The Rip Post




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

        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 only concerns.
        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, please?"
        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.


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