Magazine article Gramophone

A PARTNERSHIP WRITTEN IN THE STARS: Laurence Equilbey Has Bold Plans for Paris's Futuristic Venue la Seine Musicale, Writes Charlotte Gardner, Starting with Her New Album for Erato

Magazine article Gramophone

A PARTNERSHIP WRITTEN IN THE STARS: Laurence Equilbey Has Bold Plans for Paris's Futuristic Venue la Seine Musicale, Writes Charlotte Gardner, Starting with Her New Album for Erato

Article excerpt

Were we to play a game of chicken and egg with European orchestras and concert halls, it's almost a dead cert that the winners of the conceptual 'who comes first' battle would be orchestras and not halls. Take London's proposed concert hall, which is billed as a new home for the London Symphony Orchestra. Or to bring us back to more concrete examples, when Hamburg's Elbphilharmonie opened this past January it was as home to the NDR Symphony Orchestra, now renamed the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester. The same applies to Berlin's Pierre Boulez Saal which opened in March, because, although it doesn't have an appointed resident ensemble as such, it was nevertheless conceived as a performance space for the musicians of the Barenboim-Said Akademie in which it sits. Then there's the Philharmonie de Paris, which became home to the pre-existing Orchestre de Paris when it opened back in 2015.

All of which makes the hall and resident orchestra relationship at Paris's latest classical venue, La Seine Musicale, rather interesting, because it was the hall that was conceived first; its resident Insula Orchestra, conducted by Laurence Equilbey, was created afterwards to fill it.

Occupying the Ile Seguin in the western Paris Hauts-de-Seine suburb of Boulogne Billancourt, La Seine Musicale sits on the site of a former Renault factory, and now stands as the cultural jewel in the crown of an urban regeneration project which has seen this former industrial area transformed into a wealthy business and residential district.

It's unique in Paris for consisting of not one but two sorts of concert halls: a 6200-capacity performance space for pop and rock music named La Grande Seine, and a more intimate auditorium for classical and jazz. Equally unique is its architecture, by Shigeru Ban and Jean de Gastines: a sweeping, whitely gleaming, ship-like form to reflect both its water-locked location and its industrial heritage, with a striking silver sphere at its centre, inside which the classical auditorium is cocooned. Over the top of this sphere curves a sail of photovoltaic panels which moves in response to the sun's path across the sky; a shout for natural sustainability in the airspace where manufacturing fumes once hovered.

My own visit, just a week after the hall's April 22 opening, is to watch Insula Orchestra make its first recording in this chic new home: an all-Schubert programme entitled 'Nacht und Traume' ('Night and Dreams') which partners nocturnal-themed orchestrated Lieder with the Unfinished Symphony and Rosamunde excerpts; the Unfinished is there as a nod to the theory that it's not unfinished at all, but a representation of a two-part dream experienced by the composer, while the Rosamunde excerpts have been chosen simply for their mixture of energy and beauty). But before I speak to Equilbey about the project, I have the pleasure of climbing up to the grassed garden at the complex's summit, on a level with its sphere, to take in its view of the Seine and fully appreciate what an exciting home Equilbey has found herself in.

'After the factory closed in 1992 there was nothing,' she explains later from her riverside office. 'However, the President of the departement Hauts-de-Seine, Patrick Devedjian, believes that investing in culture is as important as investing in bridges and roads. So the departement bought this island from Boulogne-Billancourt, came up with La Seine Musicale, and then asked me to think about a project for the Auditorium. I suggested an orchestra on period instruments, given that the proposed size was likely to work well for this sort of ensemble. So five years ago I founded Insula Orchestra, and while we've waited for the hall to be completed we've been performing both in the departement and further afield, building our reputation.'

Insula Orchestra has not just filled an orchestra-shaped gap for La Seine Musicale, but a repertoire-shaped gap for Equilbey herself. …

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