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Hollywood Has Fine Romance With Gehry's Sound Palace

October 26, 2003|Reed Johnson and Gina Piccalo | Times Staff Writers

On Saturday night, the new Walt Disney Concert Hall showed once again that it has plenty of friends in high places.

Billionaire businessmen have opened their checkbooks for it, politicians have gone to bat for it, and Saturday, Hollywood turned out several of its heaviest weights to help toast architect Frank Gehry's $274-million cultural temple.

"Walt and Frank are the perfect match, an artistic marriage made in heaven," Steven Spielberg told the black-tie crowd at the last of three galas that christened the new residence of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Both in its ambience and in its musical attractions, Saturday's soiree had a distinctly Hollywood feel to it. The program consisted of excerpts from some of the industry's most memorable scores -- "King Kong," "Wuthering Heights," "Vertigo" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," among other silver-screen classics.

Esa-Pekka Salonen, the Philharmonic's music director, alternated conducting duties, tag-team style, with John Williams, the celebrated Hollywood composer-conductor.

Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta-Jones introduced the program together and bantered about the unique symbiosis that has existed over the years between Hollywood and classical music -- though Hanks made it clear that music, not the movies, was the evening's true guest of honor.

"There will be no clips tonight," he joked.

Though Hollywood celebrities made up only a fraction of Saturday's crowd, the symbolism of the occasion was evident to many.

The film industry's Powers That Be have often felt estranged from the city's cultural establishment, and vice versa.

But a number of guests expressed the conviction that the new hall could be, to borrow an old Hollywood line, the start of a beautiful friendship.

"I'm sorry for Mickey Mouse, but I think now when people think of Los Angeles, they're not going to think of a mouse," quipped actor Michael York.

Other celebrities worked the press line, all of them juggling to find the sound bite that articulated the impact of Gehry's building.

"I was going to say it looked like aluminum jello gone amok, but that's a bad thing to say," Hanks told the E! Entertainment network, his wife, Rita Wilson, beside him on their way into the hall.

Zeta-Jones arrived, a burst of tangerine and rhinestones in her Dolce & Gabbana gown.

"It's breathtaking," she said of the hall. "When I saw it from the outside, I wanted to go up and touch ... smooth it. It's very sensual." Then she was whisked away by her publicist to pose with DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg and his entourage.

Salonen strolled up with his wife and their two young daughters just in time to pose with actress Rene Russo.

"I'm starting to believe it's true, not just a dream," he said of the building. "We've discovered the hall is really an instrument you can play."

His counterpart, Williams, described the inspiration for "Soundings," a piece he wrote for the gala.

"When I looked at the exterior of this building, I wondered what it would sound like if we played it," he said. In creating his new work, he incorporated the sounds of cut metal plates and synthesizers to express the feeling of the hall. He wanted it to sound, he said, "as if the mother ship is singing to us."

When Gehry arrived, Philharmonic President Deborah Borda walked up, grabbed his hand and kissed his cheek.

"We're in love," she said. Pause. "With this building."

Screenwriter Naomi Foner, mother of acting siblings Maggie and Jake Gyllenhaal, said, "Speaking as a New Yorker, this is beginning to feel like a real city."

Each of the three opening galas had its own theme, musically and otherwise.

First, Thursday night, came the old guard -- longtime Philharmonic benefactors and L.A. arts community leaders.

On Friday the avant-garde set turned out to hear a program that included the world premiere of John Adams' "The Dharma at Big Sur," a tremendous hit with the crowd.

By that time, event planner Marianne Weiman Nelson, whose company Special Occasions Inc. coordinated all three galas, was operating on two hours of sleep. She planned to stay up all night again to prepare the Art Deco tent for Saturday's performance. And she will have to do it all over again Monday for the premiere of the latest movie in the "Matrix" franchise.

The fact that the new film is having its debut at a venue normally associated with Mozart and Mahler, said Borda, speaks to what distinguishes Disney Hall from its predecessors, and what's different about the L.A. of today from the city of generations past.

"I think the city's been through a lot, with the riots and the Northridge earthquake, and I think it's tempered the steel of the city," she said. "It's a city that's not afraid of diversity, and I like to think our programming reflects that."

As for Gehry, the past three nights appear to have been as professionally gratifying as they were emotionally uplifting.

"It was so beautiful I cried," he said shortly after Thursday's performance. "I couldn't believe it."

It was a sentiment that many were expressing last week, both about the Philharmonic and about the building that is now, officially, its home.

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