Man Without Qualities

Monday, November 17, 2003

Not Disneyland

Last night the Man Without Qualities and spouse attended the first concert and gala dinner of the Los Angeles Master Chorale at the new Disney Hall. (Mr. Five Per Cent had to be left at home, to his great disappointment. School night.)

It would be hard to imagine a more exceptional evening. The Master Chorale is moving a bit more into modern music under the guidance of Grant Gershon, who took over from Paul Salamunovich a couple of years ago, and last night's program reflected that shift. After a cocktail party peopled by appealingly gowned ladies and their penguin squires in an architecturally interesting backstage indoor-outdoor niche, the concert began with the plainchant hymn Veni creator spiritus (Come, creative spirit) and Johann Sebastian Bach's Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied (Sing to the Lord a New Song).

Then there were some new songs.

Specifically, there were world premiers of two works composed jointly by Bobby McFerrin and Roger Treece: Brief Eternity and Messages Yes, he's the Bobby McFerrin of "Don't Worry, Be Happy." I have heard Mr. McFerrin conduct the Los Angeles philharmonic previously, and I was impressed by him then, although he did not then conduct his own music. Mr. McFerrin bridges the Classical/Popular divide very well - to my ears, a lot better than Leonard Bernstein did. I don't know anything about Mr. Teech except that he was there last night in the role of an engaging and talented and apparently very young man. The scores were just wonderful. Balanced, unintimidated, good humored, unpretentious, approachable, subtle and very well crafted. Very good music that wants very much to be liked.

The concert ended with the shimmering efflorescence of John Adams' "Harmonium" - first presented at the opening of Davies Hall in San Francisco twenty years ago. Well worth the detour.

Of course the Hall itself was also very much on the premiere program. Everyone seemed to love it. Just confusing enough to make you respect its personality without being maddening. Most importantly, the acoustics are really superb and the auditorium space is amazingly intimate. Spectacular. In its entire 1,000 years of life, Veni creator spiritus surely never had a better performance or hearing. The smell of douglas fir - of which virtually every interior surface in the auditorium is faced - was strong and remarkably comforting and appropriate.

The Man Without Qualities cannot wait to hear the Master Chorale perform Spem in Allium at Disney Hall - Thomas Tallis' forty part choral harmony from religiously confused Tudor England. Not scheduled, but inevitable.

That so little West Los Angeles money is in this Hall - Eli Broad being a wonderful exception, as he is in so many things - is just a disgrace. Nobody wants to say that out loud and spoil the festivities. But it's true. On the other hand, you West Siders: IT'S NOT TOO LATE TO OPEN THOSE CHECKBOOKS!!! A musician is waiting!

[Note to Disney Hall management: Check with industrial perfumeries to replicate that douglas fir scent for injection through the ventilation system once the real thing fades. Warning: Don't try this at home - severe risk of entire house smelling like kitchen floor cleaner.]

If one were to have gone by the publicity attending the Hall's opening, one could have been forgiven for concluding that Disney Hall was entirely created by its genius architect on his computer (what he termed his "magic pen"), then passed to the genius acoustic designer for refinement (construction of the building was actually finished six months early to permit the acoustics to be worked out before the opening), and then - with the stroke of a well-finance and expensive Star Ship Enterprise transporter just materialized on its site. That is, there was almost no mention in that opening publicity literature of Mortensen Construction, the company that actually built the Hall.

But during the period of those opening festivities (none of which was attended by the Man Without Qualities) I was able to break bread at an excellent Silverlake Indian restaurant with a senior representative of Mortensen Construction - and I can assure you it is no accident that even with all the fur, accusations and charges flying during the Hall's construction nobody pointed a finger at Mortensen Construction. Keep this in mind: If you build a controversial Quarter-Billion Dollar public building and nobody thinks to talk about you in public before or when it opens you've done a superb job.

Among other amazing, poetic and unreported aspects of the Disney Hall construction process, Mortensen Construction used "4-D" construction sequencing software that was developed with a good amount of help from the animators at Walt Disney Company.

One imagines that notwithstanding the lack of publicity people who in the future need to build huge, high-style public spaces using tricky engineering and technology will somehow find out about Mortensen Construction - and that the Disney Hall administration will amply express it's gratitude and admiration at that time.

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