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Cover story | SEATS

Economy comfort at first-class price

October 23, 2003

As Frank Gehry and Esa-Pekka Salonen visited concert halls around the world, developing ideas for the Walt Disney Concert Hall, they also gathered more sensory impressions -- in their seats.

In the new hall, Poltrona Frau, the German company that also designs car seats for Ferrari and Mercedes-Benz, custom made the 2,265 seats using fabric and foam designed to absorb sound waves as the human body does. If the seat is unoccupied, the sound won't suffer.

Impressive? Not nearly enough, according to some subscribers who had a sneak preview. "I would have expected that it would be comparable to sitting in first class or business class, but what you got was the worst of economy class," said Perry Bloom, a pension plan consultant and a 20-year Los Angeles Philharmonic subscriber.

Bloom spent $600 for a Saturday series in the new hall but was disappointed with the seats and aisles, which he found narrow and difficult to access. "I'm not a big person. I'm 5 foot 10 and slender built," he said. Wherever he sat in the hall, he said, "my knees were bumping into the seat in front of me."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday November 12, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 0 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Disney Hall -- A article in the Oct. 23 Calendar Weekend about the seats at Walt Disney Concert Hall mistakenly said that the company that made the seats, Poltrona Frau, is German. It is Italian.

If people are trying to pass, "you must stand up," he said. "That may be a courtesy, but at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, you don't have to do it."

The shape of the hall, rather than the humans who will occupy it, resulted in seats of varying widths -- a 2-inch differential in some spots. Ticket holders in high-priced seats directly in front of the stage get a few more inches of legroom, and 28 seats are designated for disabled patrons.

Bloom found a few seats in his price range with more legroom and has asked the Phil to change his subscription. If he can't get those seats, he plans to cancel his subscription.

Patricia Mitchell, chief operating officer at the Phil, says: "There's varying legroom due to the design" of the hall. She said the Phil is trying to accommodate people like Bloom by exchanging their seats.

After a test run, Fredrick Dean Altizer of West Hollywood, who had spent $554 on a Saturday series, deemed the seats "narrow and cramped." The cushion seemed "futon-like," and there is not sufficient legroom, he said. The problem is grave enough that Altizer is also trying to cancel his subscription. Thus far, he hasn't heard from the Phil. "The idea that I can get a better seat for $9 at my local cineplex than I can get at Disney Hall for $68 is insulting."

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