The Hollywood Bowl
I visited my old haunts in Hollywood last week. Now I’m back and still in one piece to report that the Los Angeles freeways are as jammed as ever. It took me a mere five hours to drive down Highway 5, then two more to get across town.
I was invited to stay with old friends in Pasadena, a sleepy little town where I once attended the Pasadena Playhouse to study acting. It’s not sleepy anymore. It has morphed in the past few years into a trendy locale with a booming “old town.” My friends are BUSY people. You know, the kind who have calendars for their social engagements. Thankfully, I never have to keep up with them. I just ride in the backseat hanging on.
My friends are box ticket subscribers for the Hollywood Bowl. This famous landmark was built in 1922 and renovated in 2004. Now a state-of-the-art amphitheater, it seats 18,000 people, the largest of its kind in the world. Nestled into the side of Bolton Canyon in the very heart of dreamland, the stage has a magnificent backdrop of the surrounding hills ablaze with the famous Hollywood sign.
Fifteen-hundred patrons manage to get yearly season tickets for the exclusive Garden or Terrace boxes. My friends are among the lucky few who’ve scored a yearly box smack in the middle of the Garden section. This is a happy result of having become friends with John Mauceri, the former Conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. John spent fifteen-years waving his baton at the Bowl and elevated the venue and quality of concerts right into the twenty-first century. Currently he is the Chancellor of the prestigious University of North Carolina School for the Arts in Winston-Salem.
Luckily for me, and the many thousands in attendance, John Mauceri made a guest visit back to the Bowl on Saturday, August 20th to celebrate the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra’s twentieth year. They performed Fantasia.
Seventy-five years ago Walt Disney animators created Fantasia, an animated feature to visualize the world of classical music. This evening Mauceri led the orchestra in perfect synchronization to sections from the animated classic film projected on screens throughout the bowl. My favorite movement was ”Destino.” Created in the 1940s, Destino is a surrealistic, amazing and unlikely collaboration between Walt Disney and avant garde artist Salvadore Dali. Dali’s sketches were animated to a musical score composed by Armando Dominiguez. Wow. It was a fabulous – all senses involved – celebration of beauty, movement and sound.
Of course the pre-concert is a terrific part of the evening as well. Each box comes equipped with a dining table and the guests are encouraged to bring their own al fresco dinner. Let’s face it. I am a curious caterer. So you can imagine how I was craning my neck around to see all the party faire being served. The picnic baskets alone were worth taking a close look at.
I accomplished my spying all the while dining on a lovely truffle pate, a sirloin of beef salad with summer salsa and fresh Peach and Berry Cobbler. My friend’s wine cellar contributed a bit to the romance of the evening as well.
A young married couple were seated in the box to my left. Out for an evening on their own, perhaps having left a small baby at home with a sitter, he had taken charge of preparing their dinner. Unpacking his basket he placed a checked tablecloth with matching napkins on the table, white and red wine glasses and an adorable LED candle. He began the dinner with a duck pate presented with crostini and cornichons. I sat transfixed as he assembled the entree (removing each homemade item from its own tupperware bowl) the most perfect salad nicoise - plated and garnished to perfection.
I couldn’t help it. I leaned over to his wife. “Pretty lady,” I whispered, “you are one lucky young woman.” They both blushed. It was a very sweet moment. So was the fact that when the concert began they sat side-by-side and held hands. I’d like to think that all the couples we cater weddings for each year will have similar evenings in their future.
After an incredibly awesome fireworks finale, and several standing ovations, we trooped backstage to greet John Mauceri and his wife Betty. It seems that as a perk for his most talented students, John will invite one or two to tag along when he goes on location to conduct. This night he had invited a tremendously appealing and very charming young twenty-one year old graduate student from No. Carolina who is currently working on a recital of his original work to be produced in New York City sometime next year. His name is Leo Hurley. Remember it. I suspect we will hear that name many times in the next few years.
Leo was raised in New Hampshire, obviously by very caring parents. He is a grounded and (as Mauceri commented) a very, very talented kid. I asked him if he was the type to get a fat head. He said, “No, because my sister is a biologist and she keeps me humble. And right now I’m sleeping on my friend’s futon on Manhattan’s Upper Westside which is not too glamorous for sure.”
I loved this self-assured kid. He held up his end of the conversation. Saying goodnight I gave him my email and asked him to stay in touch, telling him, “Let me know when your recital dates are set. I’m often in NYC.”
Follow up is everything in life.
Bright and early the next morning I received a text. “It was nice to meet you last night,” he wrote, “and I promise to stay in touch.”
I hope you do, Leo. It was a delightful night at the Bowl made even more special by meeting a young musician, who I just feel in my bones, possesses what I believe is the greatest talent in the world – the ability to compose great music for the ages and peace of the world.
So, just a reminder my new friend, I’ll be watching your fireworks someday with great pride, standing and yelling bravo!