By ELAINE SCIOLINOSEPT
La Seine Musicale was built on an island on the Seine. Solar panels on the sail of the building absorb its heat and glare during the day and generate electricity to light up part of the structure. Credit Laurent Blossier
BOULOGNE-BILLANCOURT, France — The shiny wood and glass structure rises from the river like a sailboat in the shape of an egg. Its sail is powered not by water or wind, but by the sun. It is La Seine Musicale, a striking performance center that opened in April on the Île Seguin, an island on the Seine just west of Paris.
The sail, covered in 470 photovoltaic solar panels, rotates along steel rails to follow the course of the sun. The panels absorb its heat and glare during the day and generate electricity to then light up part of the structure. They reflect the immediate surroundings, making the viewer feel at one with the river.
Its goal is to serve as both a crossroads for ticket-holders with vastly different tastes and a magnet for visitors who might just be passing through.
“We are on a boat on an island on a voyage of adventure,” said Olivier Haber, the chief executive of La Seine Musicale. “We are at a site that surprises. In other places, people who come to hear classical music rarely meet people who come for hip-hop or jazz. But here, audiences and cultures and music mix.”
There is more. “You can just come and walk through the gardens and the halls or take in the view from the garden on the roof,” he added. “You can shop, eat and have a drink. We want everyone to feel welcome here, to flow through.”
It was the architect Jean Nouvel of France who conceived of a plan for the island in the suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt that would allow a natural flow between indoor and outdoor space. Then Shigeru Ban, the Pritzker-Prize winning Japanese architect, teamed up with the architect Jean de Gastines of France to create the project that cost 170 million euros (about $203 million).
Among the spaces is a 4,000-seat multipurpose amplified concert hall in black that transforms itself into a standing-room site to accommodate up to 6,000, and a more intimate 1,500-seat auditorium, whose walls are made of woven oak and its ceiling of wooden hexagons filled with fireproof paper tubes.
There is a classical orchestra (Insula orchestra) that performs on period instruments; a grand foyer for exhibitions and receptions; two voice schools; state-of-the-art recording studios; music and dance practice rooms; and a social club for audiences between the ages of 17 and 28.
To the left of the main entrance is a brasserie-cafe with a terrace that spills out onto the courtyard and serves drinks and French and international dishes. Its name: O 2 Scènes (pronounced “eau de Seine” — “water from the Seine”). On the facade above the main entrance, the architects have mounted an 8,700-square-foot screen — so big it can be seen from more than a mile away — that shows short videos of coming performances and corporate advertisements.
The auditorium, with 1,500 seats, has walls made of woven oak and a ceiling of wooden hexagons filled with fireproof paper tubes. Credit Nicolas Grosmond
A higher end restaurant, informal jazz club and several boutiques are scheduled to open in the coming months. A sustainable development project will feature green roofs and the reuse of rainwater. The grand plan, which is several years away, is to add a hotel, cultural spaces and art galleries.
Île Seguin is accessible from a footbridge that connects it to the Right Bank. It is still unexplored terrain compared with the tourist-trodden Île Saint-Louis (about the same size) and Île de la Cité (twice as big). Some of La Seine Musicale’s performances are not sold out, and some Paris-dwellers consider any suburb too far away.
But La Seine Musicale is already making its mark as the go-to place to experience some of the best of American music and dance. Bob Dylan performed to a sellout crowd on opening day. Then came Herbie Hancock and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra is to perform from Sept. 8 to 10, and “West Side Story” will arrive later this fall.
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