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Emotional Farewell at Dorothy Chandler

Streamers fly and memories abound as Philharmonic plays its final Music Center concert.

May 26, 2003|Mary McNamara | Times Staff Writer

There were supposed to be roses.

The final piece of the final concert played by the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Sunday was Haydn's "Farewell" Symphony, which, fittingly enough, calls for orchestra members to exit the stage in groups, or pairs or one by one. According to plan A for this particular performance, orchestra members would each leave a rose behind as they went, in tribute to the hall the Philharmonic has called home for almost 40 years. But fearing, perhaps, that this was too funereal, the orchestra opted for streamers instead.

And so, after the symphony, as the players and guest conductor Pierre Boulez returned to the stage, joined by Executive Director Deborah Borda and former Managing Director Ernest Fleischmann, and the standing ovation crescendoed and seemed to crest, bang -- streamers were suddenly everywhere, shot from cannons on stage right and left, and thrown from the stage by every member of the Philharmonic.

Tangled in Mylar and crepe paper, the audience roared.

Then the curtain fell on the L.A. Philharmonic for the first and only time in the orchestra's history, and faster than you could say "See you at Walt Disney Concert Hall in October," it was over.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday May 28, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 61 words Type of Material: Correction
Philharmonic -- An article in Monday's Section A about the final Los Angeles Philharmonic concert in Dorothy Chandler Pavilion misspelled the first name of architect Welton Becket as Welson. A headline accompanying the article incorrectly stated that the concert ended the Philharmonic's tenure at the Music Center. Its new home, Walt Disney Concert Hall, is a part of the Music Center.

There already had been a preliminary farewell, when the Philharmonic's music director, Esa-Pekka Salonen, conducted his last concert with the orchestra in the Chandler earlier this month. Sunday's concert was the last of the 2002-03 season. It was the third time in four days that the musicians had played the Haydn symphony, the third time the players had left the stage in twos, clicking off the lights of their music stands with a sound as distinctive as a parent switching off a child's light at night.

They will rehearse twice more on this stage, but Sunday was the last time they would face an audience in those orange velvet seats beneath those iconic crystal chandeliers, the last time they would look up at the embracing curve of the balconies full of people.

"I've resisted the temptation to be sentimental," said David Howard, a bass clarinetist, "but I have been in this orchestra for 22 years. I've left a lot of notes hanging on these walls. I look at the curves of the Founders Circle and I know the shape of this place like I know my own body."

As they came backstage to prepare for their last performance, most of the musicians and the support staff said they felt surprisingly emotional. Sunday's performance began with a short film clip of musicians and staff talking about the history of the orchestra and the hall.

Some of the stories reach back to the pre-Music Center days, when the group performed at the Philharmonic Auditorium at 5th and Olive streets, and all of them were a poignant reminder that many of these people grew up in the Philharmonic, and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

And not just those on stage. At intermission, audience members shared their decades of memories. Rodriguez Gilbert and his wife, Catalina, have come often over the years, together and with their daughters. He first heard the Philharmonic at its then-brand-new home when he was in high school. "It was really something," he said. "So modern."

Designed by Los Angeles architect Welson Becket, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion was named for the woman who was the driving force behind the development of the Music Center, and it was unveiled with pomp and hyperbolic detail -- 72,000 pieces of crystal were used for the three chandeliers. Some 16,000 square feet of honey-toned onyx was imported from Mexico for the walls of the foyer and the Grand Hall.

The orchestra, established in 1919, had spent the previous 44 years sharing the Philharmonic Auditorium, less than a mile away, with the Temple Baptist Church.

Emily Priest and Betty Siccombe remember well that old auditorium and the excitement surrounding the opening of the Music Center in 1964.

"The orchestra has grown as the hall has grown as the city has grown," Siccombe said.

"And it's so nice to see so many of the old players we've seen for so many years," added Priest.

A bittersweet emotion was almost palpable in the moments when the sound of the orchestra tuning gave way to silence, in the looks the musicians gave one another as Boulez took the stage. As the Prelude of Bartok's Four Orchestral Pieces began, a sense of melancholy hung in the air with the notes. But as the violin bows swooped and the flutes sent restless notes soaring, the sadness turned wild, a reminder that music is a wandering thing, it doesn't need a permanent home.

And it wasn't surprising that the overriding emotion was excitement. Much more Mylar streamer than long-stemmed rose.

"I've had 32 years of memories here, many, no most of them, fabulous," said Dennis Trembly, principal bassist. "I've been working here more than half my life, gone from youth to middle age here."

He was also wearing a Mickey Mouse tie in symbolic enthusiasm for the group's new home, an enthusiasm his colleagues seemed to share.

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