In this week's New Yorker I write about a few recent musical events in Paris. A rare production of Auber's La Muette de Portici, at the Opéra-Comique, is the main focus, but I also look in on the Orchestre de Paris, Cité de la Musique, and IRCAM. I just missed Cavalli's Didone at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées and Nixon in China at the Châtelet; you can watch a video of the latter online.
As the above photo attests, Jean Nouvel's design for the Philharmonie, the big concert hall at Cité de la Musique, is beginning to take shape. Projected to open in 2014, the hall will host the Orchestre de Paris and various other series that currently unfold at the Salle Pleyel. As I note in the column, programming at Cité de la Musique is extraordinarily impressive. You can browse through the 2012-13 season here: one particularly ingenious program combines pieces from the Well-Tempered Clavier, on the harpsichord, with portions of Shostakovich's great cycle of Preludes and Fugues; Andreas Staier and Alexander Melnikov are the players.
At IRCAM, I caught a concert devoted to nine young composers studying at the institute: Diana Soh, Tatiana Catanzaro, Elvira Garifzyanova, Heera Kim, Lisa Streich, Maxime Chandelier, Samuel Andreyev, Adam Maor, and Laurent Durupt. Each piece paired a solo instrument (the wind, string, and brass families were all represented) with electronics. I found Streich's PIETÀ especially riveting. A Swede with a predilection for religious and philosophical subject-matter, Streich here makes use of a cello outfitted with small motors on the outside of its body and microphones on the inside. One of the motors has strips of paper attached to it, which quietly strike the strings below the bridge as the wheel turns. The cello part — executed beautifully by Michael Bialobroda — leans on isolated phrases, sustained tones, and trills, rarely rising above a low dynamic and creating a mood of prayerful intensity. I was reminded of some of Sofia Gubaidulina's more experimental work, but the vision seems thoroughly original. I also admired Garifzyanova's Aurora Borealis, not least because of its persuasive structure. There was much else to like in the program, but these two pieces stood out. Young musicians from the Paris Conservatoire gave committed performances; particularly notable was the virtuosic trombone playing of Marc Abry, in Maor's BEYRUTH 15072006.
No musical soul who passes through Paris in coming months should miss the Debussy exhibition at the Musée de l'Orangerie; it closes June 11. I won't soon forget the astonishing experience of hearing Florent Boffard play Schoenberg's Klavierstücke Opus 11 in the presence of Monet's Nymphéas. As much as I enjoyed Les Arts Florissants' exquisite renditions of Charpentier's Leçons de Ténèbres, which I sped across Paris to catch the same night, I kept thinking back to that double explosion of sound and color. Boffard, who followed Pierre-Laurent Aimard as the pianist of the Ensemble Intercontemporain and now pursues an independent career, is a formidable and intense musician.
As for La Muette, I'd like to acknowledge a rich body of scholarly work on the opera and its context: the opening chapter of Jane Fulcher's book The Nation's Image; the corresponding chapter of Anselm Gerhard's The Urbanization of Opera; Sonia Slatin's 1979 essay "Opera and Revolution," from the Journal of Musicological Research; material on the remarkable tenor-revolutionary Adolphe Nourrit in Diane Hallman's Opera, Liberalism, and Anti-Semitism in Nineteenth-Century France; and the section on Auber in Richard Taruskin's Oxford History of Western Music. Fans of French grand opera can now look forward to a staging of Meyerbeer's Robert le diable at Covent Garden, in December.