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THE ARTS : When Disney's Done, What Then? : Some observers fear that the coming $200-million Disney Concert Hall will become ruler of the Music Center; others believe that the addition ofthe venue will allow for new and different programming throughout

April 10, 1994|DIANE HAITHMAN | Diane Haithman is a Times staff writer

In 1997, the Music Center's Dorothy Chandler Pavilion will get a flashy new neighbor: the $200-million Frank O. Gehry-designed Disney Concert Hall. Disney Hall will become the new home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic--as well as the spectacular new showpiece of Bunker Hill's Los Angeles Music Center.

And suddenly, the stately Chandler, current home of the Philharmonic and the annual Academy Awards, will become the symphony orchestra's old house.

"Disney Hall, I predict, is going to become not just a symbol for Los Angeles, but a point of entry to the Pacific Rim of the United States," said Music Center President Shelton g. Stanfill during a recent conversation.

According to Stanfill, the bright white limestone-and-stainless-steel structure--which has been compared to everything from a flower to furled sheets of paper to the Sydney (Australia) Opera House--will energize and humanize the Music Center. He said that Disney Hall--along with a new, improved Ahmanson Theatre, which is undergoing a massive "reconfiguring" and is to reopen in 1995--will change the elitist aura of the Music Center to something more user-friendly.

But what about the Pavilion?

The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion was named after Music Center founder Dorothy Buffum Chandler, now 93, wife of former Los Angeles Times Publisher Norman Chandler. The building--a chandeliered structure ringed by columns--was the first Music Center theater to open, in 1964. In 1967, it was joined by the Mark Taper Forum and the Ahmanson Theatre (where "Phantom of the Opera" ran for four years before closing last August).

There are those who hail Disney Hall--initiated by a $50-million gift from Walt Disney's widow, Lillian, in 1987--as the savior of the Music Center. They see a bright future with new, expanded programming moving into the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, including increased opportunities for dance. But there are others, including skeptical members of the Music Center board of governors, who have worried in recent years that Disney Hall will become the Music Center, draining life from the existing theaters.

Not only does the L.A. Philharmonic's move to Disney Hall create a vacuum at the Dorothy Chandler, but the Music Center's operating company must be responsible for making use of Disney Hall during the 12 to 14 weeks a year the Philharmonic will not perform there because of its touring commitments and the Hollywood Bowl season.

The immediate destiny of the Ahmanson--after its $17-million face lift is complete--has already been determined: The Broadway hit "Miss Saigon" will open there in January for a nine-month run. The Mark Taper Forum will maintain its theater season of four or five plays a year. But the future of the Chandler Pavilion remains a more open question.

Gordon Davidson, Center Theatre Group artistic director/producer, joked that when Disney Hall was first proposed, resident company directors' primary worry wasn't that Disney Hall would drain artistic resources, "just all the money--that's all." Indeed, some board members have protested that building a $200-million concert hall in the midst of a recession--for a symphony that already has a place to perform--represents a waste of funds.

Further, because the Disney gift will cover only part of the cost of building Disney Hall, board members worried that fund-raising for Disney Hall will exacerbate the already difficult task of raising funds to support the Music Center's four resident performing companies: the Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Music Center Opera, Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum and the Master Chorale. (Since 1987, accrued interest and additional gifts from the Disney family have raised the Disney contribution to $92 million.)

Music Center officials acknowledge that initial plans for Disney Hall raised fears as well as hopes, but they say that most concerns have been resolved.

"You are not going to see dark houses here because of Disney Hall," said Sandra Kimberling, president of the Music Center Operating Co., which is responsible for scheduling the various resident company performances and other attractions into Music Center theaters. "With the growth of Disney Hall is going to come growth in all the buildings. It is going to encourage growth. We aren't going to hear people saying, 'But how are you going to fill it?' "

Kimberling cited three main proposals that could keep the lights on at the Dorothy Chandler: an expanded opera season, more dance programs and more musicals. She added that there is no danger of the Academy Awards' moving to Disney Hall because that hall will not have a proscenium stage.

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