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Feb. 3, 2010         

          There we were, Annie and I, sitting peacefully in Dizzy Hell---Disney Hall to you---in the “west terrace,” which we had no more trouble locating than Mark Twain had finding optimism.
          Fully three ushers had offered directions, and two were correct, but even that was not helpful. We went up staircases, around crooked corners, into strange, narrow hallways, out of strange, narrow hallways, around still more crooked corners, until we at last came to what I had suspected existed only lore: “Door 14.”
          Frank Gehry, kiss my ass. It is not “fun” to be disoriented every time I step into your $274 million ego excretion. You know what you can do with your “magic pencil.” And I look forward to the day there has to be an emergency evacuation in that auditorium. The lawsuit potential is delicious.
          But yes, the acoustics are superb. (No thanks to Frank.)

          At last we were perched and comfortable, awaiting the annual return of Zubin Mehta for an L.A. Phil program of Webern, Bartok, Beethoven. Nothing to do now but immerse ourselves in sound sculpture, and let the notes have their therapeutic way with our battered synapses. Right?
          Ah, you forget. I am Rense. You never, never want to sit near me in a concert hall, or stand near me in a line. Anywhere. Ever. If you do the latter, be assured that you have chosen the line that will take longer than any other due to: computer failure, vomiting babies, bad credit cards, hurricanes, kidney stones. If you do the former, you might “enjoy” the company of a chubby, perfume-drenched young woman who conducts and sings throughout the concert, a gaggle of Russian women who blabber through operas, an elderly gentleman with uncontrollable flatulence (until, that is, I turned to him and said, "Stop farting!")---
          Or the 30-ish specimen of cool, stylin’ L.A. humanity sitting next to us on this evening.
          He and his swarthy boyfriend sat down at the last minute, just before the downbeat, in a cloud of alcohol, jalapenos, and digesting meat. I mean it. Every time Cool Boy opened his mouth, the air for a good fifteen feet in any direction was absolutely polluted. He and his mate had obviously just ingested drinks and delicacies in the Dizzy café downstairs, and were exuding the consequences. A little gut music.
          Memo to Dizzy Hell chefs: hold the garlic.
          I’ve smelled better homeless people. I mean this might as well have been rotting baloney and Ripple, folks. With a touch of sweat. Gastric juices are the great class equalizer.
          “I think you’re in our seats, but I don’t mind!” Cool Boy had sung out to Annie upon arrival, shocking her with both statement and fumes. Huh?
         Thankfully, the orchestra’s confident, assertive reading of Webern’s roiling “Passacaglia” shut him up. But it did not stop him from breathing, sad to say. It’s very bad for auditory senses to have to compete with olfactory. Perfume can be distracting enough. But in this case, Webern just stunk. It was a synethesiac’s nightmare. Strangely menacing Webern horns teamed with eau d’seared ahi tuna and stomach acid. Bold timpani flourishes needed fumigation. The orchestra performed splendidly, almost swaggeringly, the music was engrossing, but our immediate atmosphere was gross. And when it ended:
          “Is Dudamel conducting?”
          I swear that Death Breath really asked this. Just blurted it at Annie. Stack of Bibles.
          “Yes, you total fucking idiot,” I said. “He’s aged 40 years and become a Parsi from India overnight.”
          Well, actually, I didn’t. But I should have.
          Instead of replying, "I'm sorry, have we been introduced?", Annie patiently explained that the celebrated young Gustavo had not appeared, and would not appear on this concert, and would not, in fact, return to the Phil until April. Caving in to my old fatal instinct of “trying to be nice,” I mentioned to Breath Poison that Dudamel would be appearing more frequently with the orchestra in coming years. Annie added that he also has a “European gig,” at which point the guy, quite amazingly, ticked off Dudamel’s various currently held positions.
          Ah, evidently a fan.
          He had come not for the music, you see, but for Gustavo Electrico!, as the ad campaign goes, obviously enticed by the citywide banners showing Dudamel apparently in the throes of quadruple orgasm. Somehow, he had been unable to distinguish between a 28-year-old Venezuelan and a silver-haired 74-year-old from India. Not that it would matter to the L.A. Phil management.
          After the second movement of the incomprehensibly difficult, unpredictable, angular, jagged rhythms of the Bartok Second Piano Concerto, while Mehta and pianist Yefim Bronfman (who made the almost anti-musical manic keyboard runs sound easy) paused to wipe foreheads, Death Breath burst forth anew, and P.U.
          “Why didn’t they applaud?” he ejaculated (so to speak.) “I thought that was worth applauding for! Didn’t you? Why didn’t they applaud? People should applaud!”
          I sensed that he was thisclose to just launching a one-man cheering section, there in the silent hall.
          “You generally wait until the entire piece finishes before applauding,” whispered Annie, whose facial tension told me that she would rather be cleaning out one of our cat boxes than conversing further with this feral specimen of monied, cool demographic.
          And so we sat, choking on air thick with the digestive gases of this twittering (lower case “t,” but I’m sure upper case also applies) jackass. And when the piece ended, of course, he brayed.
          “That was great! I thought that was great! Did you like that?” he said to Annie, beaming, applauding madly, like he’d just discovered how. “That was great!"
          And then came the requisite cry of the modern cretin:
          I’m no scholar, but I think it is safe to say that this guy understood the Bartok every bit as deeply as a collie enjoys Shakespeare. No matter. This is the kind of audience member that L.A. Phil Director Deborah Borda is aiming for: young, trendoid, musically ignorant dorks with disposable income to spend at cool Disney Hall watching cool Gustavo Electrico conduct some cool music. Mercifully for us, he got up to cool his heels at intermission.
          Now, I didn’t mention the people on the other side of us, because by contrast, they comported themselves with all the grace of courtiers at Buckingham Palace. It’s true they talked during the music---but frankly, talking during Bartok doesn’t bother me, as I can rarely appreciate his work, anyhow. Plus the male of the duo was wearing a leather jacket, which made squeegee noises whenever he shifted in his seat, which was about every thirty seconds. But this was atmospheric ambrosia in contrast with the idiot child on the other side. Found music, even.
          We also got up, a few minutes after the Digestion Monster left, and wandered outside into the garden area, which, though it is accessible only from the concert hall, has ushers at the doors requiring returning patrons to show their goddamn tickets to get back inside. (Nice touch, Deborah!) I thought there might be some fresh air out there, but of course, was quickly disabused of this notion by insidious plumes of suffocating cigarette smoke and lavishly attired women sneezing out flu virus without bothering to cover their honkers.
          O paradiso!
          Once back in terrace west, why, it turned out that we actually had been in the wrong seats! By one. So we moved over, which put us a precious extra three or four feet away from Death Breath, who was returning with his giggling partner, apparently freshly lubricated (so to speak.) Again, the air filled with his unique alimentary funk, tinged with some more alcohol, heated with new sweat. I wound up talking to Leather Jacket, who turned out to be a hell of a nice guy and a member of the medical faculty at USC. We discussed the size of the orchestra, and whether Zubin had beefed up the strings beyond Beethoven’s specifications for the “Eroica,” which enabled me to tune out Borda’s dream ticketholder. He was nattering on about Dudamel to Annie again, but I was startled to hear him almost yell out---I mean yell---just as Mehta took the podium to give the downbeat:
          “Did Zubin Mehta used to conduct the L.A. Philharmonic?”
          Yes, a good time to begin a conversation, let alone display ignorance. In a hushed concert hall, just before the first two stunning chords of the “Eroica.” To quote Bugs Bunny:
          “What a maroon.”
          Annie nodded and I put my hand up to signal something along the lines of: shut up right away or I will pick you up and throw you over the railing with the hope that you might wind up impaled on a contrabassoon.
          Well, Zubin guided the orchestra through a just-the-facts-ma’am rendering of the Beethoven third symphony, which was a bit of a contrast from the days when he might have produced an enormous, brooding, often very loud tone poem-y rendition. I wondered if he was bored, or had done the old “mellowing with age” trick that so many seem to do. (Hope I might manage it, one day.) It was bread-and-butter Beethoven, no surprises, no excess spin, no spin at all, really, and not a lot of sustained dramatic tension. Lyrical, rendered with love and extroversion by the orchestra, but when it was over, I noticed that my socks hadn’t moved.
          Not the case with Death Breath. He was doing the Deborah Borda Two-Step, which is to say, the automatic standing ovation. On his toesies, sphincter tight, clapping like an excited schoolgirl, and yes, of course, do I even have to add, is it remotely necessary to say. . .
          Doing the “WHEWWWWWWW!” thing as if he was in the audience for Ellen DeGeneres.
          And yes, I would bet my cats that his grasp of Beethoven, and this symphony, let alone the performance, was every bit as thorough as Larry King’s grasp of quantum physics. But then, everything is cool now. No analysis of anything is required.
          Said Annie, sotto voce:
          “He is exactly the demographic type that Borda wants. This is what they want in the hall now. Not you and me. Not polite old fogeys who actually appreciate the music.”
          I nodded:
          “It’s more of the pervasive dumbing down of culture, assassination of civilization, in the guise of making everything more ‘accessible.’”
          Death Breath turned to Annie.
          “Nice meeting you!” he said.
          I swear. He really did.

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