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Tone Changes at Disney Hall's Second Gala

October 25, 2003|Diane Haithman | Times Staff Writer

Walt Disney's daughter Diane Disney Miller pondered for a moment as she considered the marked difference in feeling between Thursday's star-studded black-tie opening night at Walt Disney Concert Hall and Friday's performance of contemporary compositions, to which the audience was invited to wear "L.A. chic" attire.

"I think this one is about the music," she said.

True, there were a few Hollywood names at Friday evening's concert -- the second in a series of three sold-out galas to celebrate the launch of the $274-million hall designed by Frank Gehry. The guest list for "Living L.A." -- featuring compositions by Philharmonic Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen and John Adams and a performance by cellist Yo-Yo Ma -- included Jamie Lee Curtis, Dennis Hopper, Diane Keaton and "E.R." producer John Wells.

But luminaries from local political circles and the arts world were more prevalent than show business faces. They included former Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti, L.A. City Council President Alex Padilla, arts patron Ginny Mancini and Barry Munitz, president and chief executive officer of the J. Paul Getty Trust. Philharmonic President Deborah Borda called Friday "a very avant-garde night. That's what L.A.'s all about, many different faces."

And though this concert sold out as quickly as the other two, it attracted die-hard music fans, perhaps more interested in hearing than being seen.

Miller, whose family donated some $112 million toward the construction of the hall named for her father, mingled before the concert in the Founders Room -- along with husband Ron, their seven children and an assortment of grandchildren. She admitted with a laugh that she prefers Bach and Beethoven to new music. But, she said, "it will be interesting."

To photographer and arts patron Betty Freeman, a devotee of new music, the evening seemed "just like a Hollywood movie opening" compared to the type of acquired-taste musical events she frequents. Still, in contrast to the previous night's phalanx of flashbulbs and camera crews, media were scarce on the red carpet. And though the performance was followed by a gala dinner like the night before, there was no blaze of fireworks to end the evening.

Even those visiting from Hollywood seemed to have music, not spectacle, on their minds. Curtis, who attended with husband Christopher Guest, said she had previous commitments that would have kept her from Thursday's gala as well as tonight's movie-themed concert, "Soundstage L.A." But, all things being equal, this was still the event she would have chosen to attend. Why?

"Yo-Yo Ma," she said. "I've never heard someone of his caliber play."

Said billionaire businessman Eli Broad, who is attending all three galas, "every one is different."

Broad, who spearheaded the concert hall funding drive after it stalled in the 1990s, waxed rhapsodic over the role he believes that Disney Hall will play in the revitalization of downtown.

But his wife, Edythe, said her favorite thing about being in Disney Hall on Thursday night was "actually hearing a bassoon, you can never hear the bassoon. The music -- it was exciting hearing music played in that way."

Composer Adams, on hand to hear one of his own works in its world premiere, called the hall "a very emotional space. It is deeply emotional to be in there. You feel a physical connection with everyone in the hall. There are so many modern buildings that make you feel like you're going into hostile, enemy territory. This building is the opposite."

Along with the music, audience members applauded the more relaxed dress code. There were a lot of dark suits and several furs, but one man wore a kilt, and a woman appeared in a tiara with origami stars.

Acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota pulled out his invitation as he walked up the steps to the hall and pointed to the words "L.A. Chic."

"We just found this on our invitation just as we were departing the hotel," he said. "What does this mean?"

Architect Gehry, dressed in black with no tie, said, "It's a little more comfy tonight without all that zoot suit stuff."

And he felt more relaxed inside too. "Last night I was thrilled and shocked and scared," he said. "Going onstage -- that was scary for me."


Times staff writers Reed Johnson and Gina Piccalo contributed to this report.

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