Frank Gehry remembers L.A. Philharmonic’s Ernest Fleischmann


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Ernest Fleischmann, the longtime leader of the Los Angeles Philharmonic who passed away on Sunday, was a towering figure in the L.A. classical-music scene. Throughout his career, he worked closely with many of the city’s most prominent cultural leaders. One of his closest associates was architect Frank Gehry, who designed the orchestra’s current home, the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Gehry, traveling in Sydney, Australia, spoke by phone about his friendship and working relationship with Fleischmann, whom he called ‘one of my best friends.’


The architect said Fleischmann hired him to work on the Hollywood Bowl around 1970 after having seen his design work for the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Maryland. Gehry helped to design new ‘sonotubes’ for the Bowl that improved the acoustics and were in place until 1980.

‘He was very demanding when he got going,’ recalled Gehry about his friend’s famously contentious personality. The architect said he and Fleischmann would sometimes have disputes and arguments during the years they knew each other, but ‘they weren’t cataclysmic things.’

Throughout their friendship, Fleischmann taught Gehry about the world of classical music. ‘He introduced me to all of the conductors and musicians,’ said the architect. ‘I think he was preparing me because they were the people I went to for my research on [Disney Hall]. I spent hours and hours, questioning them on the issues. I learned a lot about how musicians feel about a room.’

For much of Fleischmann’s tenure as the top man of the L.A. Philharmonic, the orchestra was based out of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. A $50-million gift from Lillian Disney in 1987 helped to jump-start design work on the new Disney Hall, but actual construction didn’t begin until 1999.

By that time, Fleischmann had already stepped down as the orchestra’s executive vice president and managing director. But he continued to be involved in the organization’s activities, taking on the title of artistic consultant. At the time of his death, Fleischmann held the title of honorary life director with the orchestra.

During his busy retirement years, Fleischmann stayed active in the orchestra’s affairs, including the realization of Disney Hall, which eventually opened in 2003.


‘This was his dream, and I was being entrusted with delivering that dream,’ said Gehry.

‘He was quite specific on the issues he wanted to address. Besides the acoustics, he talked a lot about the intimacy of the building. He talked about the democracy of the seating so that all the seats were equal. He thought it through and spent a lot of time thinking about it, and he wanted it to be special.’

The architect described Fleischmann as ‘a great friend and a wonderful teacher. He was all about excellence and demanding excellence.’

-- David Ng

Photo (top): Frank Gehry (left) and Ernest Fleischmann at the Hollywood Bowl in 1990. Credit: Los Angeles Times.

Photo (bottom): Gehry at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Credit: Harry Chandler / Autry National Center.