L.A. Phil

by Jon Mandle on April 2, 2004

I’m back from my trip to Pasadena for the mini-conference on “Global Justice.” (It was great.) My title, however, refers not to philosophy but to the L.A. Philharmonic. I’ll post something about the conference if I find the time and can think of anything interesting to write, but I want to say something about my visit to the new Frank Gehry-designed Disney Theater.

The concert was Shostakovich, Symphony no.9, and Mahler, Songs from ‘Des Knaben Wunderhorn’ sung by Matthias Goerne. The star of the show – there’s no doubt – was the building. It’s spectacular. Up close, it looks pretty much as you’d expect it from pictures, but a few things stood out in person. Most of all, it’s – well – pretty. It’s not at all cold, as you might expect from a big metal thing with no windows in the main surfaces. I hadn’t quite registered (what’s perfectly obvious) that the whole complex is radically asymmetrical, inside and out (except for the concert space itself). There are all kinds of oddball spaces, stairwells, lobbies, etc. filling out the area between the concert space and the outer shell. Usually, I don’t like that kind of thing – it often strikes me as too self-conscious and trying call attention to its own breaking away from expectations. But not here – it all seems completely natural and relaxed and really wonderful.

The main concert space is much bigger and more open than I expected from pictures – such as this seating chart. Seating goes all the way around the stage – I sat directly stage right. The acoustics were generally great. There was a pre-concert string quartet, and everything – and I mean everything – was crystal clear. The Shostakovich sounded wonderful, too. The Mahler was a bit of a let-down acoustically – the quite parts were great, but the vocals were sometimes drowned out by the orchestra. I think this was probably because I was sitting on the side of the stage and Goerne was projecting straight ahead.

The playing was very good, but not spectacular. Still, the audience burst into applause between movements of the Shastakovich. (After the intermission, the conductor “suggested” that we not applaud between songs of the Mahler – whereupon the audience burst into applause.) My interpretation: everyone was just very excited to be there. It was very exciting.



SomeCallMeTim 04.02.04 at 3:17 am

You tricked me – the phrase “L.A. Phil” should only be used (at least for the next two months) to reference Phil Jackson, coach of the Lakers. He’s pretty philosophical too.


carlos 04.02.04 at 4:57 am

true that… but Disney Hall is beautiful… totally unlike the new cathedral. its cool but not as striking as the concert hall.


Kriston 04.02.04 at 7:13 am

I’m encouraged by your enthusiasm, but in general, I think Americans are entirely too ready to appease Gehry’s vision. His firm has done great things for architecture; his mathematical-modeling advances might be worth study alone even were he not executing buildings. At the same time the extensive intellectual capital required to produce one of his works mean that the visible ingenuity of his design has tapered off.

I wonder about the wisdom of granting him major commissions in so many American cities. The newt two years will see major pieces executed in both Chicago and DC, leaving, really, only NYC as a major Am city untouched by Gehry.


dsquared 04.02.04 at 8:57 am

The concert was Shostakovich, Symphony no.9, and Mahler, Songs from ‘Des Knaben Wunderhorn’ sung by Matthias Goerne. The star of the show – there’s no doubt – was the building.

god on a program like that I’d be trying to listen to the architecture too!


Mark Barton 04.02.04 at 12:01 pm

This is so wrong – I’m an Australian who’s been reading your blog from Pasadena, but I’m in Australia on a business trip, while you’re in Pasadena. Also, I had the honour of being in the first choir ever to make noise in the Disney Concert Hall (before it even opened). It is indeed a beautiful space.


Kenny Easwaran 04.03.04 at 7:17 am

I was at the same concert last Friday, when I was visiting my parents in Orange County on spring break! (Were you there on Friday or a different night?)

It wasn’t just your angle – I was also disappointed with Goerne’s projection on the Mahler, and in general the Mahler didn’t live up to the Shostakovich. But I always love hearing any Mahler live. Especially in a place like that! (Though the acoustics were a bit too good – the audience sounds were much more distracting than usual, especially since LA audiences seem to be the kind that applaud between movements.)


Jon Mandle 04.03.04 at 2:02 pm

I was there on the Friday. I wasn’t too distracted by the crowd noise – I’ve been to concerts with much worse-behaved audiences, which really annoy me, and I didn’t mind applause between movements, although it surprised me. On the other hand, did you hear any of the quartet pre-concert? It was very nice, but people were moving around and to their seats during it, and their footsteps were *loud*!


Kenny Easwaran 04.07.04 at 11:40 am

I didn’t know there was a pre-concert quartet! My family got delayed in traffic before dinner, and arrived at our seats at 8:08, which seems to be a fairly standard actual starting time for most concerts.

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