AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Celebrating the 10th anniversary of Walt Disney Concert Hall

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
A shorter version of this article was first published today in the above papers.
Disney Hall
Since it opened 10 year ago, Walt Disney Concert Hall has become both a Los Angeles architectural icon and one of the world’s great concert halls.
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Los Angeles Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
• Free Concert with YOLA (Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles)

Today at 4 p.m. • Walt Disney Concert Hall, with simulcast in Grand Park
Information: www.laphil.com
• Gala Opening Concert
Tomorrow at 7 p.m. • Walt Disney Concert Hall
Information: www.laphil.com
• First week of Subscription Concerts
Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m.
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Information: www.laphil.com
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Hard as it is to believe, this month begins the 10th anniversary season of Walt Disney Concert Hall. Where has a decade gone? What was once a long-held dream by a handful of Los Angeles Philharmonic administrators, musicians and supporters finally emerged on Oct. 24, 2003 to become both a Los Angeles architectural icon and an acoustically marvelous new home for an orchestra just beginning to realize its potential.

Not everyone loves the hall, of course. Its “billowing sails” exterior isn’t to everyone’s taste and the goal of making a 2,200-seat concert hall as intimate as possible means that some seats and aisles are a mite cramped. (Christopher Hawthorne, in a laudatory Los Angeles Times article (LINK), described the seats as “upholstered in an almost-garish floral pattern that dares you to dislike it.”) Moreover, the hall still doesn’t project amplified spoken words well.

However those, I submit, are quibbles. When you hear the orchestra (or the Los Angeles Master Chorale) in the hall, the transparency, blend and power of sounds are simply amazing. I have been lucky enough to hear concerts in many of the world’s best-known and greatest venues (those two descriptions are not necessarily interchangeable), including Carnegie Hall, Boston’s Symphony Hall, and Vienna’s Musikverein, and I can still remember how stunned I was to hear the sound in Disney Hall for the first time. That feeling has never left me and the sound is excellent from all parts of the house (to which I can attest from personal experience).

The L.A. Times has produced an extensive retrospective on Disney Hall in the run-up to this week’s opening concerts, with Hawthorne, Music Critic Mark Swed and more than a dozen others writing about the history and importance of the hall and other informative tidbits. The articles are definitely worth your time; read them HERE. The Phil also has an extensive section on the hall’s anniversary HERE and Rob Lowman has an article in the papers of the Los Angeles Newspaper Group (which includes the Pasadena Star-News ) HERE

Never one to turn down a marketing opportunity, the Philharmonic is, of course, going all out with its season-long “Celebrat10n”, turning the “io” into “10” on a logo appearing seemingly everywhere throughout Los Angeles. A number of concerts, lectures and other events are directly tied to the celebration and to the future of the hall and Grand Ave. (including a panel discussion with architect Frank Gehry, LA Phil President and CEO Deborah Borda and others on Oct. 2 — INFO). Details on the Disney Hall celebration events (aka “Inside Out”) are HERE.

The party begins this afternoon at 4 p.m. with a free concert pairing the L.A. Phil and YOLA appearing side-by-side for the first time. YOLA (Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles) is the first of the youth orchestras that are part of the Phil’s goal of bringing music to under-served neighborhoods, a project similar to Venezuela’s “El Sistema” system that has produced, among others, LAPO Music Director Gustavo Dudamel).

Tickets for inside Disney Hall have long since been snapped up but you can be part of the festivities in the new Grand Park where folks will watch and view the concert via a simulcast on giant screens. Dudamel is scheduled to lead part of the program (Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 2 “Little Russian,” Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, and Conga del Fuego Nuevo by Arturo Márquez), while legendary jazz pianist Herbie Hancock and La Santa Cecilia will be among the soloists.

BTW: Avoid parking hassles by taking public transit; the Metro Red Line’s Civic Center Station exits at the new park, which is east of the Music Center complex between Grand Ave. and Temple St. MAP

Dudamel-9-29-13
Dudamel will also conduct tomorrow night’s gala opening concert, an unusually serious program for a gala, but a fascinating one. The evening opens with John Cage’s 4’33”, a famous (or infamous, from your perspective) piece in which a musician or combinations of musicians sit in silence for four minutes and 33 seconds. The idea is for the listener to absorb the sounds surrounding him or her at that moment (at least, I think that’s the idea; I’m not a big John Cage fan).

The Cage piece will be followed by the “Prelude” from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 3. The concept that from out of the silence will come this solo cello work seems breathtakingly beautiful to me. Moreover, it hearkens back to that opening night nearly 10 years ago when the first sounds heard by the public in the hall were of Principal Concertmaster Martin Chalifour playing Bach from the organ loft (will the Phil put Yo-Yo and his cello in the organ loft? Stay tuned — sorry, couldn’t resist).

The Bach prelude will be followed by Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, with Ma as soloist, a four-minute piece by Thomas Adès, the third movement from Mahler’s Symphony No. 9, and the final movement from Saint-Saëns Symphony No. 3 (“Organ”). That, as I noted, will be a rich, full evening, especially for a gala with a party awaiting afterwards.

The subscription season opens with four concerts beginning Thursday night. Dudamel will lead a program that begins with Schubert’s Symphony No. 4 and continues with the world premiere of Shing Kam, a 10-minute work for percussion and orchestra that was begun by Peter Lieberson in 2010.

The piece, commissioned by several organizations including the L.A. Phil, came about because a request by Portuguese percussionist Pedro Carneiro. Lieberson died in April 2011 with only the first movement of what had been envisioned as a three-movement work in any sort of shape to complete, a task that fell to noted British composer Oliver Knussen. Carneiro will be the soloist this weekend. Read the Phil’s music note HERE for more details.

The second half of the weekend programs will be Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, with Yefim Bronfman as soloist.

The entire first month of the Phil season celebrates Disney Hall. Dudamel and Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes continue their survey of the five Beethoven piano concerti with performances of the Nos. 2 and 4 on Oct. 10 and 11 and the fourth concerto on Oct. 12 and 13 paired with the U.S. premiere of The Last Days of Socrates by Australian composer Brett Dean. Beethoven’s The Ruins of Athens Overture opens all four concerts.

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Former LAPO Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen takes the helm for the next two weeks, a particularly appropriate gesture since Salonen was one of the driving forces behind the conception and creation of Disney Hall.

On Oct. 18, 19 and 20, Salonen will lead the Phil in Debussy’s Nocturnes, Bartok’s Music for Strings, Celesta and Percussion and the world premiere of a new piece for cello and orchestra by Magnus Lindberg. The following weekend, Salonen and the Phil will pair Sibelius’ Symphony No. 5 with Salonen’s own Violin Concerto, one of the most important pieces in his growing repertoire. In between (on Oct. 23), Salonen will lead the Phil and L.A. Master Chorale in the world premiere of Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels as the opening concert in the Phil’s acclaimed “Green Umbrella” series, another element in the Phil’s history that Salonen was instrumental in building.

Exactly why this piece is dubbed a “world premiere” is not clear. Zappa (founder of the band “The Mothers of Invention”) originally wrote 200 Motels for a 1971 British film of that name and a soundtrack album was subsequently. Presumably (details have yet to come) the piece being played at the “Green Umbrella” is a new reconstruction or reworking of the original score by Zappa, who died in 1993 of prostate cancer just days shy of his 43rd birthday.

BTW: The Phil’s Web site notes that “mature language and content” as well as strobe lights will be used in this performance. According to an article by Sanchez Manning in London’s The Independent, (LINK) after the movie was released, a concert scheduled at London’s Royal Albert Hall was canceled because a representative of the venue found some of the lyrics obscene. In 1975, Zappa lost a lawsuit against the hall for breach of contract. Reportedly after the judge heard Penis Dimension (a portion of the score) he responded, “Have I got to listen to this?” Presumably most listeners in 2013 will be less offended, but the caveat is worth noting.

Also on the Disney hall celebration schedule are a recitals by organist Hector Olivera Oct. 13, Bach recitals by pianist András Schiff Oct. 9 and 16, and a panel discussion with Salonen and Gehry on Oct. 15 on the creative synergy and architecture, moderated by Nicolai Ouroussoff, formerly the architecture critic for the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times.

• For a calendar of the entire 2013-2014 LAPO season, click HERE.
• The L.A. Phil Web site can be linked HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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