Walt Disney Concert Hall is now officially ten years old. Within that decade, a lot has happened, and off and on during the past few weeks, I’ve been pondering the impact — both profound and innocuous — of the hall’s addition to the cultural landscape of the city and beyond. I figure I’d share them as time and inspiration permit.
First things first: acoustics. By most people’s consideration, the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s new home is among the top orchestral venues in the world. I haven’t been to all the world’s concert halls, but I’ve been to enough of them to know that Disney Hall is special. But how best to describe its qualities in relation to other halls? After much pondering, I think I’ve found a way. . . . I am proud to offer this very detailed analysis, titled:
“If concert halls were cars . . .”
(you’re welcome. . . . please, really, hold your applause until the end)
I’ve only included halls that I’ve personally experienced. The majority of them are in Southern California, but I’ve added a few venues in other cities too. Feel free to add your own thoughts for halls I haven’t listed (or even some different pairings if you disagree with what I’ve put together):
Walt Disney Concert Hall (Los Angeles) = Ferrari: A thrilling combination of curvaceous lines, glamour, and ultra-high performance. Enables the best drivers to really strut their stuff to the maximum, but can also expose weaknesses in a lesser driver’s skills. Some may find it ostentatious, too modern, or even a little gaudy; others may prefer something a little more plush and warm; but are you really going to complain if someone is kind enough to give it to you? Even if it’s 10 years old, it still is pretty bad-ass.
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (Los Angeles) = Lincoln: Definitely past its prime and has seen better days, but still is surviving via a shift in its leading product offerings (sedans vs. SUVs = orchestras vs. operas).
Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall (Costa Mesa) = Lexus: Undeniably comfortable, warm, even luxurious, with some newer technologies to enhance its performance. Perhaps a little too generic in its design, so some people with more exclusive products may look down their noses at it, but most other folks would be absolutely thrilled to have something this nice. Both seem rather appropriate next to South Coast Plaza.
Carnegie Hall (NY) = Rolls-Royce: Name recognition, name recognition, name recognition. There is only one, and to the average person, it is THE benchmark of the ultimate in quality and refinement. Is it truly THE BEST? Maybe, maybe not. But if people know you’ve occupied it for some quality time, no one’s going to deny that you’ve truly arrived.
Avery Fisher Hall (NY) = Chrysler: Doesn’t look all that bad, but quality and reliability is utterly atrocious. Someone should have put it out if its misery a long time ago, but because of its location, someone inexplicably keeps deciding that it’s worth saving. Despite some very good, big-name occupants, avoid if possible.
Ambassador Auditorium (Pasadena) = Jaguar: High-performance origins, reaching its peak in the early eighties. It has gone through some very hard times since then and still feels a little dated, but has thankfully seen a resurgence lately. We all would be better off if/when it is fully restored to its former glory.
Royal Festival Hall (London) = Hyundai: People complained about it, especially when it first appeared on the scene, but it seems to be improving its reputation with a combination of tweaks to the product and a shrewd marketing maneuver or two. Managed to acquire some talent from rivals, which doesn’t hurt.
Orchestra Hall (Chicago) = Hummer: A blunt tool which some will criticize as being dated and unrefined; however, regular users have taken advantage of those traits — even reveled in them — and helped use it to define their image.
Royce Hall, UCLA (Los Angeles) = BMW: Not as fancy as a Ferrari, but definitely high performance in its own way. Some may even prefer it since it is more versatile. So very West LA.
Terrace Theatre (Long Beach) = Buick: Old fashioned, despite its best efforts to be otherwise. Tries to be fancier than it really is, but still manages to do the job reasonably well, even if not very many people experience it. Can thank the Chinese for much of its continued well being.
Broad Theatre (Santa Monica) = Smart: Tiny and new. Not many are familiar with it. Some people swear by it. I found it to be uncomfortable, with bad sight lines, and totally lacking on the high end. The best thing going for it is that parking is super easy.
Zipper Hall, The Colburn School (Los Angeles) = Honda: Not much to look at inside or out, but utterly reliable inside and out. Not something you’d get initially excited about at first, but once you’ve spent time in it, you’re loyal.
Did I miss a hall you’ve visited? Did I get something wrong (unlikely, but possible)? Add your own thoughts in the comments below.
- Ferrari 458 Italia: John Zhang
- Walt Disney Concert Hall: Candice Montgomery via flickr
- Ambassador Auditorium: Association of California Symphony Orchestras
- Jaguar XJ: autobytel.com
- Smart fortwo: Smart USA
This is an obscure one, but Bela Barok Hall at the Palace of Arts in Budapest = Tesla. It’s new(ish) and flashy. High-tech gadgetry abounds. Sleek, modern, and does everything you want it to do. But you get a sense that all this innovation is just stuck inside the shell of an old vehicle that’s past its prime. But, oooh look at the pretty lights on the outside!
Um…yes…make that “Bartok” of course. And here it is: http://mupa.hu/en/bartok-bela-nemzeti-hangversenyterem/
Very nice, sir!
A few weeks ago I had my first opportunity to go the the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam (Mahler #2, Mariss Jansons cond.). As much as I like Disney Hall, I have to say that the Concertgebouw has it beat acoustically. The sound is so live and clear and glamorous that, at least in this first exposure, it distracted me from concentrating on the music. The only thing wrong is that there are quite a few obstructed view seats (behind pillars, or so close to the raised stage that you can’t see anything).
Ah, yes. Never been myself, but I’ve heard similar comments from those who have. A visit there is definitely on my bucket list.
When WDCH was being built, there were three acoustical targets: the Concertgebouw, Symphony Hall in Boston, and the Philharmonie in Berlin. I remember Yasuhisa Toyota (WDCH’s acoustician) say something to the effect that the shoebox-shape of halls like those in Amsterdam & Boston make it easier to have excellent acoustics, with the downside being a less intimate audience experience overall than those with so-called vineyard seating like Berlin. I’ve also heard that the pillars at the Concertgebouw of which you speak help to disperse sound and further improve sound quality — which is great, unless you’re sitting behind them and can’t actually see.
Frank Gehry (and maybe even Lillian Disney) wanted a more intimate audience experience like the one in Berlin (i.e. seats closer to the stage, arranged all around the stage, in smaller clusters instead of one monolithic seating section). Many draft designs passed back & forth between Messers. Gehry and Toyota, and Voila! We have the WDCH we know today.