by RIP RENSE
The Silver Stunt. . .
National Public Radio's Susan Stamberg called the new
Disney Hall, home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, a "symphony in stainless
I say it's more of a concerto grosso.
Yes, stainless steel is just what I think about
when I hear symphonies. Beethoven's rhythms inevitably evoke images of icy, sharp-edged
asymmetrical hunks of dancing metal. When I hear Mahler, my heart soars with iron.
Sibelius? I cry ferrous tears, and my emotions are tin-plated, leaden. Stravinsky? Nothing
if not a hard, chunky, metalline experience. Favorite composer: Walter Piston!
L.A. Times architecture critic Nicolai
Ouroussoff disagrees. He says that the Frank Gehry-designed $274 million tres chic
Walt Disney Hall is "sexy," and that
"nothing in this country," as he told the Sacramento Bee, "looks like that.
I dunno, Nic. Been to a wrecking yard lately? A
sheet metal expo? Industrial refrigerator factory? As for "sexy," well, the last
sexy metallic thing I remember was Ursula Andress's brass bra that fired bullets in
"Casino Royale." Perhaps Mr. Ouroussoff was thinking of a type of uh, marital
To me, Disney Hall looks like half-torn-up
cardboard boxes left out in the rain, spray-painted silver. There are equally, if not
superior, sculptures to be found on Skid Row a couple blocks away, where street people. .
.tear up cardboard boxes and sleep in them (check their appearance after a rain.) Add one
can of silver spray paint, and you've got hundreds of mini-Disneys.
Hmmm. . .Maybe that's why L.A. Phil
Executive Director Deborah Borgia---er, Borda chirps, "This is your living room. Come visit."
Maybe she's seen all the torn-up cardboard living rooms on nearby Main
Street, and realizing the occupants' natural grasp of Gehry's architectural elan,
thought she could attract some new season ticket subscribers! There must be some
serious heroin money on the Nickel.
Wait a second! That's it. I get it now. Borda
and the L.A. Phil brass---er, apologies to the horn section, make that administration---are
forever blowing fortissimo about making classical music more down-to-earth and
accessible for everyone! After all, the proposed sculpture outside Disney is a broken bow
tie---nudge, nudge, get it? So Gehry must have taken his cue directly from Skid Row! He
was emulating the down-to-earth (street-level, in fact) lean-tos and shanties of the
homeless! He was making a $274 million statement about the poor and abandoned. This is
Fanfare for the Common Crackhead!
Disney Hall: Fanfare for the Common Crackhead?
Well, er, maybe not.
After all, there are 1,000 fewer
seats(!) in Disney. Ticket prices have gone off the scale---somewhere above high B, as in
"broke," which is what a new L.A. Phil ducket will leave you. Groundling slots
are $35 (up from $14) with orchestra thrones at an impressive $120 (up from and impressive
$80.) Of course, you can sit behind the musicians for $40 or $50. More accessible? This
is your living room? Debbie, I can watch Daniel Barenboim conduct Mahler on a DVD in
my living room for nuttin'. And the DVD costs less than Disney's cheapest
And here's the bottom line, so to speak: I have
it on good authority---from someone whose haunches have sneak-previewed the
upholstery---that Mouse House has less legroom than the Pavilion. More cramps for your
Yes, the L.A. Phil needed its own
dedicated concert hall, to free up the Pavilion for more opera. Well, that's the claim,
anyhow. But they've taken a dignified edifice on an avenue named Grand, and exchanged it
for a glinting stunt. Art for artifice. Gehry's slogan should be: Buildings That Try
Real Hard to Not Look Like Buildings. In the process, a piece of L.A. tradition---a
piece of home, for orchestra and audience---has been effectively razed. After a mere 40
years, the Pavilion was deemed orchestrally obsolete. The Disney isn't a symphony in
steel; it's a symphony in steal.
But the Pavilion acoustics were terrible,
Gehry proponents shrilled---led by L.A. Times Music Critic Mark Swed, who seemingly never
let a review pass without complaining that Dorothy Buffum Chandler's dream house was
"muffled," or just "not a good concert hall."
Right. Call me a Phil-istine, but thirty-three
years of reasonably priced concerts at the Muffled Buffum made it into my ears without a
problem. That includes the Brahms German Requiem I heard so clearly, as a kid, that I was
reduced to tears; the twelve-hour Beethoven Marathon of 1971, the three years' worth of
concerts I reviewed for the L.A. Daily News, Zubin Mehta's cathartic Mahler, Giulini's
revelatory Brahms and Beethoven, the shimmering contours of Takemitsu, the twinklings of
Ravel, the beguiling bombast of Berg, and the transfixing Bruckner 7th that Mehta
conducted earlier this year, with its crushed, brooding angst. Even current music director
Esa-Pekka Salonen's disinterested Beethoven and sterile Shostakovich, I'm sorry to say,
were loud and clear. (And I often sat in the rafters.)
I mean, you'd think that the L.A.
Opera, now the principal Pavilion tenant, inherited a bat belfry! Come to think of it, it
has. Bats occasionally swoop and buzz concertgoers in the DCP (really!), so neglected has the Grand
Ave. dame been in recent years, as orchestra management fixated on Disney. Her carpets are
stained and worn, flaws in the ceiling go un-fixed, season after season.
All for the broken geometry next door.
That the orchestra played in the DCP only four
decades (European halls go on for centuries) is really no surprise, I guess. L.A. is in a
state of perpetual suicide. It is forever murdering the best of itself, often as not
replacing it with the worst in all of us. Got a nice old landmark? Great spot for a
hideous mini-mall. Dodger Stadium, perhaps the most pleasant pure ballpark in the country,
has developers nipping at its heels like jackals on an antelope. This town eats its young.
How Musso & Frank's and The Apple Pan have survived is beyond me. The only tradition
in L.A. is to kill tradition.
But the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
did not deserve the character assassination it received from Swed and the cawing crows
fascinated with the shiny object across the street. It served admirably well, without any
complaints about acoustics from Mehta, Carlo Maria Guilini, Andre Previn, countless guest
conductors, and listeners not cursed with ears that can detect carminative ants.
In an interview prior to Mehta's last
appearance a few months ago, the conductor made some statements indicating bafflement over
the criticism of the Pavilion---that, when he took over the orchestra there in 1962, it
seemed like a Parthenon on the hill.
As far as I'm concerned, it looks all the more
so, next to Gehry's Silver Stunt.
The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
copyright 2002-05 Rip Rense, all rights reserved.
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