8 ways the Hollywood Bowl is reviving historic stage moments for a modern audience

The Hollywood Bowl is more than a venue: it’s a collection of stories.

The morning in 1921 when the Los Angeles Philharmonic played its first Easter sunrise service on a small wooden platform on the slope of the future hatch housing. The time in 1964 when the Beatles performed in front of 18,700 histrionic fans in a show that sold out in less than four hours. Jazz at the Bowl’s 1980 debut starring Joe Williams, Dave Brubeck, George Shearing, BB King, Muddy Waters and Big Joe Turner.

There are countless more. A river of stories and music that has flowed across the last century to this point in time – the Bowl’s 100th Anniversary season, set to begin this summer. The amphitheater will celebrate by paying tribute to its most memorable stories through programming that reflects the legacy of past performances.

Here’s a selection of eight centennial offerings that reflect famous moments in the Hollywood Bowl’s history:

Then: The first Symphonies Under the Stars concerts, 1922. Now: Ten evenings under the stars with Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic (various dates):

An early summer concert program from the Hollywood Bowl.

An early Hollywood Bowl summer concert program with Alfred Hertz (regarded as the father of the Hollywood Bowl) conducting.

The Hollywood Bowl’s love affair with classical music dates back to 1922 the Prussian-born conductor “Papa” Alfred Hertz programmed the first symphonies under the stars. Julia Ward, director of humanities at LA Phil and editor of the new book Hollywood Bowl: The First 100 Years, said Hertz was the father of the Bowl and created the template for the type of classical music that would thrive at the venue in the 20th and early 21st centuries, including Mozart and Tchaikovsky. It was no coincidence, Ward said, that the latter composer’s music was eventually used for the Bowl’s annual spectacular fireworks display.

Dudamel’s performances this summer on Evenings Under the Stars will continue his streak of having the most bowl appearances of any music director in the history of the LA Phil, Chief Executive Chad Smith said. The tally ahead of this summer’s celebrations stands at 151 performances, excluding performances recorded in a mostly empty bowl during the pandemic.

Then: “The Valkyrie” staged with music by LA Phil 1938. Now: Industry founder Yuval Sharon directs Act III of Richard Wagner’s “The Valkyrie” (July 17):

The Golden Age of Hollywood ushered in an era of spectacle not only in film but also on stage. The yearning to create a space capable of staging performances on a grand scale led to the creation of the Bowl, Ward said. In 1938, one of the Bowl’s most memorable shows was created with Richard Wagner’s opera Die Walkürie. Directed by prominent Italian director Armando Agnini, it featured performers dressed as Valkyries holding flames aloft and riding down the hill behind the hatch shell. The riders were illuminated so that they appeared to be galloping into the sky. “The Valkyrie,” Ward said, remains one of the most spectacular bowl events of all time.

It may not be possible to top the 1938 performance, but if anyone can, it’s Yuval Sharon. The MacArthur Fellow and Artistic Director of Los Angeles’ avant-garde opera company Industry will direct his own rendition of the third act of The Valkyrie. Sharon, Smith said, is keeping the details of his plans under wraps, but it says liberal use of green screens will help reflect the flash and spectacle of the original event.

“Yuval is one of the most tireless creatives in the world,” said Smith. “It’s going to be an immersive experience, and it’s going to be very special.”

Then: Decades of bowl performances by artists like the Martha Graham Dance Company and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Now: Paris Opera Ballet (July 20, 21):

“The history of dance, not just in Los Angeles, but I would say in the United States, was really influenced by what was happening at the Bowl in the 1920s and 1930s,” Ward said.

Lester Horton, credited with starting the modern dance movement in LA, choreographed Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring at the Bowl in 1937. The event featured the rare sight of barefoot dancers moving in an angular, irregular manner and marked the first time Stravinsky’s work was choreographed by an American.

Works by pioneering choreographers Ruth St. Denis, Ted Shawn, Norma Gould, Adolph Bolm and Agnes de Mille have also been performed at the Bowl.

Dudamel recently took over as musical director of the Paris Opera and has invited the Paris Opera Ballet to make their bowl debut this summer, accompanied by LA Phil.

Then: In 1943, Frank Sinatra became the first pop singer to perform at the Bowl. Now: A Tribute to Peggy Lee and Frank Sinatra with Billie Eilish and Debbie Harry (July 27):

A man sings with an orchestra on stage.

August 14, 1943: Frank Sinatra performs at the Hollywood Bowl.

(Los Angeles Times)

Schlager singer Frank Sinatra caused some controversy in 1943 when he became the first pop star to perform at the Hollywood Bowl, as well as the first pop star to lead a full symphony concert at the venue, Ward said.

“That was groundbreaking at the time,” Ward said. “Just combining genres like that. But he really did set up a model of what a pop and orchestra collaboration at the Bowl would look like. And of course that has continued.”

Peggy Lee wrote her own Bowl story when she co-hosted the first live television broadcast from the venue in 1954.

Billie Eilish and Debbie Harry will star in this summer’s tribute to Sinatra and Lee.

Then: The Leonard Bernstein years, including his debut in 1943 and his direction of the progressive Festival of the Americas in 1955. Now: “West Side Story” in concert, a tribute to the music of Leonard Bernstein, with Dudamel and the LA Phil ( July 12th and 14th):

A program with the Festival of the Americas program.

Hollywood Bowl Festival of America Program 1955.

(Los Angeles Philharmonic)

Bernstein’s relationship with the Hollywood Bowl is among the most celebrated of any conductor or composer in the history of the venue, Ward said. His first appearance as a conductor was in the 1943 West Coast premiere of his score for the ballet Fancy Free. He produced the 1955 Festival of the Americas, a multi-day celebration of Latin American music and repertoire.

A Venezuelan native, Dudamel founded his own Pan-America Music Initiative, a five-year endeavor to shine a spotlight on the depth and breadth of classical music in Latin America. Dudamel and Bernstein share populist traits that endear them to their fans, so the former’s tribute to the latter should be particularly enjoyable to watch, Ward said.

Then: Herbie Hancock’s bowl debut in the 1960s as part of the Miles Davis Quintet, followed by more than 30 more appearances at the venue. Now: Herbie Hancock (28 Sep):

A man plays keytar on stage.

Herbie Hancock performs at his 70th birthday concert entitled ‘Seven Decades – The Birthday Celebration’ at the Hollywood Bowl on September 1, 2010.

(Los Angeles Times)

Hancock, 82, is the LA Phil’s jazz creative chair and has performed at the Bowl every decade of his 60-year career, Smith said.

Ward added, “You could do an oral history of the Bowl just based on Herbie Hancock’s use of it.”

Then: John Williams makes his first appearance at the Bowl in 1978 and soon becomes a fixture. Now: The Williams Tribute Concert “Maestro of the Movies” (Sept. 2, 3, 4):

A man shakes hands with ET on stage.

John Williams shakes hands with ET at the Hollywood Bowl, September 10, 1982.

(Los Angeles Philharmonic)

One of the most famous film music nights took place in 1977 when Zubin Mehta conducted the first Star Wars concert.

“And he did it like a laser light show,” Smith said. “I mean, imagine the feeling.”

Williams himself made his Bowl debut the following year, conducted his own scores, and has been a standout ever since—in many ways forming the enduring web of connection between the Hollywood Bowl and Hollywood itself.

Williams will celebrate his 90th birthday during the bowl’s centenary celebrations.

Then: 2001 the first “Sound of Music” singalong, then bowl tradition. Now: The Sound of Music Sing-A-Long: (Sep 17):

A group of actors sing on stage.

Hollywood Bowl “Sound of Music Sing-A-Long” 2018.

(Los Angeles Philharmonic)

The path to the stage for the “Sound of Music” singalong, a popular bowl tradition, can be traced back to a nursing home in Inverness, Scotland, in the late ’90s, Ward said.

“The nurses wanted to involve the residents in interactive group therapy, so they gave out the song sheets for ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.’ And one of the residents’ grandchildren saw it and thought it would be a great live show, so he chose ‘Sound of Music’ and presented it at a gay and lesbian film festival in London,” Ward said.

The show went to New York and eventually to the Hollywood Bowl, where it had its largest audience to date.

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2022-06-08/hollywood-bowl-100th-anniversary-season-schedule 8 ways the Hollywood Bowl is reviving historic stage moments for a modern audience

Sarah Ridley

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