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Notes From the Hall

Take It From One Who Knows: 'Widditch' Plays Second Fiddle to No Venue

October 22, 2003|Roy Tanabe | Roy Tanabe is a violinist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

The United States of America is often referred to as Uncle Sam, and the name of the World Trade Center has been shortened to its initials, WTC. Now "Widditch" is in my vocabulary. As in "I'll meetcha at Widditch" when I arrange meetings with my friends at our new Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Management has cautioned us to make every effort to use "the full name of the hall, Walt Disney Concert Hall, in order to avoid the more pop implications of Disney Hall."

I, for one, have no problem with any pop-ness implicit in "Disney Hall." Indeed, it is with an enormous sense of privilege that I allow my name to be affiliated with the man whose legacy demonstrates unrivaled achievement in all of the related arts, including the art of making an entire world smile.

So, when the abbreviation WDCH first appeared on the orchestra's yearly work schedule, it was with unabashed affection and blatant pride of ownership that I started using the name Widditch.

And now that the transfer of our lives from across the street feels complete, now that I've stopped judging and evaluating each non-right angle and every floating skylight, now that the flying, curvilinear surfaces no longer threaten my equilibrium with their anti-gravitational audacity, I've begun to learn how to relax and be swept up by the sheer jubilation of this building.

Every minute spent in our new hall has become a celebration -- this must be what it feels like to be the staff fiddler in the Cirque du Soleil band.

During a break between rehearsals one day, I decided to forgo lunch and take a quiet, private stroll into the lobby area of the hall. As I let my mind wander along with my feet, I recalled a sequence from a favorite Akira Kurosawa movie, "Dreams," in which the protagonist finds himself entering an oil painting by Vincent van Gogh. The film's technical accomplishment is miraculous: The viewer forgets it is only a special effect as Kurosawa's character walks into and through the painting.

As I stepped onto Frank Gehry's carpet of bright fallen leaves and petals and proceeded through magical glades of seemingly random splashes of filtered light, I was instantly transported into some fanciful giant primeval forest. It was impossible for a Walt Disney animated-feature junkie like me not to be transported into the realm of Bambi's forest, or of Alice's orchestra of singing flowers, or of "Fantasia's" "Rite of Spring."

At the far end, toward the 1st and Hope side of the building, I noticed that a set of double doors had been left open by some of the finish carpenters. I ventured inside, expecting to find myself lost in yet another of the labyrinthine passageways that snake and tunnel through the building like roots. Instead, I was drawn by a different kind of light in the center of this new large room. It was the Founders' Lounge, an area that would soon be made less accessible with the installation of the private double doors of privilege.

I walked to the center and was electrified by the sight above. A sculptured clerestory rose straight above my head and, through a neural network of wires and vines, seemed to be reaching straight through the roof to scoop light right out of the sky. And I thought to myself: "Oh my! Yet another thing to love!"

The orchestra has been playing exceedingly well. We are curious, we are testing and experimenting, we are listening. There is an undeniable overlay of optimism and enthusiasm in our sound.

Yet we understand that this is only the first step in a process of adjustment and refinement as we face the challenges of learning how to play this hall. There's no doubt that controversy will continue for years regarding the acoustics of the hall.

The art of listening is so entirely subjective; so much depends on what one wants to hear or expects to hear or even what one chooses to hear. I've had some brief touring experiences in some of the great halls of the world, and the sound of our hall is indeed different from Amsterdam's Concertgebouw or New York's Carnegie or the Musikverein in Vienna.

Our sound is very, very good.

As a self-admitted subjective listener, I would never dare try to rate these venerable halls. But, from the perspective of an onstage second fiddler, I can attest that the characteristic sound of our new hall has led me to some new discoveries: Ravel's "Bolero" really does begin as nothing more than the thinnest wisp of smoke from the glowing tip of a Gauloise; the rhythms of Stravinsky's "Sacre du Printemps" really can accelerate my heartbeat with its gut-thumping body punches.

I have no doubt in my mind that we are now the resident company of one of the great halls of the world, with this wonderful auditorium beating as the literal heart of Gehry's astonishing design.

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