The Hollywood Bowl may be the best shorthand in Los Angeles for all that is at once wonderful, perplexing, cultural, and kitschy about southern California.
One of the world's largest natural amphitheaters, it can seat nearly 18,000 people for a picturesque evening of music and picnicking under the stars. At the same time, unlike nearly every other major outdoor summer music facility, the Bowl is nestled in the heart of the United States' second-largest city, leading to significant airplane and helicopter traffic throughout a concert.
If any roster could be crowd-pleasing across a broad enough spectrum to get beyond the urban interference, it's here. This summer features, among others, jazz great Oscar Peterson, Chopin virtuoso Garrick Ohlsson, Rosemary Clooney, Natalie Cole, the Budapest Festival Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra (doing a Gershwin centennial tribute and a Leonard Bernstein birthday celebration), Ray Charles, Lynn Redgrave, Kathleen Battle, and Itzhak Perlman, to name a fraction - not to mention seven fireworks spectaculars, a night in Old Vienna, and tangoing down to Argentina.
This list doesn't fully reveal the new directions the eight-year-old Hollywood Bowl Orchestra has undertaken since the arrival of conductor John Mauceri in 1991. The two country-themed evenings are his creation, but his passion is preservation of two great American art forms - the American musical and movie music.
"One of my missions is to restore music that was written for film that has never been performed live," said the conductor in a phone interview from Torino, Italy, where he is music director of the Teatro Regio. He continues, "Most Americans don't realize that a huge portion of their musical heritage is not performable. It exists only in studio archives."
Mr. Mauceri has dedicated hundreds of hours to scoring this music and performing it, not only at the Bowl but also abroad. A recent concert in Germany had special poignancy because many of the composers whose work has brought movies to life from the 1930s onward were German exiles.
The Bowl is like many things in L.A., only more so. It has loyal and long-term fans who take it on its own terms. "It's not the stuffy concert hall," says one longtime season ticketholder, "and that's what makes it special."
Mauceri agrees wholeheartedly, adding: "I like to think of [the Bowl performances] as the thinking man's pop concerts," Mauceri muses. "We create a journey that they can take with us on a warm summer night under the stars."
Like many other L.A. landmarks, the Bowl's gleaming white arch with the Frank Gehry-designed spheres is familiar far beyond this city.
Says the conductor, "Part of the reason the Bowl has this place in the national psyche is that it's a grand spot," adding, "the place itself is magic."
* Gloria Goodale's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org