The artists are introduced by the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s
Executive Director. Walt Disney Concert Hall is the outcome,
she says, of “a 16-year quest.” She speaks of an “intersection
between two iconic figures,” of rendezvous in a “darkened
space,” a midnight party with champagne and whatnot. Gehry’s
Hall is, in reality, “a metaphor of transformation.” There’s
more: “the curves and surprises of this building invite
us,” invite us, reader, “to think thoughts we’ve never thunk
before.” She didn’t really say thunk, I thunk it up and
wrote it for her.
The Ex.D. is evidently a seminarian. F.O.G.’s plan was
to build “a living room for the city.” It will open with
“a community concert” for “young people.” This is all the
expression of “such a magnificent statement.”
We are waiting, but she isn’t finished with her magnificent
statements. Passing on to the other featured guest speaker,
she quotes Goethe as saying “architecture is frozen music.”
F.O.G.’s idea was to have a sonic progression from one note
to whatever. F.O.G. “didn’t like the Haydn symphony we chose,
but that’s Frank.”
“He will influence the way we listen to music in Los Angeles,”
and the nation will follow. With this, she subsides.
The self-described “instigator” of “rigorous and playful
debates” is the Director of the Institute for Art and Cultures,
Paul Holdengräber. He speaks of joyously anticipating
Disney Hall and the glorious opening season, in those words.
He thanks all those who made all this possible at such great
length it sounds like Oscar night. “And now,” thirty minutes
into the program, “I think it’s time to begin this event.”
Holdengräber rather resembles Tim Curry with a Germanic
accent. F.O.G. looks like Steven Spielberg’s father, and
Boulez is looking Belmondoish.
F.O.G.: Where’s Ernest?
This is Ernest Fleischmann, the former Executive Director
who first brought F.O.G. in to put balls on the Hollywood
Bowl shell, ostensibly to improve the acoustics, thirty
FLEISCHMANN: (In the audience.) Where I belong.
Holdengräber puts it to F.O.G.: why music?
F.O.G. has just gotten off a plane from Zurich, so he’s
a little dazed (Boulez has been conducting the Philharmonic
downtown, and preparing for the Ojai Festival).
Why music? Why has F.O.G. taken up the concert hall, at
all, at all?
F.O.G.: Walter Mitty... remember Danny Kaye... thinking
he was... something?
HOLDENGRÄBER: I don’t remember.
F.O.G.: At Notre-Dame I heard Gregorian chants...
those sounds defined the building for me forever.
His mother took him to concerts. Sir Ernest MacMillan was
the conductor. Does Boulez remember him? “No.” (Laughter
in audience.) A student of the violin was F.O.G.’s mum.
Why, Holdengräber persists, build for music?
F.O.G.: I’ve been hanging around with Ernest Fleischmann
and the Philharmonic for ages, and I’ve sort of related
He first heard Boulez conduct at one of the New York Philharmonic
Rug Concerts. I see that someone two rows ahead has dozed
off under his chair. No, it’s a jacket. Holdengräber
is saying, “the precision and the passion.”
F.O.G.: My idea was to make architecture not imposing
and overpowering. There should be a casual character to
it, which requires an enormous amount of careful planning
He discovered that “a conductor doesn’t just wave his hands.”
He once dreamed that Ernest called him up to conduct. He
awoke in a cold sweat.
HOLDENGRÄBER: Do you ever have such dreams
about architecture, Pierre?
BOULEZ: In my worst nightmares I was not dreaming
I became an architect.
Boulez talks about the Rug Concerts, preparing the floor,
putting out cushions (“we were worried a little bit there
might be cushion fights, but everyone behaved very well”),
etc. He describes the Proms at Albert Hall (“That’s a very
big hall.”), and the Arena emptied of its seats, with people
just standing there for the whole concert. Bad acoustics,
he says, mean no contact. The solution is to move the orchestra
in front of the stage, have the audience on the stage, and
thus “the orchestra is taken within the hall.” It sounds
F.O.G.: Disney Hall is a fixed hall. Have we created
Meaning its interior structure is determined and cannot
be varied. Boulez answers with a discussion of the spatial
apparatus in Berlioz’s Requiem, you want “something
more interactive.” He speaks of “a moment of music coming
from a moment of architecture.” He describes conditions
at La Cité de la Musique, and briefly discusses two
architects he’s had dealings with, the builders of IRCAM
and La Cité, respectively.
F.O.G. mentions a problem Boulez has with his pieces, they
always must be overtures or first after the intermission,
because of all the percussion instruments that must be moved
onto the stage. He hopes his solution, which apparently
involves raising the back wall when needed, will be found
BOULEZ: You did it here! Beautiful!
Holdengräber persists with his idea (introducing Boulez,
he said he considered it a coup to have found a photograph
of Boulez smiling for the program, but that he felt disappointed
not to have one of Boulez in a convertible), which is that
if Boulez had a nightmare in which he was somehow an architect,
what sort of concert hall would he build?
BOULEZ: Well, it is possible to have not nightmares,
He then presents himself as a sort of Goldilocks (without
saying so), with a Big Hall like at La Cité capable
of different configurations, a Medium Hall of 1000-1200
seats, and a Small Hall of 500-600. He goes on at some length
with his description, until Holdengräber temerariously
HOLDENGRÄBER: I was talking about acoustics.
Without missing a beat, Boulez continues. “Well, therefore...”
Holdengräber interrupts him again to say that he once
spoke to a régisseur at La Cité who told him
that everything is important for the sound, even what people
BOULEZ: That’s a little bit overdone.
Some say the sound at La Cité is too dry, but...
They have mobile elements to alter the sound. Amplified
music (jazz or pop) requires absorbing material. La Cité
began five years ago.
BOULEZ: Do we do only quote unquote classical music?
Four general types of music are performed at La Cité
de la Musique:
Classical—“baroque to extremely contemporary”
Ethnic—“from the corners of the world”
Pop—“if it’s very elaborate, not only commercial”
“The mobility of the hall helps.” Gagaku is not treated
like classical music.
Holdengräber asks F.O.G. about his “living room for
F.O.G.: I was misquoted, actually.
Holdengräber then quotes Hockney rather extensively
on private vs. public life in Los Angeles.
In answer, F.O.G. describes going to Berlin’s Philharmonic
Hall. “Ernest and the Philharmonic set that as a model.”
It “stimulates interaction of people both in the foyer and
hall.” Not, he says, like the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
He uses the term “Modernist” to describe Berlin’s hall.
He ponders the goal: if you can engage people to listen...
Is it a voyeuristic thing, to watch people listening? (perhaps
he’s thinking of Bergman’s The Magic Flute). “Anybody
do that?”, he asks the audience. There is a murmur between
assent and laughter.
F.O.G. went to a museum once and saw four Breughels. He
pronounces them “extraordinary.” Later, he went back and
the museum was remodeling, so the Breughels were in a small
room and “didn’t look the same,” so that it took twenty
minutes “to get into it.”
Boulez says that at La Cité, a large hall is not
so large, and a small one is not so small.
Holdengräber and F.O.G. discuss Boston’s Symphony
Hall, which the Los Angeles Philharmonic presented to F.O.G.
as ideal, acoustically. “Copy it,” they said. That was a
great hall because great musicians had played there.
BOULEZ: You mean they are missed!
In the course of a colloquy with Holdengräber, Boulez
concedes “a bad hall does not help, certainly.” He adds,
“you are dependent on these kinds of stupid impressions.”
At the Musikverein, the finale of Mahler’s Sixth has a certain
sound. The size of the hall is a factor. One built in the
nineteenth century will have 1700-1900 seats. “After 2000
seats, problems are happening, because of the space.” At
Philharmonic Hall in New York, “which is one-and-a-half
times the size of the Musikverein, the sound does not carry
to the end,” i.e., the back of the hall. The problem is
“psychological,” there is “no contact with the musicians.”
Problems increase as musicians cannot hear themselves or
each other properly.
F.O.G.: Maybe that’s why acousticians are so conservative.
He introduces Dr. Toyota, Walt Disney Concert Hall’s acoustician,
who is seated in the audience. There is a question of guest
conductors having different requirements, of stagehands
configuring the stage for Mozart “or whatever.”
BOULEZ: You cannot please everybody.
A dry sound, Boulez says, is OK for Haydn, but for Bruckner
it’s terrible. A bad hall makes musicians force their playing,
whereas a good hall is like...
HOLDENGRÄBER: A good interlocutor.
BOULEZ: Too flattering a hall is also extremely
F.O.G.: That guy, Ernest, he was my guide.
FLEISCHMANN: (In audience.) Blame me.
Ernest took F.O.G. to concerts, showed him backstage, the
apparatus behind the scenes, what goes on, stagehands, etc.
F.O.G. saw Esa-Pekka (Salonen) rearrange the orchestra on
risers to reduce its sloppiness. There had been “a gradual
denigration of the organization of the orchestra till someone
says ‘what a mess!’” What was the reason? “Musicians,” says
F.O.G., “are rugged individualists.”
F.O.G. is apparently describing a tendency I have only
observed in amateur orchestras, and rarely, where the players
load the stage with personal articles. This, he justly observes,
is reflected in their playing.
But lest his remark be misconstrued, I would point out
how odd it is to sometimes see players in a classical orchestra
looking like lackeys, or in a romantic one like employees.
Only when Boulez came to Los Angeles to conduct Pli Selon
Pli with its vast apparatus did Los Angeles see its
Philharmonic as the versatile professionals they are, with
all their “gear and tackle and trim.”
F.O.G. wonders how two-hundred-year-old paintings still
look fresh. He “relies on natural light” to “caress” his
works, it’s “romantic.”
BOULEZ: You are always puzzled, really, by a masterpiece.
It seems obvious, but you don’t understand how it came to
He tells a story of Diderot in the dark before a new masterpiece,
then seeing the light, and then in darkness again. In response
to F.O.G. he says “there are problems I don’t want to be
explained.” (Audience laughter.)
Holdengräber brings up computers.
F.O.G.: Inevitably we become obsolete, and there’s
a lot of stuff you’re not going to be able to do. The younger
generation free-associate and use the technology instinctively,
though they haven’t built much.
From idea to construction, F.O.G. explains, “several thousand
hands” are involved in his projects. There is a bureaucracy
of construction, so the problem is to bring “the whole thing
to the end with this immediacy... with feeling.”
BOULEZ: I have no trouble with computers. The computer
helps you find material, that’s all. It doesn’t invent thoughts.
He is “interested in the process” but “independent” of
it, because he can “create music without it.” But the technology
is there, “why not use it?” He speaks of being practically
forced to invent “something different. Not a Greek temple,
which doesn’t have curves, certainly.”
F.O.G. says Pheidias “thought of curves, movement of sculpture,”
Boulez “visited” F.O.G.’s “Cleveland building.” He was
interested that they no longer measure the ground but from
other buildings. F.O.G. explains the use of laser pointers
F.O.G.: (To Boulez.) When you compose, how do you think about space?
He’s thinking of Pli Selon Pli, he says, which
is “very spatial.”
HOLDENGRÄBER: That’s a good question.
(Laughter in audience.)
Perhaps F.O.G. is thinking about the disposition
of notes in a good performance, which seem to occupy their
own space, filling the hall.
Boulez discusses the distribution of the ensemble
in Répons, where the players are surrounded
by the audience, who are ringed by computer loudspeakers.
F.O.G. brings up Berlioz, who was (according to Boulez)
“disappointed” by the large orchestra he tried, as it “could
only do slow movements, because of the mass of musicians.”
In the open air, cohesion was impossible, etc.
Holdengräber is now ready to spring. In view
of Boulez’s requirements for a hall in Paris, “F.O.G. is
F.O.G.: I’ve volunteered for it.
BOULEZ: Who have you volunteered to pay for it?
This hall “is like the monster of Loch Ness, you
speak about it always, but...”
“Brahms did this before that, it’s boring to be told
that all the time, by a learning process...” It’s important
to have “tapes available of new music,” which often suffers
from infrequent performance. This should be part of the
concertgoing experience. He imagines proceeding “from one
hall to another in a promenade, with all this documentation.”
HOLDENGRÄBER: (To F.O.G.) What
are your hopes for Walt Disney Concert Hall?
F.O.G. responds by pointing out Dr. Toyota again.
“I call him every day and ask him if he’s feeling good.”
“If it makes the musical experience better, great.”
“If the hall is wonderful, then hopefully the response
will be wonderful.” (Applause.)
The public is invited to ask questions. What kind
of music does F.O.G listen to? He likes things “all over
F.O.G.: I sometimes listen to Pierre.
Why has he given up the “cheapskate” architecture
he used to champion? He hasn’t. The Bilbao Guggenheim only
cost “$300/sq. ft.”
La Scala has great acoustics, even in the last row,
how come? Boulez explains the hall’s “not long but high,
so you don’t lose the energy of the sound.”
This discussion of acoustics finally begun ends there.
F.O.G. “can’t announce Disney Hall’s cost publicly yet,
you’ll eventually hear it, they packed a lot of stuff into
“Form follows function, I don’t think that’s very
important. I don’t... I don’t know... I think... you have
to see it for yourself... figure it out.”
The following questions were not asked:
“F.O.G., you once said ‘Every architect who’s any good,
no matter what they say, is trying to make some kind of
personal mud pie.’ Would you care to dilate on that?”
“M. Boulez, did Xenakis really say you represented
‘something not far from absolute evil’?”