This is a pretty vast digression from the concerts I’m normally going to review here. For one thing, I don’t normally patronize “the arts.” For another, the bands I see are normally “on tour” and after reading this review there is a potential that you can “go see them.” But the ticket cost fifty bucks (most likely to be paid for by my girlfriend, since she bought the tickets and at this point is still refusing to cash the check I wrote to her), so I figured I’d be damned if I’m not going to at least attempt to write about it.

My friend Solly was still in town, so after seeing Juno in the afternoon (a delightful movie, I’ll be writing about some of the songs they used in it in a separate feature later on) I pulled the tie (yes, “the” tie) out of the closet and ventured downtown to Walt Disney Concert Hall for the show.

The Walt Disney Concert Hall was designed by Frank Gehry, and features an exterior of expansive curved metal surfaces that are characteristic of his style. The interior features light wood and upholstery with southwestern colors, nauseating patterns, and legendary acoustics. Something that I’ve found fascinating is that when the building was first constructed, several sections of the exterior panels caused sunlight to focus on nearby condominiums and caused interior temperatures in excess of 140 degrees. Unsurprisingly, the residents complained. Apparently the problem has been solved.

Grant Gershon (no relation to Gina) was the conductor for the show. The scientist in me has always been baffled as to how or why the conductor is such a very important role; keeping time isn’t that complicated, and my inner scientist imagines that Conductobot 4000 could do it just as well, much like a well-designed machine can hit golf balls infinitely straighter and farther than even Tiger Woods. Not to take anything away from Grant, he did his job perfectly well. Perhaps better than most. He was very chatty with the audience, which gave the performance an informal feel that was much more engaging and festive than the sterile feel a traditional rendering sometimes invokes.

Our seats were benches behind the stage — it felt sort of like sitting in the outfield bleachers at a baseball game, except with fewer syringes being tossed at the players. From our vantage point, we could see the conductor’s face as he directed the orchestra. We could also see one of the trumpet players, who had very few notes to play, paging through a magazine during his considerable idle time.

What made this particular performance unique, and apparently very attractive to the audience, was that it was actually a sing-along. Although the orchestra featured soloists for a number of parts, the majority of the vocal parts in the piece were performed by us, the actual audience. In high school I’d sung part of the Messiah, but it was only the ubiquitously familiar chorus. I was impressed with how many people at the Walt Disney Hall knew the piece — and by how well they performed it. As Grant Gershon observed, it seemed like they’d “been practicing.” At some point someone thrust a copy of the score into my hands and I tried to follow along with one of the more complicated choir parts, and came to the conclusions that a) there weren’t many tenors in the audience, and b) Handel’s Messiah is hard.

One of the most important features of the Walt Disney Hall is the acoustics. I’m certain that a tremendous amount of effort was expended to ensure that there’s not a single bad seat in the house. A great advantage of the sing-along nature of the event was that sound was coming from everywhere; at certain times during the piece it felt like you were sitting in the center of a resonance chamber.

The only downside to the event was how quickly we were hustled back into the hall during intermission. By the time we made it through the long line at the bar, they were already encouraging people back into their seats. All in all, though, it was an experience I very much enjoyed, and a welcome change of pace. If your city offers a similar performance, I highly recommend giving it a try, if only for the chance to dress fancy and feel sophisticated for an evening.

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