Disney Hall: 10 years of memorable performances

Although it is now celebrating its 10th anniversary, Walt Disney Concert Hall has been in operation during 11 calendar years, and in each one history has been made.

The Los Angeles Philharmonic runs the venue, and the orchestra, under its president and chief executive, Deborah Borda, has shown greater ambition than any other in the range of festivals, special projects and, most of all, in the dozens of new works commissioned for the orchestra, many inspired by the hall.


In the first season alone, Steven Stucky's Second Concerto for Orchestra won a Pulitzer Prize and Steve Reich's "You Are Variations," commissioned by the Los Angeles Master Chorale (Disney's other resident ensemble), was a finalist.

Here are examples from each Disney year of how the hall has mattered not only to L.A. but also to the art of music.

2003 — 'Resurrection'

The L.A. Phil's three-night extravaganza was easily the most artistically satisfyingly and spectacular opening of a concert hall in modern memory. Still, it was only after the celebrities, dignitaries and international press corps had cleared out — and a record heat wave and raging forest fires had run their courses — that Disney Hall's potential for rejuvenating the day-to-day musical life in this city became palpably apparent. Music director Esa-Pekka Salonen started the orchestra's regular season with a magnificent performance of Mahler's vast Second Symphony ("Resurrection"), remarkable for the revelatory illumination of details and an inspirational grandeur simply impossible to achieve in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and hardly anywhere else.

2004 — 'Tristan Project'

The question for the L.A. Phil after its initial season at Disney Hall was how to top the sheer excitement that the opening had caused. The answer was the "Tristan Project." Each act of Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde" was presented on consecutive nights, conducted by Salonen, staged by Peter Sellars and accompanied by Bill Viola's videos. Wagner insisted that opera should be an immersive sensual experience, and in this multi-dimensional approach, it was as never before.

2005 — 'Neruda Songs'

Love, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson sang with an incomparable radiance in the premiere of husband Peter Lieberson's "Neruda Songs," denies death, "only changing lands, changing lips." A little over a year later, the incomparable mezzo-soprano made that change, succumbing to breast cancer at age 52. The work has become a modern classic, and it went on to win a Grawemeyer Award, an international $100,000 prize given by the University of Louisville in Kentucky, as would Salonen's Violin Concerto, which had its premiere by the L.A. Phil in Disney Hall four years later.

2006 — 'Atlas'

For its contribution to the L.A. Phil's historic Minimalism Jukebox festival, the Master Chorale invited Meredith Monk to present excerpts from her opera "Atlas," an invocation through exotic ritualistic vocalism of a female explorer's spiritual journey in Tibet. This was not only the start of an ongoing presence in Disney by one of our most original voices with the Master Chorale but also with the California Institute of the Arts presenting Monk's theatrical works downstairs in REDCAT.

2007 — Símon Bolívar Youth Orchestra

A concert hall is not broken in until its roof gets blown off. The credit goes to Gustavo Dudamel's irrepressible, 200-strong Símon Bolívar Youth Orchestra. It made its Los Angeles debut with so much sonic and psychic energy that a symphony audience was driven into a mass hysteria worthy of the screaming teenagers at the Beatles' L.A. debut at the Hollywood Bowl.


2008 — 'Hurricane Mama'

As a follow-up to Minimalism Jukebox, the L.A. Phil invited Terry Riley — whose "In C" set off the movement in 1964 — to re-create on the Disney Hall organ one of his improvisatory, alternate-consciousness all-night concerts he was noted for giving in the '60s and '70s. Logistics in the end meant a regular-length recital, but Riley dubbed the instrument "Hurricane Mama," flooded the pipes with psychedelic lighting and flooded the hall with a mind-blowing rainbow of audible colors.

2009 — Salonen farewell

Salonen's final concert of his 17-year L.A. Phil tenure — a Stravinsky program, staged by Sellars –- turned into a memorable love-in. Salonen had thought he might leave the stage with Finnish cool, letting the ethereal last chord of Symphony of Psalms wondrously suspended in the hushed hall. But the orchestra had other plans. Hardened players lined up and, one by one, hugged their red-faced music director while the audience looked on. There was hardly a dry eye in the hall, onstage or off.

2010 — Dudamel's Adams and Mahler

Dudamel's Disney gala in fall 2009 for his first season produced another media frenzy. The concert, which consisted of the world premiere of John Adams' "City Noir" and Mahler's First Symphony, was televised around the world and eventually released on DVD. But just like that 2003 Disney opening, the hullabaloo took a musical toll with performances that were full of fire but not yet fully focused. By the time Dudamel repeated the program the following spring, as he prepared to take the orchestra on a U.S. tour, the players had become more familiar with him, and the conductor had intensified his interpretations of the stirring Adams and Mahler scores.

2011 — A Tribute to Ernest

A memorial to Ernest Fleischmann, managing director of the L.A. Phil and the mastermind behind the hall, brought out the best from two of the notable conductors Fleischmann had helped foster — Salonen and Lionel Bringuier. Salonen told the crowd that he had chosen Stravinsky's "Renard" because the irregular rhythms reminded him of Fleischmann's erratic driving, because Fleischmann loved the piece and, Salonen concluded, "because I loved Ernest." Though in frail health, Pierre Boulez, a close friend and accomplice of Fleischmann, made a rare appearance, conducting his late masterpiece, "Sur Incise." Dudamel did not conduct, because his wife was expecting any minute, but he made a brief comment from the stage, where he said he was allowed to keep his cellphone on.

2012 — 'Don Giovanni'

Dudamel's ongoing three-year project of staging Mozart operas with sets and costumes by famed architects and designers has been the most ambitious undertaking at Disney yet. It began with a site-specific "Don Giovanni" enacted amid crumpled paper sculptures by Frank Gehry. Rodarte provided flamboyant get-ups for the singers, and Christopher Alden, the probing stage direction. The cast was first-rate. Dudamel conducted a deep "Don" from memory.


2013 — 'The Gospel According to the Other Mary'

Adams' immense opera/oratorio, commissioned by the L.A. Phil, had a shaky concert debut just after the "Don Giovanni" performances. But the work's greatness was unmistakable. Over the next several months, the composer streamlined the powerfully moving score, and "The Other Mary" was illuminatingly staged in Disney by Sellars this winter and taken lock, stock and barrel (sans the hall, of course) on tour to Europe and New York.