Some 10,000 people have signed a petition calling for the retention of classical music at Salle Pleyel after the Orchestre de Paris moves out to the new Philharmonie on the city periphery next month.
Here is a summary of their case:
Salle Pleyel, a cornerstone of classical music in Paris, has been owned since 2009 by La Cité de la Musique, a complex located on the city’s periphery devoted primarily to classical-music performances and education. In January 2015 Cité will open a new hall, La Philharmonie de Paris, on its premises and simultaneously ban classical music at Pleyel fearing competition from the latter, fabled hall.
Pleyel has been a cornerstone of classical music in Paris since opening on Oct. 18, 1927, when Stravinsky and Ravel conducted their music there. Between Sept. 10 and Dec. 16 alone this year, Pleyel hosted 43 concerts of classical music, nearly one every other day. They featured such world-famous orchestras as the Orchestre de Paris, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. Renowned conductors included Paavo Jarvi, Myung-Whun Chung, Franz Weiser-Most, Gennadi Rozhdestvensky, Riccardo Muti, Bernard Haitink, Riccardo Chailly and Louis Langrée.
Famous artists included Maxim Vengerov, Evgeny Kissin, Vadim Repin, Nelson Freire, Martha Argerich and Stephen Kovacevich.
By adding the Philharmonie to its current facilities, Cité, owned by the Paris and French governments, hopes to create an epicenter for classical music. But musicians and music lovers are up in arms: the complex is located in a bleak neighborhood on the northern edges of Paris where many loathe traveling during the day and at night. And countless numbers resent losing their favorite hall to the whims of government bureaucrats and seeing it transformed into one more hall for popular music in Paris.
Starting in January, Cité will move all classical programming previously held at Salle Pleyel in the center of Paris to Cité and the Philharmonie on the outskirts. Cité is looking for a new tenant for Pleyel. The contract terms only authorize “concerts de musique populaire de qualité” and forbid “tout concert ou spectacle de musique classique quel qu’en soit la forme (concert symphonique, récital, musique de chambre, opéra, etc.).” Laurent Bayle, « patron de la Cité de la musique » and « président de la Philharmonie de Paris, » was quoted in October in the same Télérama piece as cynically saying, “Notre définition du mot ‘classique’ n’empêche pas que Natalie Dessay y chante du Michel Legrand.”
Opposition to the ban has been furious from musicians and music lovers, with over 10,600 signatures and 1,600 comments already posted on a petition. The chairman of the board of SACEM, France’s performing-rights organization, has condemned Cité’s plan to muzzle competition. For years the new Philharmonie project has been plagued by political infighting and huge cost overruns, upping the total bill from an underestimated 118 million euros to a staggering 386 million euros, or some 100,000 euros per seat.
A court battle has dragged on for years over actual ownership of Pleyel, purchased in 2009, led by the seller’s former wife, a conductor herself, who has also been trying to keep classical music at Pleyel. On Nov. 25, she led 50 orchestra musicians in a protest concert opposite Paris’ Palais de Justice. Cité has announced its plans to award the contract for new management of Pleyel at the beginning of January amid growing fears the future tenant may remodel the hall for pop music, making it unusable for concerts of classical music.
For these many reasons, pressure must be exerted quickly from all possible quarters and at the highest levels – especially from the foreign press and leading conductors and musicians – to reverse the decision to ban classical music at Pleyel and allow lovers of classical music to keep enjoying concerts at the hub of classical music that Salle Pleyel has been in Paris for nearly a century.