has been closed for renovations and for
other reasons for some time, I understand, but is scheduled to reopen
in September.

Another performance venue is the Cite de la musique, which did not exist
the last time I was in Paris, and which is on the Avenue Jean Jaures in
the extreme northeast of Paris, not to be confused with the Avenue Jean
Jaures in the adjoining suburb of Pantin.  It is very easy to get so
confused, because there are at least three train and metro stops with
the name Pantin.  (The public transportation system has expanded enormously
in recent years with the growth of greater Paris; the downside is that
the most distant station is always listed to identify the line; I miss
the old Nation-Etoile limits!) The one you want is Porte de Pantin.  Be
careful if you go there!  (I was not sufficiently, and the result was a
bit of a wild goose chase reminiscent of a long ago ride through Hackney
in northern London, on account of entering a double decker headed for
Aldgate, when I actually wanted to see St.  Paul's--much to the courteous
consternation of the south Asian conductor who explained that this was
not really the most direct way to go there!)

If you do go to the Cite de la Musique, you can find the national
Conservatoire, which offers concerts, and there is a concert hall--
offering an opera by Lully the day I was there.  It seats only about
a thousand, I understand.  A new hall seating 2500 is supposed to open
in 2012, according to Le Monde this week.  I was able to get copies of
the schedules of several performance groups here, as well as a copy of
Cadences, containing schedules and an article on Holst, whose Planets,
being performed at a youth concert is, according to the author, one of
the few English works agreeable to the French ear.  I also encountered
a kind, helpful woman at an information desk who provided information
about the Salle Pleyel, which had previously eluded me--no doubt because
it is closed!  There was a bookstore, which included books for children
about music, which we had also seen at the Philharmonie and elsewhere,
by the way, though I have not seen anything like that in the places I
go in the U.S.  Something to commend and recommend.

It seems that you can always find a concert at one of the churches
on the west bank in the vicinity of the Cathedral Notre Dame or St.
Germain-des-Pres.  We attended an all-Bach concert featuring the Musical
Offering, the Wedding Cantata and the 5th Brandenburg Concerto in the
Eglise St.Germain-des-Pres, official heated but not very; the performances,
by the Paul Kuentz Orchestre de Chambre, which I had not known but which
had about three dozen of its recordings on display, mostly baroque, were
extremely good, notably the oboe and flute in the Musical Offering and
the solo soprano in the cantata, who had a strong, clear, natural-sounding
voice.  Sorry I cannot credit her, but I seem to have lost the tiny flyer
which was the only program.  I also had great admiration for the
harpsichordist in the Brandenburg, who had to warm her hands by rubbing
during the rests, but who nonetheless showed very great nimbleness in
her long solo; this is a work I've heard countless times but never had
occasion to observe the performance of under such conditions.  Later in
the week I might have heard Faure's Requiem at the Eglise Saint-Severin
but unfortunately was having dinner elsewhere at the time.

Jim Tobin

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