I used to attend a lot of concerts. Most of them were classical because I did so much live recording twenty years ago, but these days I don’t travel too far from home because of traffic, Charlie (the new puppy), and because I go to bed pretty early (and get up early). However, yesterday my wife and I attended a Saturday matinee concert by the Gustavo Dudamel and Los Angeles Philharmonic at Disney Hall. The catalyst was the world premiere of a new piece by composer Stephen Hartke. He teaches at USC and happens to be married to a friend of my wife. As a fan and supporter of contemporary music, I quickly agreed when my wife suggested that we go to the concert.
The program included compositions by Barber (Toccata Festiva), Scriabin (Sonata No. 4 arranged for Solo Organ by the soloist Cameron Carpenter), Saint-Saëns (Symphony No. 3 “Organ”), and Stephen Hartke’s Symphony No. 4. In spite of leaving almost an hour prior to the 2 pm start time, we arrived at Disney Hall about 20 minutes late thanks to a car that caught fire on the Santa Monica freeway. I had assured my wife that 45 minutes would be more than enough to traverse the 20 miles from the ocean to downtown LA…I was wrong. Thankfully, we arrived during the Scriabin and were ushered into the hall just prior to the Hartke…through two separate doors.
Mona had not purchased tickets when she first suggested the idea of attending the concert. On Friday, she made many valiant attempts to get tickets through the LA Phil website but she was having no luck for various technical reasons. When I tried from the studio, I managed to get on to the site and was surprised to see very few open seats. And they were outrageously expensive. Good seats were well over $200 each. I’m sorry but I just wasn’t going to spend that much on a concert by the LA Phil. When did concert tickets get so costly? I admit it’s been a while since I was a regular audience member, but charging hundreds of dollars for a single seat was surprising. I managed to secure a couple of individual seats in the back and to the side of the orchestra…and spent just less than $150. It should not be surprising that there were almost no young people in the crowd.
Disney Hall is an architectural and acoustic masterpiece. During the many years that it took to build the place, AIX Records was across the street at the Colburn School for Performing Arts making recording our 85 records. It was a real thrill to see the place emerge from the ground and finally get its beautiful aluminum skin. This is quite a place to experience a concert…especially when they program a concert involving the incredible 6134 pipes in the stunning pipe organ at the center of the hall.
I was seated behind the orchestra amongst the elderly (I don’t yet consider myself elderly…not if I can still run 10 miles which I did earlier that day) and had to climb into my seat from the aisle behind because of the woman next to me was completely incapable of standing or moving to let me by…and she got there first. I enjoyed the concert and was particularly impressed by Stephen Hartke’s new Symphony. It was long but held my interest by featuring the organ and a soprano. There were lots of complex textures, expressive harmonies, and interconnecting melodies that showed real imagination and craft.
For all of the beauty of the space and the magnificence of the music, I kept asking myself if the actual aural experience was worth the race from the beach to downtown, the $150 tickets, the strange sonic blend of hearing the orchestra from the back, and the distractions that naturally occur in any live setting. Or perhaps it would be “better” listening to a great high-resolution, surround recording of the program in the sanctuary of my studio. I suppose I shouldn’t be comparing them but I couldn’t help myself.
Even factoring in the fact that my wife looked lovely and we had a great dinner at the El Cholo restaurant following the concert, I think I still prefer listening to well-recorded music in 5.1 HD-Audio here at the studio. For sheer musical enjoyment, a live concert doesn’t do it for me anymore.