Behind the Scenes at Walt Disney Concert Hall
I don’t remember exactly how I found out that Walt Disney Concert Hall offers free tours of its facilities, but my guess is that I came across tour details on their website while searching for their season calendar. Given my curiosity for behind the scenes insights, I decided that Jave and I could make a date of exploring where the Los Angeles Philharmonic makes its beautiful music.
My mom wanted to tag along. So on a Saturday morning – which Jave rarely has off – we headed downtown for our free tour. The concert hall makes up one of four performance halls that comprise the Los Angeles Music Center. The other halls include the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the Ahmanson Theater, and the Mark Taper Forum. There are resident performance companies that perform at each hall, and as I mentioned earlier, Walt Disney Concert Hall is home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
The concert hall was designed by the great Frank Gehry, a longtime resident of Santa Monica who loves sailing and being out on the water. This love is reflected in the wave-like design of the concert hall’s panels and even in some of the hall’s interiors.
Gehry designed or played a role in designing some of the most unique and kooky structures around the world including the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto; Biomuseo in Panama City, Panama; the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris; the Dancing House in Prague; and most notably, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.
Although L.A. County donated the land for the project, the design and construction of Walt Disney Concert Hall wouldn’t have been possible without the generous donations of some of its cornerstone donors, especially Lillian Disney – Walt Disney’s widow – who donated $50 million.
But with a total estimated project cost of $274 million (the parking garage alone cost $110 million!), additional funds had to be raised to complete the hall. Again, the Disney family stepped to the plate to write more checks contributing a total of $84.5 million and another $25 million from The Walt Disney Company. Other generous donors included Eli Broad (of The Broad) and the Paul Getty Trust to name a few, along with corporate donors like Toyota, KPMG, and Washington Mutual. Construction was completed in 2003.
The garage was built first (and I have to say that it’s one of the most convenient performance hall parking garages ever since escalators lead directly from the garage into the concert hall’s lobby), followed by the auditorium. The actual building was built around the auditorium which creates a sound lock so that no one on the outside can hear into the auditorium, and no one on the inside can hear what’s going on outside. The acoustics were designed by Yasuhisa Toyota, a world renowned acoustician.
*Fun Fact: An audience’s bodies help with acoustics which is why concert halls tend to be very strict about refunding tickets.
The metallic panels used on the building were built using 3D imaging software designed by a French aerospace company, and a GPS system in outer space was used to inform builders where to position the panels. The panels aren’t bolted down so that they can expand in heat and so that the building can expand and contract whenever “The Big One” finally shakes up L.A.; supposedly, the building can withstand a powerful 8.0 earthquake!
Although we’ve since enjoyed the auditorium during a symphony performance we attended at the concert hall in celebration of our recent anniversary, during our tour, we weren’t allowed inside of the auditorium.
During the performance Jave bought tickets for, we discovered that the auditorium is surprisingly intimate which is due in large part to its vineyard terrace style seating that offers 360° views of the stage. The stage itself is flexible and can be flattened, lifted and extended as needed. The highlight of the auditorium is the German-made pipe organ, and our guide told us that it took an entire year to individually tune the pipes. I couldn’t really tell from our vantage point, but the tallest pipe in the organ is the size and width of a streetlight post, and the smallest is the size and width of a #2 pencil! The auditorium also features random mics hanging from the ceiling that record during concerts.
If you never get the chance to tour the concert hall or to check out a performance, at the very least, be sure to drive or walk past Walt Disney Concert Hall whenever you’re in downtown L.A. to get a glimpse of this architectural wonder for yourself!