Disney Hall: Prayers Answered?

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Cutting short a trip to Italy, I flew back to L.A. in time to attend Disney Hall's inaugural concert. I've been told that a number of heavy-hitters chose to leave Los Angeles rather than admit they weren't able to obtain a ticket. Getting a seat for the gala opening was near impossible. I knew I was lucky.

For the last few years I had a special relationship with Disney Hall, as I watched from a nearby 50-story office building while it was being built. As an art advisor, I was assembling corporate art collections that now occupy half of the floors of this tower. Observing the slow progress of the construction from varying heights and angles of the nearby tower, I got a unique perspective on Disney Hall.

I fell in love with its baroque skeleton, whose gigantic I-beams were growing and bending in impossible curves. From high above it looked to me like one of Frank Gehry's freeform sculptures, reminiscent of an enormous skull of a horse. If you've ever admired the imposing, frightening beauty of dinosaur skeletons in a natural history museum, you may understand my feeling. I was almost sad to see the skeleton of Disney Hall slowly disappear under the layers of metal skin. And here it is at last - the metal beast we've all been waiting for, for almost a decade and a half.

If the Bilbao Museum reminded me of a seductive mermaid of voluptuous Rubenesque proportions, Disney Hall strikes me as a much more defiant, masculine creature; which is not to say that it's not graceful. While the Bilbao Museum evokes leisure and long siestas, the Disney Hall is up to American speed.

And for the first time in my experience of a Frank Gehry building, I find that the promise and energy of its exterior is sustained and fulfilled when I step inside. Various lobbies are blowing every which way, not so much leading to the auditorium as, like a Siren's song, luring and sucking you in. And there, in the auditorium, Frank Gehry outdid himself. It's all at once grand and intimate, regal but friendly. But in the end, what's important is whether Disney Hall delivers the magic of communion between the audience and the great gods of music. And it does based on my experience of the two concerts that I attended so far.

It's been ages since music touched me so deeply. I had forgotten to what extent it can effect me. The whole audience was in a state of rapture, especially when Stravinsky's famous score for "The Rite of Spring" marched in. The exhilarating, dangerous spirit of the Russian revolution embodied by this music, and spectacularly performed by the L.A. Philharmonic, threatened to blow apart the orderly world of the mighty and powerful gathered in Disney Hall for this special occasion. Seemingly disorderly and full of dissonance and longing, this music was both haunting and beautiful, not unlike the building that Frank Gehry designed for us.

Food for thought almost a quarter century ago, Gehry was invited to design the groundbreaking exhibition of Russian avant-garde art at LACMA. Hmm, these Russian connections, perhaps I should explore them further.

Walt Disney Concert Hall
Los Angeles Music Center
135 North Grand Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
General Information (213) 972-7211

"Frank O. Gehry Works In Progress"
September 7, 2003 - January 26, 2004
MOCA at California Plaza
250 South Grand Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
General Information (213) 626-6222