AROUND LA WITH AVA: INTERMEZZO

Ava Anttila

Ava Anttila

AROUND LA WITH AVA
by Ava Anttila

Esa-Pekka Salonen was in town last month marking the 10 year intermezzo since the building of Disney Hall.

Esa-Pekka Salonen was in town last month marking the 10 year intermezzo since the building of Disney Hall.

Esa-Pekka Salonen was in town last month marking the 10 year intermezzo since the building of Disney Hall.

For any Finn living in our City of Angels, Esa-Pekka Salonen is such a source of national pride—a phenomenal icon.  It must be hard for him to remain a humble Finn when the entire world is his adoring public gushing with enthusiasm and accolades.  But then, who suggested greatness is easy!!

Disney Hall.

One of the fringe benefits of decades of volunteer activities in all things Finnish is that you get to visit with ‘newbies’ before they achieve ‘icon’ status.  I am reminded of an informal welcoming event the Finnish American Chamber of Commerce had for the young –and even younger looking, Sibelius Academy star alumnus when he first arrived in Los Angeles.  Before the Maestro’s face was a fixture on promotional banners on San Vicente Boulevard—and elsewhere, he told of being ‘carded’ at Vicente Foods when buying beer.  Esa-Pekka Salonen shared the story with a good sense of humor and a smile on his then cherubic face.  Still, while the tale was funny when told in the self-deprecating Finnish way, it must have been humbling for him.  Those were the days….

The ebb and flow of a musical composition.  The ebb and flow of the creative process.  The reflection between two occurrences.   Perspective comes from time to reflect.  To get a peek into the minds of two accomplished creative geniuses twice between decades [prospective and retrospective] with the benefit of time passing in between for all of us is quite a gift.

Disney Hall 10th Anniversary Celebrations

Many years ago when the Disney Hall concept was but a ‘twinkle’, über architect Frank Gehry and Esa-Pekka Salonen came together for an evening of sharing their respective passions for music and architecture—what a special night!

Many years ago when the Disney Hall concept was but a ‘twinkle’, über architect Frank Gehry and Esa-Pekka Salonen came together for an evening of sharing their respective passions for music and architecture—what a special night!

I was lucky enough to be there to hear the magic as a creative genius team came together.  The music and the metal melded producing a collective ‘progeny’ we Angelenos now proudly call Disney Hall. That evening over a decade ago was one of many unforgettable times I spent with my dear friend, the late Greta Peck*.

Greta Peck

Greta Peck

Greta and I joined others at the Brentwood home of former US Ambassador to Finland Rockwell Schnabel.  Esa-Pekka Salonen and Frank Gehry were there to discuss architecture, music, and how they intertwine.  What followed was a most inspiring and eye-opening view into their creative minds at the cusp of their respective, momentous works here in LA.

“The rest is history…” as the story goes.

Dejá Vu –Again = Salonen/Gehry Event at the Hammer: a Full Circle Ten Year Intermezzo

Last month news spread that Esa-Pekka Salonen and Frank Gehry would present “a conversation” about Disney Hall at the Armand Hammer Museum in Westwood.  L.A. went all abuzz.  The October 15th event was free, but became “sold out” with priority reservations from Museum Members and with a line snaking around the courtyard for available general public seats.  The turnout was such that outdoor screens and folding chairs were set up under the stars for the adoring masses that showed up.

über architect Frank Gehry and Esa-Pekka Salonen came together for an evening of sharing their respective passions for music and architecture

über architect Frank Gehry and Esa-Pekka Salonen came together for an evening of sharing their respective passions for music and architecture

With Greta now gone, I was happy to meet up with Finnish American Chamber of Commerce President Heidi Crooks at the Gehry/Salonen presentation.  Heidi brought with her newly arrived UCLA Medical Center visitors from Finland, Dr. Heikki Miettinen and his wife Merja Miettinen.  FACC Board member Dr. Michael Berlin joined us, as well.  The setting was impressive, but significantly less intimate than Ambassador Schnabel’s living room!

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The presentation was moderated by Pulitzer Prize nominated journalist Nikolai Ouroussoff  [formerly Architecture Critic for the Los Angeles Times and for the New York Times] who pointed out that the auspiciously named corner of Grand and Hope Streets in downtown LA is home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Master Chorale where Maestro Salonen was the Conductor for 17 years [between 1992 and 2009].

In the audience that evening was YasuhisaToyota, the celebrated acoustician of Disney Hall.  How proud he must have felt with the results he helped achieve.

Architect Gehry kept musicians in mind during his collaboration with Conductor Salonen in order to make “the perfect instrument” –which is what Mr. Salonen calls the Hall.

Salonen told about Ernest Fleischmann’s visit to him to discuss the Utopian idea when Esa-Pekka was in Florence.  Mr. Gehry told of then Music Center Executive Fleischmann teaching him about classical music and the idea of a “democratic” hall [“He also scared the….out of me” Gehry said!].

Disney Hall

Looking back at the ten year intermezzo of life since that Schnabel evening with Messrs. Gehry and Salonen [and listening to them both on the same topics after their exquisitely successful collaboration on the Disney Hall project] was fascinating.

Proof Is In Performance

Esa-Pekka Salonen feels the Hall has a beautiful, luminous sound.  The Hall creates intimacy, despite the volume [size/space].  Maestro Salonen said the Hall’s intimacy makes it feel like he is playing to each individual who is personally able to experience the music.  And, with such personal scrutiny being reciprocal, he professed the need to even pay attention to the type of socks he wears while on the podium!

Esa-Pekka Salonen

Salonen noted that with most music in concerts, you hear it but it lacks ‘intimacy’.  In Disney Hall, the same music hits you in the stomach –you ‘feel’ it, like with rock music.  The term he used was “psychoacoustics”.  The Concert is a personal experience, aided by what is called the Hall’s “vineyard layout”.

[Note to Perfectionists:  Salonen described how the orchestra ‘practiced seating’ together at Royce Hall/UCLA.  Also, they even ‘tried’ the proposed new Disney Hall ‘risers’ in the Chandler Pavilion at the old Music Center downtown before they were installed in Disney Hall.]

Acropolis at the Top of the Hill

The “Acropolis at the Top of the Hill” is how the panel saw the LA Music Center before the new Disney Hall.   And, Mr. Salonen described traditional classical music as a German idea brought to the US.  He said the old European Germanic model needed a change to drive LA and he thought of ways to do just that.  He said Disney Hall was one way to do it.  What was needed was a high caliber “instrument” for the orchestra, not like the Chandler which was a multipurpose hall.  Gehry said Disney Hall needed to be a symbol of LA, not like the existing facility which to him was a ‘box’ copying New York’s Lincoln Center.

Rats to Immortality

Esa-Pekka said that Disney Hall has changed the idea of concert halls forever.  While there is perfection all around, Frank Gehry still feels the foyer has not lived up to the Hall.  He would have liked to open it up to the street with garage-like doors, but apparently the Health Department had concerns about rats entering.  Who knew?

Frank Gehry shared his thoughts about Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Finnish heritage and he reflected on his own Canadian heritage.  Alvar Aalto was his hero.  Mr. Gehry had some classic funny observations on Finnish shyness such as the Finnish extrovert noted for looking at another’s shoes instead of his own during conversation.

Frank Gehry shared his thoughts about Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Finnish heritage and he reflected on his own Canadian heritage.  Alvar Aalto was his hero.

Frank Gehry shared his thoughts about Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Finnish heritage and he reflected on his own Canadian heritage. Alvar Aalto was his hero.

Gehry’s and Salonen’s bond and friendship was beautifully consummated as they stood together holding hands as they heard the first sounds in Disney Hall.  I will bet each was holding his breath as well!  The first sound checks were made even before there was a stage.  [Can you imagine Mr. Toyota’s heart rate immediately prior to that initial sound check?]

The pizzicato of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony was the testing piece.  Maestro Salonen described the faces of the players in the orchestra as they christened the solemn ‘air’.  With tears streaming, one musician said he had ‘wasted’ four decades.

As the two concluded their most critical design performance test, Esa-Pekka turned to Frank and said simply: “We’ll keep it!!”

Program Post Scripts

During the evening Esa-Pekka Salonen kept referring to the Hall as “my instrument”.   Think about that.  It speaks volumes.

The juxtaposition of the two events/over 10 years apart—the same people reflecting [before and after] on their collaborative project and views on their creative crafts was marvelous.  It was like being a sanctioned voyeur to the creative process of World Class multi-discipline geniuses.  And yes, I have attended concerts at Disney Hall.  As great as my enjoyment/appreciation was, it had to pale in comparison to Esa-Pekka Salonen’s and Frank Gehry’s personal/mutual experience.

Isn’t it great “…when a plan comes together.”

When asked by an audience member about other places, travels, plans, personal feelings, and Los Angeles, there was a collective sigh when the Maestro said:  “LA is home.”

When asked by an audience member about other places, travels, plans, personal feelings, and Los Angeles, there was a collective sigh when the Maestro said:  “LA is home.”

When asked by an audience member about other places, travels, plans, personal feelings, and Los Angeles, there was a collective sigh when the Maestro said: “LA is home.”

AND, IN OTHER NEWS

European Jazz at UCLA

October was the month for music.

The Consulate General of Finland joined with Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, and Switzerland to present European Jazz in concert.

Olli Hirvonen Trio, Finland

Olli Hirvonen [chosen as Artist of the Year at Pori Jazz, one of the highest awards for a jazz musician in Finland] performed on October 12th at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music’s Schoenberg Hall.

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The well attended Opening and Reception was held at the Italiano di Cultura di Los Angeles in Westwood

The well attended Opening and Reception was held at the Italiano di Cultura di Los Angeles in Westwood.  Finns intermingled with other Europeans enjoying Italian delicacies, wines, and espresso.

Finnish Consul General Juha Markkanen and wife Tula

Finnish Consul General Juha Markkanen and wife Tuula

FACC Annual Meeting and Election

The Finnish American Chamber of Commerce on the Pacific Coast, Inc. held its Annual Meeting and Election at the Bel Air home of Heidi Crooks, Chief Nursing Officer of the UCLA Medical Center.  Heidi was elected President; Ava Anttila, Vice President; Kielo Stevenson, Treasurer; and Heikki Ketola, Secretary.  Ulla Bowers will be the new Information Officer.  Joann Scott and Dr. Michael Berlin were elected to the Board as well.

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The FACC began the celebration of its 50th Anniversary with a special dessert served at the Annual Meeting.

The FACC welcomes a new FACC, San Diego chapter.

CREATIVE FINNS

The Creative Finns held their monthly meeting at The Next Door Lounge, a Speakeasy style establishment in Hollywood.  The well attended gathering (—sharing food, drinks, and catching up) was fun.

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Kielo Stevenson, Ulla Bowers, Laura Laaksonen and Liisa Evestiina

FACC Event: Finnish Cardiologist

In the rhythm of life, our beating hearts need healthy attention.  Dr. Heikki Miettinen, Cardiologist from Kuopio Hospital [Finland] presented a ‘latest developments’ overview to the FACC at their October Meeting.  The program stressed prevention.

Dr. Miettinen was born in Eastern Karelia during what he calls the “black period” when men were dying at early ages from heart related issues.  Causal research in the Karelia Project effectuated changes in education and lifestyle.  Dr. Miettinen explained that while aging, gender, and genetics present 2/3rds of the risk factors we cannot change, the other 1/3rd are factors that we can and should manage/change.  Lifestyle changes such as smoking, obesity, and stress are key factors everyone can work on.

Dr. Miettinen was able to explain the use of statins, various fad diets, herbal teas, and even the use of dark chocolate [Oh yes, bring on the Fazer!] for health improvement!

Responding to audience questions with the latest research, Dr. Miettinen was able to explain the use of statins, various fad diets, herbal teas, and even the use of dark chocolate [Oh yes, bring on the Fazer!] for health improvement!
LAFF Event: Annual Honoree Luncheon
The Los Angeles Finlandia Foundation held its Annual Honoree Luncheon on October 27th in Glendale.  This year’s Honoree was Dr. John Ogren.  The event Program featured cellist Pauliina Haustein with her beautiful musical renditions in one of her final performances before moving to Finland.  Following her intermezzo, we look forward to Pauliina’s return.

The event Program featured cellist Pauliina Haustein with her beautiful musical renditions in one of her final performances before moving to Finland.

The event Program featured cellist Pauliina Haustein with her beautiful musical renditions in one of her final performances before moving to Finland.

AND, IN OTHER INTERMEZZOS

Some intermezzos are longer than others.  For those naïve enough to have believed it when ‘they’ told you that the 405 construction was to be completed in 2013, that bridge to Brooklyn is still available—but the cash price has just gone up again.  So sorry.

For those naïve enough to have believed it when ‘they’ told you that the 405 construction was to be completed in 2013, that bridge to Brooklyn is still available—but the cash price has just gone up again. So sorry.

‘They’ just announced construction will require another year and a half before it is done—no reliable $ estimates available.  So, sit tight, grit your teeth, turn up the radio tuned to some Sibelius, call on your Finnish resilience, and get ready to “sit-a-spell” a while longer.  Those 15 minute runs to the store for a quart of milk or to the salon for a quick hair trim will take the 2 hours you have gotten used to for a while longer.

May your inner Finn enjoy the interchange intermezzo in the interim!

*Greta Peck Redux

Every now and then there is a fun ‘back story’ that would distract from the main theme that is worth telling non-the-less.  This is one of those times, but I will do my best to stay focused on relevant events and not attempt a full-on biography—as tempting as that is.

As you likely recall, Greta Peck was a beautiful Finn who was once married to iconic actor Gregory Peck.

Gregory and Greta Peck

Gregory and Greta Peck

Greta and I became good friends.  Despite a significant age difference, we shared our mutual Finnish heritage; our experiences as single mothers; and our love of art and culture, fun and good times.  Greta loved to attend every possible Finland-related event—and I seemed somehow to be involved with ‘producing’ same in one way or another.  As it evolved, we ended up going together often.  Arriving early and staying late—which I usually needed to do, was just the way Greta liked it!

Whether I picked her up on Summit Drive in Beverly Hills or she came down the hill to meet at my house, I was always the driver –except for the one Schnabel/Gehry/Salonen night.  The reason will become apparent.

Going anywhere with my old, dear, late friend Greta was always an adventure.  That particular night was one I will always remember.

Greta was a proud Finn and a patriotic American.  She was one of the most dedicated and generous people you could imagine.  Her good works on this earth are legendary—but must wait for another column.

As noted, Greta was always up for any Finnish related event.  Whether the venue was down the street at the Beverly Hills Hotel or in San Diego, Orange County, or wherever, she was raring to go.  

On the Schnabel/Gehry/Salonen event evening, Greta arrived at my house at the agreed hour for the short trip to Ambassador Schnabel’s home in Brentwood Park.  Greta had what I call a “land yacht” of a car –a massive, long, wide gold Lincoln Continental she drove for many years.  Since she was a diminutive woman who seemed to ‘shrink’ with each passing year, it was hard to even see her behind (and peering under) the huge steering wheel.

I had never been her passenger before so, this time, when she offered to drive to the close-by location in Brentwood, I accepted her gracious gesture.  That was before I noticed that one side view mirror was missing and the other was dangling on a lone wire!  [When I asked about her mirrors, she dismissed my concern with a casual “…the buses here keep getting bigger”.  Had I heard her correctly—what did that mean??  Too late—we were under way.] 

Greta was her usual bubbly self as we headed out toward Sunset Boulevard for the half mile or so trip to the Brentwood Park area.  In making the right hand turn to go west on Sunset we ended up head-on in the opposing direction traffic lane.  Greta was chatting away as the horns blared saying “…it’s OK, we don’t have far to go!”  She was always such an optimist—even in and about LA traffic!

Since I am writing this vignette, clearly we made it to the Schnabels and back.  Never a dull moment Around LA with Ava—or with Greta!!!

 

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