A classical music venue in step with the 21st century, the Walt Disney Concert Hall provides a captivating modern alternative to older venues like the Sydney Opera House
NEED TO KNOW
LOCATION South Grand Avenue, downtown Los Angeles, USA
ACCESS Auditorium is ticket only; guided tours of building available
Jan: 55°F (13°C); Apr: 61°F (16°C); Jul: 72°F (22°C); Oct: 64°F (18°C)
Upon stepping inside the Walt Disney Concert Hall, one cannot help but be swept up in its architectural grandeur. Full of odd angles, seductive curves, and yawning windows that draw in the California sunshine, this gleaming metal-clad building looks every inch the world-class cultural center. First-time visitors often regret arriving so close to show time, wishing they had more time to explore the labyrinthine corridors and breathtaking features of Frank Gehry’s metallic wonderland. By comparison, with its white-tiled exterior and repetitive curves, the Sydney Opera House seems better suited to the 1970s, the decade of its contruction. Upon its completion in 2003, the Disney revitalized downtown Los Angeles, taking the focus away from its faded municipal buildings and making it a key stop on the international classical music circuit.
But for those who prefer Madonna to Mozart, the building also holds plenty of pop culture significance, having featured in such movies as Iron Man and Get Smart. Designed by Frank Gehry, the Disney is commonly thought of as a smaller version of his iconic Guggenheim Bilbao (see p134).
The concert hall provides its visitors with the opportunity to experience a key work of this modern architectural master. The Sydney Opera House’s architect, Jørn Utzon, has unfortunately seen his legacy limited only to that project.
As much as its architectural splendor, the Disney is also admired for its superb acoustics.
Classical music aficionados leave the concert hall raving about the Disney’s sound qualities, which simply cannot be matched by the Opera House, which was completed some 30 years earlier. Gehry consulted the Los Angeles Philharmonic during the design process, and the results are sonically breathtaking. Even those sitting in the upper reaches of the hall’s 2,265 seats enjoy crystal-clear acoustics, with sound perfectly reverberating off custom-designed Douglas fir and oak planks.
You don’t need to attend a performance to appreciate the building’s cultural and architectural significance. Free guided tours, offered nearly every day, encourage the public to come and study the complex – one of LA’s biggest cultural bargains.
The Disney is at the forefront of a new breed of concert halls, where a visitor is just as likely to see a school group roaming the halls as a gaggle of dressed-up patrons. With its progressive programs and foothold in LA’s cultural scene, the Disney beckons visitors who want to stay ahead of the curve. It surely won’t be long before the Disney takes its rightful place among the world’s premier concert halls.
FORGET THE SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE?
THE BUILD-UP Perhaps the most recognizable symbol of an entire continent, the Sydney Opera House is, without question, one of the world’s most famous performing arts venues.
Perched majestically on Sydney Harbour, the complex is the city’s most-visited tourist spot, with crowds snapping photos at all hours.
THE LETDOWN A visit to the Opera House is rarely a relaxing experience. With roughly 1,500 performances held annually throughout the complex’s five main venues, it is clogged with tourists and concert-goers at most hours.
Visitors taking one of the facility’s tours are not guaranteed a glimpse of the Concert Hall or Opera Theatre, as accessibility depends on performance schedules.
GOING ANYWAY? For unhurried photo ops, visit during the early morning, when tourists are still not about and performances are rarely held.
Opt for the more economical lunch at one of the venue’s five eateries, over the pricier dinner service.
Getting There and Around
International flights to Los Angeles land at LA International Airport (LAX), which is 16 miles (26 km) from downtown. If you take a cab, the Walt Disney Concert Hall is 30 minutes away, depending on traffic. If, however, you prefer to use the city’s efficient Metro Rail service, the concert hall is located just a short walk from the Red Line Civic Center Metro stop.
Where to Eat
The complex’s primary restaurant, Patina serves gourmet French- Californian fare amid undulating walls and ceilings. Chef’s menus are available, there is both a lunch and dinner service, and seasonal tasting sessions.
Where to Stay
Downtown Los Angeles provides numerous hotel options; the Hilton Checkers Hotel is conveniently located on South Grand Avenue, a short walk from the Disney.
When to Go
LA enjoys perfect weather through the year. Visitors keen to enjoy the Disney should check the venue’s events schedule to see when Philharmonic performances or other special events will be taking place.
Budget per Day for Two
US$475, including 4-star accommodations, dining out, and performance tickets.