The renovation of the Salle Pleyel
IDSH, owner of the Salle Pleyel, conceived and initiated a major architectural and acoustic renovation program between 2004 and 2006.
The Ministry of Culture and Communication then authorized the lease of the Salle Pleyel to the Cité de la Musique, a public establishment under its supervision that has been called upon to administer this great concert hall, which now has all of the characteristics that are expected of an auditorium of quality and prestige.
A legendary landmark
In 1927, the Pleyel piano manufacturer, already more than a hundred years old, confirmed its glory by investing in the construction of a new hall that was entirely devoted to concert music: a vast building was decided upon not far from the place de l’Étoile, with a 3,000 seat auditorium built in a modern style for the period. The Salle Pleyel, designed by the architect Gustave Lion thus opened on October 19th, 1927, inaugurated by a monumental concert combining Wagner, the great names of international music (Falla, Stravinsky) and representatives of the French musical scene (Franck, Dukas, Debussy and Ravel).
A fire ravaged the auditorium less than nine months after its opening. It seems that the acoustics suffered from the renovations that were undertaken; within the context of the economic crisis of 1929, the means invested were very modest and, in addition, some of the existing materials were forbidden for security reasons. The branch of the maison Pleyel that managed the building never recovered from the financial shock, and so in 1935, reduced to a scale of 2,400 seats, the hall became the property of the Crédit Lyonnais bank that originally granted the loan.
Under the Crédit Lyonnais’ relatively supple management, the Salle Pleyel became the most celebrated concert location in Paris. It was there that Stravinsky returned to direct Agon in 1957, then Threni in 1958, and where Otto Klemperer gave his highly intense spiritual interpretations of Mahler’s 9th Symphony and Beethoven’s Heroica. It is there that the Orchestre de Paris took up residence and conquered a wide audience with Daniel Barenboïm. It is there that musicians ranging from Louis Armstrong to Ravi Shankar, from Sviatoslav Richter to Jorge Bolet, from Jascha Heifetz to David Oïstrakh; all of the great interpreters who have marked our perception of music have played.
In 1998, following the financial difficulties of the Crédit Lyonnais, the Salle Pleyel was put up for sale. Its new proprietor, M. Hubert Martigny, chairman of the board of IDSH, awarded the artistic direction of the Salle Pleyel to Carla-Maria Tarditi until it closed in 2002 for renovation work. It was during this period that Myung-Whun Chung gave his first concerts with the Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra and the producer, Jeanine Roze brought in the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle in 2002.
On an architectural level, the Crédit Lyonnais initiated works in 1980 that were completed very quickly and which did little to improve the acoustics, and which even resulted in a reduction of sound reverberation time. Happily, the re-opening of the Salle Pleyel this time will be quite different: according to the agreement made in 2004 between the State and the owner, a grand scale architectural and acoustic rehabilitation has been made.
The new Pleyel
The renovations that were conceived and undertaken by IDSH respond to the ambitions of a project to recover the plainness and purity that characterised the original aesthetic of the place. The restoration of the façades, of the hall, of the foyer and the interior of the hall, give the whole a more seductive appearance and greatly improve its comfort. The work also provided the occasion to enlarge and reconfigure the spaces allotted to the public and to the artists. They make it possible to transform the conditions for playing and listening by optimising the acoustics of the hall.
Lost architecture recovered: with respect to the requirements of the Monuments Historiques, the façade, the hall and its rotunda have recovered their quasi original Art Deco elegance. The hall, notably, has regained its majesty along with its light shaft. The rotunda is once again open to the old exhibition rooms that were converted into dance studios in the 1960’s. These latter, transformed into a vast foyer at the back of the orchestra rows and giving on to the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, provide a complementary reception area of more than 600 square metres, to which two private spaces are added.
The re-thinking of playing conditions: so as to be able to welcome the orchestras in residence — who do all or some of their rehearsals there — and invited orchestras at the same time, all the dressing rooms, greenrooms and technical spaces have been reorganised. The building allocated to the musicians, that includes the dressing rooms, the cloakrooms, the recording studio and common rooms, has been rebuilt around a new stairwell to respond to the professional demands of large international orchestras.
The design of the auditorium
High-performance acoustics: the creation of side balconies has enabled to homogenise sound distribution. They function like louvres, contributing precocious sound reflections and so improve clarity and the sensation of envelopment. The modification of the ceiling and the lateral walls result in a nearly 20% optimisation of the room’s volume and contribute an increase in reverberation time. The playing area has been strictly rearranged in order to receive the audience right up to the edge of the stage and to generate more efficient acoustics. At the same time, in the back of the room, the depth under the balconies has been reduced to diminish the distance between the musicians and the listener, while contributing impressions of clarity and presence of sound.
Quality listening: the improvement in comfort levels, an essential part of this renovation, is seen in the installation of new chairs, a reduction in the number of seats so as to give each one more room (1,913 seats compared to 3,000 in 1927) and an improvement in visibility by the re-terracing of the balconies. In the same way, orchestra seating has been lightened and now has a little less than 1,000 seats. At the back of the stage, the choir benches can accommodate some 160 people. The first balcony has roughly 400 seats and the second 300. Each of the four side balconies can seat 19 people.
New stage set equipment: the whole of the stage has been re-arranged with enhanced spatial volume, a larger stage and a redesigned proscenium. These modifications, associated with the addition of powerful technical equipment, notably the installation of an entirely mechanised and mobile stage, facilitate the adaptation of every kind of repertoire.
Renovation of the Salle Pleyel
Contracting authority: IDSH
Design: François Ceria architects - Artec Consultants Inc.
Construction: Groupe Bouygues