Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Disney at Disney

As an early birthday present, Mr. Insom bought tickets at the Walt Disney Concert Hall to watch "The Disney Symphonic Legacy", performance featuring works from Nightmare Before Christmas, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Lion King, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White.

One year we saw Joshua Bell (if you haven't read the Pultizer prize-winning story in the Washington Post of him playing undercover-style to commuters, you really should).
This year it was all about Disney - which was apropos and actually the first time an all Disney program had been played in the Disney Concert Hall (go figure). I'm not a Disney affectionado, but I thought I'd give it a shot.

But before I get into the details of the performance, I've got to talk about this extraordinary venue.

Designed by Frank Gehry and acoustically designed by Yasuhisa Toyota, the Walt Disney Concert Hall has been lauded as one of the most premiere concert venues in the world. The entire complex is on 4 acres and consists of the 2 outdoor amphitheaters, garden, smaller recital hall where pre-concert talks are given.

I loved how he went from this

to this

It serves as the home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Master Chorale and is the perfect blend of form and function. Gehry originally intended the building to be covered in stone, but changed his mind, partly because he felt that the shiny surface would work well in the changing and reflecting light of the Los Angeles sun.

Speaking of reflecting sun, here's an interesting little tidbit I learned on wikipedia...

Parts of the concert hall were initially made with highly polished reflective panels which were amplified by the structure's concave walls. Nearby residents of neighboring condominiums suffered from a reflected sunlight glare that was concentrated in a manner similar to a parabolic mirror. The resulting heat made some rooms of nearby condominiums unbearably warm, caused the air-conditioning costs of these residents to skyrocket, and created hot spots on adjacent sidewalks of as much as 140 ºF!

After complaints from neighboring buildings and residents, Gehry Partners conducted a computer analysis of the building's surfaces identifying the offending panels. In 2005 these were dulled by lightly sanding the panels to eliminate unwanted glare and prevent people from being fried.

I find this sort of hilarious.

These tree columns in the lobby are wrapped in douglas fir and provide structural stability as well as a graceful entry.

Douglas fir panels create the soaring overhead canopy in the auditorium. That particular wood is used throughout the venue because of its aesthetic similarity to the wood used in musical instruments. It creates a warm and cozy atmosphere. It sort of feels as though you're sitting in a great big barge or ark.

Every corner you turn in this place offers an interesting view.


This is how it looks at night.

This is how it looks at night with a crappy iphone camera.



The hall seats 2,265 people and honestly, there are few bad seats in the house. The seat you select should depend on the particular performance. The musicians are on slight risers and the back of the theater isn't very far away from the stage at all.


For our performance, we were on the front left side of the front orchestra which gave us great views of the singers during the Snow White piece.

However, I would have preferred to be further back and higher up (like maybe the East and West sections or the upper orchestra and terrace) because there were lots of cool percussion elements in the Nightmare and Pirates pieces that I could barely see. These orchestra west seats would have been cool, for example.

Sitting behind the orchestra and the choir would have been awesome too for the first half of this concert. One of my favorite things about participating in music performances was the communication that goes on between the conductor and the musicians. As an audience member, you aren't privy to that, but if I were to sit in the orchestra view seats, I can get that experience.

I just bought tickets to see Elgar's cello concerto (squee!) in March (since it's a concerto, I got direct center seats at the back of the orchestra section so the cellist will be facing me), but the next orchestral concert I go to, I'm totally doing the orchestra view.

My seats:



On the program was

The Nightmare Before Christmas - Concert Oveture* (Danny Elfman)
Sleeping Beauty - Suite (Peter Tchaikovsky)
Pirates of the Caribbean - A Symphonic Portrait* (Hans Zimmer)
The Lion King - Suite (Elton John/Hans Zimmer)


Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs - A Symphonic Retelling* (Frank Churchill & Larry Morey)

*World symphonic premiere

Conducting the orchestra was longtime Hollywood Bowl Orchestra conductor John Mauceri making his Disney Concert Hall Debut. When he approached the podium and turned to the audience, thunderous applause drowned out his introduction. He marveled at the concert hall, especially how the audience has a visible view of the stage from all vantage points, and served as a thoughtful host for the evening by providing plenty of detail about each of the performed pieces. He also arranged and prepared all of the works for performance.

I love love love Nightmare Before Christmas. It's right up there in The Grinch Who Stole Christmas territory for me. I would love to see it on Broadway. And I thought Danny Elfman did a marvelous job with composing the score and songs. This was the premiere of the orchestral version of the overture, and Elfman was in attendance. I would have walked by him as I have no idea what he looks like, but since Mr. Insom was an Oingo Boingo fan, he pointed him out to me.

As much as I enjoyed Nightmare, I thought Pirates was the highlight of the first half. It's amazing how much of the character of those movies is directly derived from the music. From the jolly "a pirate's life for me" to plaintive "heave ho, thieves and beggars, never shall we die," that movie had many memorable music moments. With the help of a full choir from a local university, Mauceri managed to capture all three films in a three movement piece. Really well done.

The first movement, "The Living and the Dead," featured etheral and ominous sounds from a wordless choir of the hereafter. The second movement, "Jack Sparrow," was a rousing tribute to the bad boy pirate. "Hoist the Colors and Drink Up, Me Hearties," opened with a melancholic boy soprano singing the song from the third film complete with clanging tubular bells which shifted into a triumphal march. And of course it wouldn't have been a Pirates musical moment without a lusty choral rendition of the original song ("drink up me hearties, yo ho!") from the ride that still runs at Disneyland.

The final selection (and what most of the audience was waiting for) was Snow White.

No, not slutty Snow White... pure and virginal Snow White who liked to sing with furry woodland creatures.

Yep, that's the one. Mauceri adapted the original Snow White script and score into a semi-staged reading for 10 singer-actors, orchestra, and choir and the result was a resounding success. As he described pouring through the "yellowing manuscripts" of 1937 in his attempts to create this abridged version, the audience listened in palatable rapture.

The dwarfs were seated on right hand of the stage, the other three characters on the left. It must be have been challenging to do these roles - unlike a typical stage performance, you're not looking at your fellow actors, but instead facing the audience. There were no elaborate costumes, no props at the actors' disposal. All they had were their bodies and voices to convey the characters.

Many of the songs were familiar - "Whistle While You Work", "Someday My Prince Will Come", "Heigh Ho" - but were experienced in a richer way during this piece.

Snow White was appropriately saccharine sweet, and Ashley Brown was pitch perfect in her role.

The evil Queen brought the homicidal crazy in spades and made a nearby little girl cower next to her mother. I knew the actress Ruth Williamson from Nip/Tuck, and she was amazing in this performance. Pretty scary! I remember my little brother hated Snow White when he was a kid because he found it terrifying. After watching this, I can easily see why.

The dwarfs inhabited their namesakes well and provided many hilarious moments. Doc did a great job blustering and Grumpy had a scowl on his face for most of the performance. Great job with the acting - I enjoyed them very much.

I was most impressed by the duet with Snow White and her little whistling bird friend (a couple of the sopranos in the choir), especially since I can't whistle. Those women were like whistling sixteenth notes! lol

When the performance ended, it was as though a spell had broken and the audience lept to their feet to give an extended ovation for several minutes. I can't remember the last time I've witnessed such excitement in a concert hall.

As an encore, the performers did "True Love's Kiss" from Enchanted which pokes good-natured fun at Snow White and the assorted Disney canon.

I left with a smile on my face. Disney's not all bad after all. :)


HaveShoesWillTravel said...

That sounds awesome. And it looks very similar to Gehry's outside concert venue in Chicago.

10yearstogether said...

Wow! What a beautiful venue! And I love Disney. =)

{grace} said...

I'm LMAO over the slutty Snow White. The egg cooking photo was also most amusing.

I love Enchanted! I know all the songs. Hee!

weezermonkey said...

I'm going to the Hall in December! Love the preview. :)

dapotato said...

i can't whistle, either! i LOVE LOVE LOVE the concert hall as a venue. the actual inside of the concert hall is seriously so good.

great recap of the exterior siding issue. this project had so much drama and many other fun stories and folklore surrounding it. there's a documentary on it, if you're interested.

amber said...

That show sounds really cool. The concert hall is gorgeous and I've lunched there several times, but I've never seen a show there. Sadness. :(

SinoSoul said...

mezzanine/terrace yields the best sound/scene 99% of the time. almost doesn't matter which concert hall. This particular set list sounds so friggin cool tho.