November 23, 2003

Disney Hall from the Inside

Fair warning: I'm mostly down with a cold, so my lucidity is questionable. In particular, I'm noticing a tendency to leave out word here and there.

Last night, Jane and I were fortunate enough to hear the Los Angeles Philharmonic play Ravel, Saint-Saens, and Francesconi at the new Walt Disney Hall. This was a bit of a fluke--we were given tickets--but it means that I can now weigh in on the whole Frank Gehry-isn't-it-a-ridculous-building debate.

I'd previously only seen pictures of it, and as it was dark I didn't get a really good look at the outside. But what I could see looked just plain silly. This is a truly foolish-looking building, and it reminds me of my brother's rule about buying presents--if you can't find anything good, buy them something strange.

Inside, the most notable elements were lobbies and corridors that twined about with no particular rhyme or reason, little signs with the names of rich donors everywhere (even the stairways were named after particular individuals), and lots and lots of exposed Douglas Fir. The columns in the lobby were meant to evoke trees; I know this because there were large notices on metal stands that told me so.

It's interesting to contrast the entry area of Disney Hall with that of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, which is just about as old as I am. It's a tall, elegant building, with massive crystal chandeliers, rich carpeting, and lots and lots of marble--symbols anyone would understand. Everything about it speaks of luxury, wealth, and the establishment. I'm not sure what the entry area of Disney Hall is trying to say, but I find it interesting that it was felt necessary to post signs to let us in on the secret.

We found our way to the Concert Hall Cafe, where we ate a couple of delightful little chocolate tortes, and then investigated the L.A. Philharmonic Store, and then went up to our seats.

Whoa.

The auditorium more than makes up for the foolishness of the rest of the ball. It's unlike anything I've ever seen, a fascinating, curving, swooping space of Douglas Fir with banks of seats on all four sides. It's a far more intimate space than the Dorothy Chandler, and the acoustics seemed to me (I'm no judge) to be just fine.

The seats are a little narrow, and there is no leg room whatsoever--if you had to leave in a hurry, everyone between you and the aisle would have to stand up.

But other than that, I have no complaints. As a concert hall, it was a fabulous place to sit and listen to music.

Well, mostly. The first piece on the program was a new piece called "Cobalt, Scarlet" by a contemporary Italian composer named Francesconi. This was the U.S. premiere, and the composer was in attendance. It was 24 minutes of sound that reminded me of two things: labor and delivery, in that it was long, drawn out, and painful, with occasional moments of excitement; and (sporadically) the opening moments of Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd"--you know, where all the steam pipes go off at once?

I suppose that artistically it was pretty much the equivalent of Disney Hall's exterior--a product of great skill and attention to detail, a wonderful example of the chaos that results when all rules and standards have been swept aside.

Posted by Will Duquette at November 23, 2003 01:48 PM