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The Los Angeles Philharmonic Inaugurates Walt Disney Concert Hall banner
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Enveloped in Sound: An Acoustical Tour of Walt Disney Concert Hall
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NPR at The Walt Disney Concert Hall Inaugural


123

LOS ANGELES PHILHARMONIC STORY
(continued)

Following Klemperer's departure and a few years of guest conductors, the Philharmonic's podium was claimed by Alfred Wallenstein (1943-56), who had been a member of the orchestra's cello section since its inception. Under Wallenstein, the orchestra provided substantial if unremarkable music, and there were those in management circles who felt the city deserved more. One of these was Dorothy Buffum Chandler, of the wealthy Buffum department-store family and, more to the point, married to LOS ANGELES TIMES publisher Norman Chandler. Fiercely supportive of the Philharmonic, Dorothy Chandler set her sights on nothing less than a new performance space for the orchestra and for the allied arts as well -- a music center, unashamedly modeled after New York City's Lincoln Center. Determined as well to provide "her" Philharmonic with world-class leadership, she saw to the hiring of the much-admired Dutch conductor Eduard van Beinum, who did indeed provide Los Angeles audiences with music of high eloquence, but who succumbed to a heart attack after only two-years' tenure.

The next choice was to be the fast-rising young Hungarian Georg Solti, but the fates intervened. A seductive, dazzlingly talented conductor named Zubin Mehta, fresh from superb Viennese training, had flashed across the horizon, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic board effected a capture, enlisting the 26-year-old Mehta as assistant conductor to Georg Solti, but neglecting to consult Solti on the choice. Exit the furious Solti, enter the relatively untried Mehta as the Philharmonic's new conductor. Two years after his hiring, in October 1964, Mehta led the Philharmonic into its new home, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the Los Angeles Music Center.

Mehta's tenure lasted 16 years, longer than that of any other Philharmonic conductor before or since. An imaginative general manager, the German-born Ernest Fleischmann, helped pave his way, dreaming up concerts tied to the STAR WARS sci-fi craze, greatly enhancing the entertainment values at the Hollywood Bowl, and negotiating a full schedule of recording and tour dates. As contrast to Mehta's brand of flash and dazzle, Fleischmann next went after the hypnotic and eloquent Carlo Maria Giulini, who in his five-year stint (1978-83) did much to restore the orchestra's grasp of the essential classical repertory that had somewhat suffered under his predecessor. After Giulini's departure, there were high hopes that André Previn, a product of serious European training and a much-awarded composer for the film industry, might provide the orchestra with a strong local identity, but the Previn-Fleischmann mix of temperaments proved explosive after five years.

But Ernest Fleischmann had other cards to play. Casting his famously shrewd eye over the musical scene, he noticed a young Finn named Esa-Pekka Salonen, a brilliant composer not yet sure how much time he wanted to devote to a conducting career. The urging of Fleischmann and the cheers of the Los Angeles audience at his guest appearances went far to convince Salonen of worlds to be conquered from a well-endowed podium. Further enticement occurred in the form of $50 million gift in 1987 from Lillian Disney toward the building of a new hall for the orchestra, to bear the name of her late husband, Walt, and to provide audience and performers alike with an acoustical setting superior to the flawed (if luxurious) Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

October 2003 is the month when it all comes together: the Los Angeles Philharmonic, brought to an enviable high quality through the talents of its no-longer reluctant conductor; a hall of extraordinary contemporary design (by master architect Frank Gehry) which, at this writing, has every chance of fulfilling its promise of acoustical splendor; and a devoted audience that has learned the pride in possessing one of the world's finest musical resources. Ernest Fleischmann, who actually retired from his managerial post in 1997, will be on hand to share in the pride. He's entitled.



Top banner photos: Interior, exterior, and sketch of the Walt Disney Concert Hall designed by architect Frank Gehry. (Photo credit from left to right: Federico Zignani, David Miller, and Gehry Partners/Los Angeles Philharmonic.)

Cellists (photo by Mathew Imaging/Los Angeles Philharmonic)

This program marks the Los Angeles Philharmonic's debut on GREAT PERFORMANCES. (Photo by Mathew Imaging/Los Angeles Philharmonic.)

Pipe organ (photo by Federico Zignani/Los Angeles Philharmonic)

The pipe organ is located behind the stage between two sections of the audience area. (Photo by Federico Zignani/Los Angeles Philharmonic.)

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