LA TRANSPO - An urban transit day in Los Angeles. Riding Metro trains to the Frank Gehry designed Walt Disney Concert Hall to hear the Los Angeles Philharmonic conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen.
A consistency of urban life is that urban life always changes. There may be forward progress, or declines in urban living, particularly with transportation.
With the opening of Metro’s latest light rail line, the Crenshaw/K Line, the beauties of a local train station continue to pay dividends.
With timings of trains and buses to traverse the L.A. sprawl essential I have not yet timed the walk to my local Crenshaw Line Station - Westchester/Veterans, but soon I shall. The station is about one-and-one-half miles away which may take around thirty minutes. I will do this one day.
It takes me a little over five minutes to drive to the Westchester/Veterans Station, and on a recent Sunday afternoon I took the Crenshaw Line east to the Expo Line/Crenshaw Station. After ascending from the below grade station at Crenshaw Boulevard it is a short walk to the Expo Line stations, east and west bound.
With my destination DTLA (downtown Los Angeles), it was the Expo Line eastbound. All transfers between trains and buses require planning and timing, and some luck. I am beginning to get the rhythm of the Crenshaw Line, and after departing that train, the wait for the eastbound Expo Train was under ten minutes.
The Expo Line Crenshaw Station is interesting. It is at-grade (on the ground), and quite long which is good, this allows for spacing of riders on the platform. Once the Crenshaw Line connects to the new LAX People Mover, this station may receive a hoped for large influx transit riders using the Crenshaw and Expo Lines when arriving to or departing from LAX.
There is an aural aspect of the Crenshaw Station which is fascinating and wonderful. Before a light rail train arrives at this station its approach is heard through the steel rails. The sound is a pleasant, oscillating buzzing interrupted with short bursts of a pinging sound when the train’s wheels pass welds in the steel rails.
These sounds are also heard after the trains depart the station. The volume decreases the farther away the trains travels, and at a certain distance the noise stops abruptly and immediately with a ping. It is the singing rails of the trains.
I am listening to the rails at other stations and hope to find more train rail noises.
Eastbound on the Expo Line towards DTLA the train passes more neighborhoods, USC, and the beautiful Exposition Park with its museums, including the under construction Lucas Museum for all things “Star Wars.”
The line then turns north passing close to the Los Angeles Convention Center and the Crypto.com Arena, and is there a blander name for an arena that this? Around Pico Boulevard the rails of the Expo Line join the rails for the older Blue Line. Both end their routes underground at the 7th Street Metro Station.
Metro is reconfiguring train placements at the station platform with one side only for arriving trains, and the other side for departing trains. While extremely confusing at first, this new system seems to be more efficient. Metro, surprisingly, was out in front of this by having personnel on the platforms to direct riders to the correct side of the platform. New signs are already in place to direct riders emerging from the subway platform underneath the Blue and Expo Trains platforms. In another improvement, the trains’ electronic marquees are now operating in real time.
Once the Expo Train pulled into the 7th Street Station I hustled downstairs for the subway, Either Red or Purple Lines. While on the upper platform the subway trains pulling into the station platform below are heard. I heard a subway pulling into the platform below, but did not know if it was the one I needed, one going to Union Station.
I hustled off the Expo Train, on the platform tapped again for the transfer using a TAP card, then quickly descended the stairs to the lower platform. Luck was with me this time, the subway to Union Station-either the Red or Purple Line-had just pulled in.
I boarded the subway and took it two stations down the line for the Civic Station to exit for Walt Disney Concert Hall.
After riding the long escalator out of the ground to the top of the Civic Center Station, it is a steep walk up First Street to Walt Disney Concert Hall, DTLA, Bunker Hill.
Before the Expo and Crenshaw Lines opened I would drive from the LAX area to the Music Center for concerts and events.
Driving was very stressful. To combat commuter traffic I had five different driving routes should one become too gridlocked. Most times my nerves were frayed by driving, and that is not a good frame of mind to be in to experience an event.
By riding Metro’s Light Rails and Subways those stresses are reduced. As reported earlier, the chaos, drug use, people harassing riders on light rails and subways created its own stresses. But Metro is stepping up the monitoring and policing of stations and trains, and cleaning both more frequently. This is helping.
The hill climbing arrival at Disney Hall atop Bunker Hill is always a sight of wonder when the building comes into view. Across from Disney Hall is the new Gehry designed Conrad Hotel. Let’s just call this part of Los Angeles Frank Gehry’s World, and for those of us amazed by his buildings we gladly walk around and in them.
Disney Hall must surely be the most notable concert hall in the U.S. Perhaps it is the most notable building in the nation just as a building. It is very surprising that too many media, local and national, do not constantly showcase this structure as a Los Angeles landmark of the highest order.
The metal clad exterior is reminiscent of sails of ships. The performance hall inside also has ships’ sails motifs. The performance hall is considered as having the finest acoustics in the nation. While I have not travelled the nation sampling concert halls, my ears are constantly surprised by the acute, warm, exciting and enveloping acoustics.
When designing Disney Hall Gehry wanted the lobby open during the day to act as a living room for the area. For me, the living room is the performance hall itself. It is a very large, welcoming, generous and beautiful space.
The audience surrounds the stage. We face each other, and see each other’s face. This is a grand living room, and it is also a meeting hall of music lovers, listening intently and absorbing and sharing the vibrations from the musicians and their instruments on the stage. (Musicians are performers, and their vibes go out to the audience.)
There is also the incredibly Gehry designed organ. While some have nicknamed it after a fast food item, I call it the Starburst Organ. Its pipes shoot up and to the sides in various planes of cosmic starbursts.
The concert featured the Los Angeles Philharmonic. This is the orchestra of the city, and this is said with no disrespect of the many excellent chamber and symphony orchestras which bless and enrich the SoCal culture.
The LA Phil is an orchestra with groundbreaking programming, and the mind-blowing flexibility to change sound and style from one concert to the next. Some orchestras are known for their own, unique sound. Perhaps there is not one Los Angeles Philharmonic Sound, but a databank of sounds at the disposal of the orchestra for the music of the composers-living or not, and for the conductors.
Gehry seemed intent to open and brighten the insides of Disney Hall. At this afternoon concert the sunlight from sky lights flooded the many lobbies of Disney Hall. The light lifts the spirits.
The Disney Hall garden has grown in, and is a very welcoming space at intermission.
The concert was conducted by previous long time Music & Artistic Director Esa-Pekka Salonen who is now the Conductor Laureate, here at this concert as a guest conductor. The current Music & Artistic Director is Gustavo Dudamel.
There are stylistic differences between Salonen and Dudamel. To me, Salonen’s performances bring out a bright, dynamic, electric sounds and playing from the orchestra. Dudamel’s conducting is no less riveting, but his style and sound is rounder and fuller. The amazing thing is that within this concert season these two conductors of different styles-both are world renowned conductors so this is not a comparison contest, conducted the orchestra. And this orchestra changed their sound to meet the conductor’s style and vision.
The program that Sunday was Stravinsky: “Petrushka,” Salonen: his very recent composition “Sinfonia Concertante for Organ and Orchestra,” and Bartok: “The Miraculous Mandarin Suite.” Salon’s new work made great use of Gehry’s Starburst Organ.
I heard Salonen’s first concert with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1984 in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The program was Mendelssohn: “Italian Symphony,” Ravel: “Piano Concerto,” and Lutoslawki: “Symphony No. 2. I went to that concert to hear the Lutoslawki work, I had never heard of Salonen, and perhaps many others in the audience had not either.
After the concert, I became a fan of the conductor. This unattributed on-line quote is from a quick internet search, but proves meaningful, “Salonen made his conducting debut in the United States with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1984. He said: “I had no idea what to expect. But the one thing that I didn't expect was when an older player came to talk to me after the first concert and said, ‘Consider this your future home.’”
Over the years the cultural and transit landscapes of Los Angeles have changed and almost seen parallel in growth.
Disney Hall is a wonder of the city, state and nation. The Los Angeles Philharmonic is known throughout the world. We urban dwellers in the City of the Angels are lucky to have the orchestra and Disney Hall.
Following the ripped apart and destroyed trolley network of Los Angeles, with the final death knell in the 1960s, the first modern rail transit was the Blue Line which opened in 1991, and the first subway opened in 1993.
Yes, for me it takes two light rail trains and one subway to get to DTLA, Disney Hall from the LAX area, but this progress. With new soon to open Metro’s Downtown Connector, I may be able to ride the Expo Line directly to Disney Hall and forego the transfer to the subway. I like riding the subways, but the Downtown Connector could save me that most precious commodity-time.
When comparing my personal experiences getting to DTLA from the LAX area driving or taking two trains and a subway during commuter hours, taking the trains is equal time, and may be less because I do not have to factor in time for parking.
I ride mass transit to reduce my carbon footprint in my individual way to fight global warming and climate change. With the still expanding Metro rail network, I can fulfill my love for music by riding trains to hear this orchestra, conducted by favorite conductors, in a music hall of design, dimensions and sound generation which are unmatched.
This was a good urban life experience.
(Matthew Hetz is a Los Angeles native, a composer whose works have been performed nationally, and some can be found here. He is the past President of the Culver City Symphony Orchestra and Marina del Rey Symphony. His dedication to transit issues is to help improve the transit riding experience for all, and to convince drivers to ride buses and trains to fight air pollution and global warming. He is an instructor at Emeritus/Santa Monica College and a regular contributor to CityWatchLA.)