By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
It could be different the 20th time around, but the basic result of Disney Hall’s crazy asymmetries is crazy asymmetry. Which is to say that if you sit in the next-to-last row of the auditorium, a mere bassoon reed’s toss from the undulating ceiling, set after set of spruce breakers coming straight at your head, you may feel as if you’ve had your third martini even if you’re sober as a violist.
Also, not to put too fine a point on it, the auditorium is finished with what must be a square kilometer of the kind of blond wood favored by proprietors of extremely expensive Japanese restaurants, which gives the appearance, especially with the skewed chopsticks-in-rice look of the organ pipes, of floating atop the world’s largest sushi bar.
Did I mention Disney Hall is beautiful? It is, sort of, in the nutty way that the Palau is in Barcelona, scrappy Mozart among acres of art nouveau, or even Red Rocks outside Denver, where you can go to see Phish or Yanni amid incredible natural beauty.
But tonight, at the second night of concerts at Disney Hall, something is a little . . . off.
The first piece of the evening, Salonen’s own L.A. Variations, is stuffed with obligatory references to traffic noise, Mexican radio and soundstage swoons, but essentially a bricolage of big-orchestra clichés: Coplandesque bleats, sub-Straussian horn riffing, hard-charging Bartokianisms.
L.A. Variations, with its supple contrabassoon lines, the crisp resonance of the brass, the clean separation of high violin and flute sold the virtues of the hall with the finesse of a high-end stereo salesman pushing a $7,500 pair of speakers.
On paper, John Adams’ The Dharma at Big Sur must have seemed like a great idea, a stew of the neo-Balinese textures of the late California composer Lou Harrison and both the early minimalist technique and the mid-period Sri Camel lyricism of California composer Terry Riley, but the first half of the piece, at least, is mired in the worst sort of 94.7 chinoiserie, in the guise of Tracy Silverman, a true Kenny G. of the electric violin, whose bleats and burps and ululations are reminiscent of the unfortunate East/West experiments the orchestra conducted 30 years ago with poor Ravi Shankar, an essay in hippie mysticism that signals a genteel contempt for the Los Angeles sensibility, whatever it might be.
And then it occurs to me: This is a concert about going to a concert, with a wink that says, “We know you’d rather be home listening to Radiohead — us too.’’ It’s the ironic distance, the mid-’80s aesthetic in which the hall was conceived, in which Gehry was transforming himself from an architect best known locally for his connections in the art scene into an international architect who had absorbed and synthesized the local art scene’s favorite issues. It’s an attempt on behalf of art to make itself “cool” by not taking itself too seriously. It’s a $6.98 CD in $274 million wrapping paper.
Is this to whom that “Wonder-Phil” ad campaign is addressed?
Anyway, thanks for the Lutoslowski Cello Concerto. Awesome. And nice hall, man.
The Gehry EffectThere’s a certain undeniable creative charge to Frank Gehry’s breathtaking Disney Hall. Walking past and under its billowing arcs of metal, I’m besieged by vivid surrealist interpretations — “like a giant baby’s first tossed salad electroplated in chrome.” While public opinion and funding for the hall have waxed and waned over the decade of its glacial erection, I’ve always taken pleasure in it and looked forward to its completion — though even if it had remained a rusting skeleton it would have been the best building on Bunker Hill. As an artwork in and of itself, I can endorse it wholeheartedly. But in a broader cultural perspective I have a few reservations.
I already had issues with Frank Gehry’s influence on contemporary culture, even before my neighbor decided it would be pretty hip to tear out the crumbling redwood fence between us and replace it with tacked-up sheets of corrugated galvanized aluminum. Gehry’s own incorporations of bare-ass materials into high-end architectural designs are usually witty and imaginative — and they keep getting better — but the trickle-down effect of several generations of less inventive monument builders has raised ugly to new heights, with cut-and-paste tract homes and cinder-block strip malls festooning their facades with gratuitous fragments of the urban industrial landscape as if to say, “Look at me! I’m postmodern!” Like the vision of the ’80s hadn’t died out but merely gone underground, only to erupt in a thousand coke-fueled points of rain-washed back-alley neon light.
On top of this I have problems with architects (not to mention automobile designers and has-been actresses) taking up space in art museums when some painter or video artist earning, oh, about 10,000 times less a year could have filled the slot. Sure, architects make art, but let them build their own fucking museums. That is to say, if building the museum itself isn’t enough, they can pay to build a second one to display their doodles and laundry lists. Or I guess they can just rent one. Which brings us to “Work in Progress,” Frank Gehry’s enormous MOCA exhibition of sketches and models for a dozen current or failed projects, scheduled to coincide with Disney Hall’s opening. Gehry considers himself the artists’ architect, palling around with the Ferus Gallery bad boys back in the day, and recounting tasty Richard Serra anecdotes in New Yorkerprofiles. His signature aesthetic was always firmly rooted in 1960s sculptural traditions, even as it became perhaps the most widely accepted lingua franca of postmodernism.