One draws cities for practical and for visionary reasons. Whatever they may draw as preparation, usually builders are preoccupied with cities that can be built and lived in. As in New York, where there is not much difference between the drawings of Hugh Ferriss and the Chrysler or Empire State buildings, in Paris the difference between the visionary city and the one which exists is less clear than in other places. Haussmann’s projects were, for better and worse, the personal dreams of an imagination pierced by perfect boulevards. The Haussmannian approach was a response to practical needs which nonetheless expressed a very particular aesthetic, more even than the projects completed by Robert Moses in New York. The transformations which took place in Paris under the Second Empire, or even some of the grands travaux of the 1980s, were not far from the drawings of a visionary such as Marcel Storr. Consider the Bibliothèque François Mitterand, a strange building all the stranger for pretending to be rationalist. Once built these projects show us the joys and perils of visionary urbanism.
On dessine les villes pour des raisons pratiques ou visionnaires. D’habitude, les “bâtisseurs” se préoccupent des villes qu’on peut bâtir, où on peut vivre. Comme à New York, où il n’y a pas de différence significative entre les dessins de Hugh Ferriss et les tours Chrysler ou Empire State, à Paris la différence entre la ville existante et la ville visionnaire est peut-être moins nette qu’ailleurs. Les interventions de Haussmann étaient, pour le mieux et pour le pire, des rêves personnels d’une imagination percée par les boulevards parfaits. La démarche Haussmanienne était une réponse aux des exigences pratiques, mais elle exprimait une esthétique très personnelle, encore plus que les projets de Robert Moses à New York. Paris comme elle fut transformée pendant le Second Empire, ou même certains des grands projets parisiennes des 1980s ne sont pas trop loin des dessins d’un visionnaire comme Marcel Storr. Considérez La Bibliothèque François Mitterand, un édifice d’autant plus bizarre pour son rationalisme simulé. Une fois bâtis ces projets montrent les joies et les périls de l’urbanisme visionnaire.
Last summer two extraordinary new conductors made their Tanglewood debuts, both of whom are former concertmasters, the Finn John Storgårds and Jaap van Zweden, who held the post at the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Both enjoyed enormous successes. Van Zweden, now around fifty, turned to conducting in his mid-thirties (after a career concertmaster of the Concertgebouw from the age of eighteen!), and soon came into important music directorships in the Netherlands, those of the Residentie Orchestra of The Hague and the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic in Hilversum. Since his appointment as Music Director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in 2008, he has been making sparks fly in the U.S. with his electric interpretations and the quality of playing he elicits from the orchestras he conducts.
Imagine an apocryphal New Yorker magazine cover depicting an evening at the symphony. Onstage sits the pianist, a tall figure in black, motionless at his instrument but for the whir of fingers. The lacquered piano lid conceals a conductor’s head and body, but black arms and a baton poke sideways from it, indicating his presence. The audience is attentive and faces forward. But somewhere near row X, a grey-haired woman lies prostrate on her back, motionless in the aisle. Nobody seems to notice, except for a patron a few rows beyond. His head is turned sideways and one eyeball bulges with amazement and alarm. That eyeball is mine.
Architecture students quickly learn the value of a good model. Although nothing expresses the true intention of a design as well as a model, especially for the general public, the life of a model is often sad and brief. After the big presentation day, the little pieces of cardboard and wood, so carefully carved during too many all-nighters, begin to deteriorate in closets and attics. Models are too delicate for a world built at 1:1. Once dust starts to appear, the garbage can soon follows.
Les élèves d’architecture apprennent bien vite la valeur des maquettes. Quoique rien peut évoquer la vérité d’un dessin comme une maquette, surtout pour le grand public, la vie d’une maquette est souvent triste et court. Après la grande épreuve devant les profs, les morceaux de carton et de bois si précisément ciselés pendant les nuits blanches s’écroulent lentement dans les ombres des placards et des greniers. Les maquettes sont trop délicates pour un monde construit en 1:1. Après la poussière, la poubelle.
To open the Sydney Symphony’s 2012 season and the year of their 80th birthday, Vladimir Ashkenazy. artistic director and chief conductor, has put together a generous program of powerful German music. Beethoven’s Ninth finds itself played to mark great occasions, the reopening of Bayreuth in 1953 comes to mind and its own creation came at the end of decades of war in Europe. The Sydney Symphony has not played it for five years — for their 75th anniversary — so it would feel now about due for their attention. The piece is so famous and familiar, though, even as an occasional performance, there is the risk of over familiarity. With so much wonderful inherited music and worthy current music and music which would potentially exist given the opportunity of performance, should the Ninth, or any piece, be played if the performance cannot discover anything new in the piece? For the listeners, they can always seek out new aspects of the piece since one’s disposition and experience in life effect one’s ears so strongly, but it helps to have musicians, like Ashkenazy, full of ideas. “Occasion” implies some shared new experience anyway. But on the other hand, the earthly specificity of an occasion can in a way put a drag on a sublime performance of the Ninth. It is such spiritual, metaphysical music, rooted in itself, in this way a universal piece, somehow worldly events seem to anchor it in time and space in an uncomfortable way, paradoxically perhaps. As a birthday party for a very fine and healthy symphony orchestra with surely many more anniversaries ahead of it, the occasion here did not “get in the way,” as it were, very much, rather the music tended to come first, as it should. A symphony orchestra is after all a selfless crew in many ways.