by RIP RENSE
Wondering about Disney
Hall. . .
"Regarding Rip Rense, you have to wonder
about the taste of someone who thinks Disney Hall is vulgar and the Dorothy Chandler
Pavilion isn't."---Bob Fiore, Los Angeles, in an e-mail to www.laobserved.com.
Regarding Bob Fiore, well, Bob,
you don't have to wonder about my taste, but you may, if you like. I can think of better
ways to spend time, but to each his own.
And just in case you, or anyone else, might
wish to wonder even more. . .
Disney Hall is vulgar, in my view, because it
is the unrestrained exercising of Frank Gehry's elephantine ego, resulting in stunt
architecture. Vulgarity, among other things, is the absence of subtlety. Disney Hall is as
absent of subtletly as Howard Stern.
That's it! Disney Hall is the Howard Stern of
concert halls! It demands that you react, it does not leave you alone, it
relentlessly gets in your face and shouts at you, "Look at me! Look at me!"
Frank Gehry is the "Fartman" of architects.
I don't know about Bob Fiore,
but I go to a concert hall to think about music. I don't go to a concert hall to think
about Frank Gehry, or why he designed his building the way he did. I don't care.
Contemplation of architecture is a rewarding pursuit, but I prefer having the option of
contemplation, rather than the demand, especially when the business at hand is
contemplation of Mahler, Takemitsu, Ives. . .
I finally dropped in on Gehry's Big D a few weeks ago. I waited an extra
long time in order to be sure that Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, Jodi Foster, Catherine
Zeta-Jones, and all the field mice had cleared out.
The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion---savaged in
recent years by Disney Hall hucksters, led by L.A. Times music critic Mark Swed---is a
big, geometrically symmetrical, modestly decorated box. It has nice soft seats,
lots of legroom, forward-facing views, and cascading sheets of picture windows. The
interior is flowing, handsome dark wood and warm red upholstery. When you enter this
building, you feel a formality and tradition, even a touch of grandeur, what with the
marble, carpeting, sculpture of "Beethoven-- Muse," comfortable bars, and the
nice twinkly chandeliers. When you stroll about at intermission--- inside or out---you can
wrap yourself in common downtown Los Angeles.
Disney Hall is a garish trick. When
does a building not look like a building? When it's Disney Hall. Yes, it's marvelous that
engineers and architects can now execute pretty much any squiggle that Frank Gehry does in
a minute or two with his "magic pen" (the length of time, he boasts, that it
took to sketch the building.) This Goofy joint is a hoop-te-do arrangement of angles that
aggressively seek to have exactly nothing to do with one another, or any other part of
downtown L.A.. Defenders gush with emperor's-new-clothes hype talk: "brash,"
"bold," "uncompromising," "revolutionary,"
"forward-looking." Swed, in his repeated ejaculations (almost literally) about
the building, once suggested that the little structure might actually be "improving
the world." I kid you not.
I can say exactly three nice things about the
Disney exterior. First, it's shiny! Second, Gehry has parenthetically mentioned that the
angles are meant to suggest baton motions. While I suspect this was an afterthought to
mollify concert hall traditionalists, it's a nice one, anyhow. And it is all the more
believable in this instance, considering the antic, gaping-mouthed flailing of Music
Director Esa-Pekka Salonen. Third, this building would have been perfectly fine for an art
museum, where design and appearance are not only the overriding concerns, they are the
In sum: take one elegantly designed room,
decorate it in a comfortable fashion that does not scream for attention, give it
panaoramic views of a city, and what do you get? Dignity. Take one wildly designed
structure that shrieks for attention, inside and out, ensure its self-centeredness with
zero views of the city, and what do you get? Vulgarity. The pro-Disney crowd claims the
Pavilion is elitist. I say the elitism resides in the building with fewer seats and
grotesquely higher ticket prices. (Hint: not the Pavilion.)
I finally dropped in on Gehry's Big D a few
weeks ago. I waited an extra long time in order to be sure that Tom Hanks, Steven
Spielberg, Jodi Foster, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and all the field mice had cleared out. I
had been irresistably drawn by Mahler's oppressive, relentless declamation of frustration,
anger, and railing at the cosmos, the symphony # 6, "The Tragic." You know,
holiday season music.
Believe it or not, I went with an
open mind regarding the hall interior, which, after all, is what counts. Despite Swed's
nearly auto-erotic rhapsodizing, which often held the building---not the conductor or
musicians---responsible for quality of the performances, I knew better! Neither Gehry nor
Disney acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota would conduct on this night---and, thankfully, neither
would Salonen. For a music director, I think Pekka would make a fine electrical engineer.
Gaining access was disorienting. The
"lobby" is anti-symmetry, again; a broken, many-tiered rat maze in a fun-house
mirror, minus the fun (unless you enjoy solving puzzles in order to find your seat.) I did
make a point of going way up to the top in order to find the much-ballyhooed Window that
Frames City Hall, and found. . .you guessed it. . .a window that frames city hall. Yawn.
If there is any larger view of downtown, it was to be discovered by smarter rats than me.
(Aside: Imagine looking for a view of the city in a downtown building and not being able
to find one! Quite an achievement, Frank!)
Hell, I like being a nameless soldier in the army of listeners who march
in and out. I don't like sprawling around a "living room" with people I don't
know, and will never meet. It's phoney.
I next sauntered into the pre-concert lecture,
delivered by a rambling young fellow who sat as he spoke---how daringly casual of
him!---who pronounced "tremolo" as "treMOlo," and whose penetrating
insight into Mahlerian motivation was a beige-toned assertion that Gustav was
"probably neurotic." (For the non-musical readers, this is like saying that
Einstein was "probably intelligent.") I had enough of the "lecture"
after a few minutes, but quickly discovered that. . .there was no escaping it! Wherever I
went, throughout the split-lobby-levels, into the little hutch housing a traveling exhibit
from the Library of Congress, into the sterile cafeteria that reminded me of my college
dorm, I was subjected to the amplified, ehcoing voice of Lecturer telling me that Mahler
was "probably neurotic."
Speaking of neurotic. . .
I don't think Gehry intended that
magazine programs be as difficult to apprehend as his building, but I could be wrong.
After all, I asked two ushers three times where and how to obtain one. The first
two times, I was directed "to the right," an instruction that actually sent me
into orbit around a strange triangular wall and. . .right back to the usher! With nary a
program in sight. I was informed by another usher that programs were hiding inside a
little cabinet, and---get this---he pointed at the cabinet. More revolutionary
informality! Brave! Bold! Innovative! Anti-elitist! Get it yerself! Next step:
ushers should just wink and smile coyly when asked, "where is the rest room,
At last, I sought refuge inside the
hall---specifically, in my $35 perch high above the rear of the orchestra. (For $35 at the
Pavilion, at least I could face forward.) I noted a woman with a heart condition
complaining that she was prohibited from climbing stairs, and thus could not ascend to the
post-orchestral eagle's nest without risk of life. (No handicapped access.) I assume she
was either carried, or directed to one of the many empty seats(!) in the house.
I sat, taking in the
"democratic" aspect of the hall that Swed touts. The giant "living
room," as L.A. Phil PR sings. It's true---unlike the Pavilion, you are more aware of
the folk living about you (a lot of them looked pretty Republican to me, though),
because all seats in this theater-in-the-round afford a voyeuristic view of fellow
attendees. So what! After the concert, you do exactly the same thing you do in the DCP:
you leave! You don't hang around and have a "meet and greet." Point being: in
the Pavilion, there is far less of the subliminal expectation of social interaction than
in Disney. Hell, I like being a nameless soldier in the army of listeners who march in and
out. I like the privacy afforded by facing forward, seeing only the darkened backs of the
heads in front of you. I don't like sprawling around a "living room" with people
I don't know, and will never meet. It's phoney. I reserve socializing for a post-concert
vino at Otto's Bar---oh, wait, Otto's has been removed in favor of a far pricier,
pretentious--- elitist---place called "Il Proboscis," or something.
And by the way, the legroom stinks.
As for the performance, well,
it was quite something. The orchestra was pretty fabulous, and guest conductor Michael
Tilson-Thomas is the genuine article---a comment that would be backwoods without the
context of a Pekka-less podium. It was such a relief to encounter a maestro of poetry and
soul, let alone one devoid of gratuitous and overwrought gesture. The price of L.A. Phil
tickets is extra burdensome when one must suffer through through the empty histrionics of
Mr. "Play the Hell Out of a Piece of Music" Salonen.
Well, the hero of Disney Hall turns out to be
acoustician Toyota, not Gehry. Here, Swed is correct, his fever-dream rantings
notwithstanding. The sound in this room is magnificent, without a doubt. The "bass
response" that prompts Swed nearly to babbling is positively thunderous, and the
discretion of instruments ridiculously, amazingly sharp. While this is grand enough, it
left me wondering if it is also somewhat born of competing with movie theater
"Audience is Listening" (read: deafened) sound systems. Concert hall as
thrill-ride. Thus is realized the "visceral" experience that Swed covets from
music in seemingly every single review that he writes. Well, okay, I like to have
my bones rattled at the end of Mahler # 6, when the composer essentially beats the
symphony into submission with two (or three, depending on the conductor) "hammer
blows" from the percussion section. It's definitely hair-raising. Yet I must say that
when it comes to music, I place greater value on the viscissitudes of emotion and
intellect than. . .viscera.
Which---you guessed it---leaves me
preferring, overall, the more modest and traditional context offered by the Pavilion,
where audience and orchestra have clearly delineated roles, the glassy building fairly
breathes smoggy L.A., and "visceral experience" does not potentially overwhelm
intellectual and emotional processing of music.
Hey, Bob Fiore, call me a vulgarian.