“Impossible!” shrugged a celebrated French concert agent when I proposed the idea of the ACO giving a public concert in Paris in a future season. “Ze burr-jet situation is completely impossible in France at ze moment.” Meanwhile, the French government is building a brand new 2,000-seat concert hall – the Philharmonie de Paris – in the 19th arrondissement at a cost of EUR400 million and national broadcaster is putting the finishing touches on a new hall for the Orchestre Symphonique and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio-France while the long established major concert halls, Salle Pleyel and Theatre des Champs-Elysees struggle to fill their 2,000 seats each night. Meanwhile, the Salle Gaveau, whose illustrious reputation grew from its golden decades of classical stars in the mid-20th Century, is now a venue for hire to anyone wanting to present themselves at their own risk in a city with a bewildering array of cultural choices every night of the week.
“Music is not in the French DNA,” a leading French artistic director tells me. “Dance, theatre and comedy have alwaysbelonged to the French people, but music since the time of Lully and Rameau belonged in the court of Louis XIV and has never been the natural instinctof the French public.”
These are surprisingly self-effacing judgments from one of the cultural leaders of a nation which so famously displays it self-confidence through its culture. Yet, as we talk about the prospects of an ACO performance in 2016 or 2017, and the Orchestra’s ability to program its repertoire and artistic collaborations to suit the audience of the host city, the barriers start to descend and opportunities begin to emerge. An hour later, our host is taking us on a tour of his beloved theatre, which so famously staged the first performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in 1913. Standing on the stage of this splendid yet surprisingly intimate auditorium, I could imagine the impresario Serge Diaghilev on that notorious opening night leaning over the stage manager’s desk, switching the house lights on and off in an effort toquell the rising riot in the stalls (and only succeeding to heighten it).
Australia’s newly arrived Ambassador to the French Republic, Stephen Brady, is just three days into the post, and generously hosts Richard and the Orchestra in a private concert in the Harry Seidler-designed Embassy, just metres from the west pylon of the Eiffel Tower. Our long-standing supporter Servcorp sponsors the event which not only enables our new man in Paris to offer hospitality to a huge cohort of UNESCO and OECD ambassadors and senior officials from the French government, but provides the ACO with the chance to perform for a number of significant figures of the musical and artistic circles of Paris.
Although designed to accommodate receptions and exhibitions, the large foyer of the Embassy proves to have impressive acoustics, and the ACO musicians deliver one of their characteristic big-boned, muscular performances which bounces off Siedler’s moulded concrete walls and ceiling, thrilling the assembled dignitaries and launching Ambassador Brady’s tenure in unforgettable style.
Onwards to Dublin…
Tim Calnin, General Manager