by Bill Millard
Event: Encore ’09: Fontainebleau Schools – A Collaboration of Architecture and Music
Location: Center for Architecture, 11.20.09
Speakers: Thérèse Casadesus Rawson — President, Fontainebleau Associations; Nicholas Stanos — Vice President for Architecture, Fontainebleau Associations; Anthony Gallion — Pratt Institute; Craig Pellet — Composer, Boston Conservatory, winner of 2009 Nadia Boulanger Prize; James McCullar, FAIA — Principal, James McCullar & Associates Architects & 2008 AIANY President; Anthony Béchu — Director, Ecole des Beaux-Arts at Fontainebleau
Performers: Conservatory: Stephanie Song — Violin, Juilliard School/Columbia University; Philippe Treuille — composer/percussion, Northwestern University; Caleb van der Swaag — cello, Columbia University
Architecture/Fine Arts: Kyle Branchesi — Boston Architectural College; Anthony Gallion — Pratt Institute; Calista Ho — City College of New York; Marina Ovtchinnokova — City College of New York
Organizer: The Fontainebleau Associations
Sponsor: AIANY Global Dialogues Committee
Since 1921, a unique program has brought architecture and music students to a 16th-century French royal chateau 60km southeast of Paris for an annual summer month of professional and cultural exchange. The Fontainebleau Schools originated after World War I with General John Pershing’s desire to improve the quality of American military bands through education of Americans quartered in France, studying at first under New York Philharmonic conductor Walter Damrosch and French composer Francis Casadesus. The institution expanded into the visual arts, eventually focusing that component on architecture; it built a proud tradition as an interdisciplinary community, bringing students the opportunity to study with distinguished faculty, which has included Maurice Ravel, Mstislav Rostropovich, and Nadia Boulanger in the musical school, known as the Conservatoire Americain, and Paolo Soleri, Felix Candela, and Aldo van Eyck in the architectural Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Living among peers from both disciplines enhances students’ sense of their own art form through cross-pollination between the fields. Fontainebleau graduates, now drawing from top talent worldwide as well as in the U.S., continue to enrich both realms.
The recent Center for Architecture event celebrated Fontainebleau through testimonials and performance. Violinist Stephanie Song set the tone with samplings from Massenet and Gershwin. Former AIANY President James McCullar, FAIA, a 1962 alumnus of Fontainebleau , recalled the program as an eye-opening opportunity for a young man from Texas seeing Europe for the first time. Another Texan, Anthony Gallion, having described a comparable experience, joined colleagues from both fields in recreating “Spectacle ’09,” a live multimedia performance illustrating how the principles of rhythm and variation can find expression both sonically and visually. As composer/drummer Philippe Treuille led a trio through his composition Moving Forward in the Wrong Direction, a work combining minor-blues-scale riffing, moments of 20th-century dissonance, and rhythms akin to contemporary hip-hop, a troupe of architecture students attacked six large canvases with rollers, spontaneously providing an expressionist primary-color backdrop within a six-minute span.
Projected stills of the chateau, formal gardens, and surrounding woods, along with video clips of recent on-site performances and installations, gave an impression of Fontainebleau as a place where artistic discipline and promise have replaced aristocratic privilege as the qualifications for access to an atmosphere of unparalleled beauty. Director Anthony Béchu outlined the organization’s expectations for the coming year (about 25 architecture students are expected) and its vision for renovations to the physical space. Contemplating Fontainebleau calls to mind Goethe’s much-quoted line about architecture as frozen music, with all its implications about the relations between fluid moments and forms that deserve to endure.
Bill Millard is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in OCULUS, Icon, Content, The Architect’s Newspaper, and other publications.