by Paul R. Spitzzeri
The hyper-realized development of greater Los Angeles in the late 19th and early 20th centuries involved many elements of political, economic and social growth, including the arts, As noted here, the city came a long way from the 1859 opening of the short-lived Temple Theater, the first purpose-built venue of its type in Los Angeles, but which made way for the county courthouse within just a few years.
Over succeeding decades, venues for musical and theatrical performances became larger and more sophisticated, including such examples as the Merced Theater (1870), Childs’ Opera House (1884), Blanchard Hall (1899), and the Temple Auditorium (1906) before the 1910s and 1920s included a wave of fine performing venues, including the Hollywood Bowl, a remarkable outdoor amphitheater, which will celebrate its centennial in two years.
The venue offered its inaugural performance by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Alfred Hertz, on 11 July 1922, though events were held at the 60-acre site since its purchase by the Theater Arts Alliance three years prior, and the Bowl quickly gained renown for its beautiful setting and the quality of its musical offerings, while the physical development of the stage (and, later, its iconic bandshell) and seating quickly continued.
In 1924, the property was deeded to the County of Los Angeles and the Hollywood Bowl Association was formed with many prominent personages from politics, business and society serving as officers and on committees. There was also a group of summer concert committees, including an advisory one and others for banquets and luncheons, advertising and publicity, entertainment, music, radio, the summer concerts specifically and a speaker’s bureau. Moreover, a list of box seat holders is a panoply of the “Who’s Who” of the area, including companies and individuals, including many folks in the burgeoning film industry.
By 1925, after a few seasons of traditional and popular fare, guest conductor Fritz Reiner introduced works by modern composers like Igor Stravinsky, Arthur Honegger, and Manuel de Falla to challenge and, hopefully, recalibrate the ears of attendees. That summer Ethel Leginska was the first female conductor to take the stage and lead an orchestra at the Bowl. The following year, a consortium, Allied Architects, designed the original arched proscenium for the stage, though the first design had to be altered because acoustics took a back seat to form, and renowned architect Myron Hunt created a striking elliptical shape for the amphitheater, while permanent seating was also finished.
The programs for the week included one on Tuesday the 19th, which was designated as “Italian Night” with guest conductor Pietro Cimini and which included portions of four operas, including Gioachino Rossini’s “L’Italiana in Algieri” and two works by Pietro Mascagni “Iris” and “L’Amico Fritz.” Other orchestral works were a suite from “Impressioni dal Vero” by Francesco Malipiero, the scherzo section of the suite “Venetian Scenes” from Luigi Mancinelli and the rhapsody “”Italia” from Alfredo Casella. This evening’s performances were broadcast on KFI, one of the early radio stations in Los Angeles and which was owned by the auto dealer Earle C. Anthony.
On Thursday evening, guest conductor Vladimir Shavitch led the orchestra in a program that included the “Benvenuto Cellini” opera overture by Hector Berlioz, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s fourth symphony, the “Don Juan” tone poem by Richard Strauss, and two works by Richard Wagner, including the prelude to the opera “Lohengrin” and the famous Ride of the Valkyries (perhaps best known to modern audiences for its part in the film Apocalypse Now) which came from “Die Walküre,” the second of the quartet of “Der Ring des Nibelungen” operas.
Friday evening’s program, also conducted by Shavitch, featured his wife, the pianist Tina Lerner, in the “Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in A Minor” by Edvard Grieg. Other pieces performed that night were Ottorino Respighi’s symphonic poem “The Pines of Rome,” Cesar Auguste Franck’s symphonic poem “The Wild Huntsman,” Antonin Dvorak’s “Carnival” overture, and two tunes from Percy Grainger.
Finally, there was a “Popular Night” on Saturday night with Shavitch leading the orchestra in a program of ten pieces, such as Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance,” even then a graduation standard, Johann Strauss II’s chestnut “The Blue Danube Waltz,” Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “The Flight of the Bumble Bee” from his opera “Tsar Sultan,” and another immensely popular piece, Jean Sibelius’ tone poem “Finlandia,” and Claude Debussy’s “Festivals: from his “Three Nocturnes.”
For each of the four nights, there are extensive notes by Bruno David Ussher, the music critic mentioned a few days ago in the post about the issue of the Los Angeles magazine Saturday Night. Some of the explanations and backgrounds of pieces are longer and more involved than others, but there is a good deal of information about the composers and their works in those that go into some depth.
A “Sips from the Bowl” section provides advance information about the following week’s offerings, with the guest conductor being Pierre Monteux, styled a “French Ambassador of Music” and who was making his first appearance on the west coast. Among works being performed under his baton were Maurice Ravel’s “Valse,” Carl Maria von Weber’s overture from “Euryanthe,” Rimsky-Korsakov’s famed “Scheherazade,” the “Iberia” by Debussy, and elements of Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman,” among many others. American tenor Dan Gridley was to be the guest soloist.
“The Manager’s Weekly Letter” from the facility’s director Raymond Brite shared impressions of the Bowl from correspondents, including “Congratulations on the beauty and dignity of the opening concert. It was entirely up to Bowl standards!” and “My wife and I did so much enjoy the [Bruno] Walter ‘pop’ concert.” Brite, however, did include critiques including, “Why in heaven’s name did you have Bruno Walter open with a program of such froth?” and one from a newspaper, “Why bring over a Samson from Germany to throw confetti?”
Brite’s defense was that the venue’s staff “do our very best to give the greatest musical enjoyment to the greatest number” including a variety of special evenings for novelties, popular pieces, symphonies, and soloists, among others. Obviously, those upset by the “froth” of 1927 would have been positively apoplectic about, say, the Beatles at the Bowl and other popular elements of recent decades.
The manager also noted that a Spanish caricaturist named De Bru was visiting California that summer and “is fast becoming a dyed-in-the wool Hollywood ‘Bowlshevik'” including some fanciful renderings of some of those luminaries at the venue, including one reproduced in the column, showing conductor Alfred Hertz. Brite added that other caricatures “are now being prepared in books form and will be available along Pepper Tree Lane [the main road on site] next week.” He noted that “you will want this humorous souvenir of the 1927 season—laughter and chuckles galore on every page.” The publication, which had nearly thirty illustrations, was, naturally, called The Hollywood Bowlsheviks.
The artist, born in 1900 in Spain but raised in Havana, Cuba, was a master violinist and held the first chair in the Cuban national orchestra. After his stay in the summer of 1927, he remained in Los Angeles and formed a tango band that performed at the Cocoanut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel, while he published cartoons in the Los Angeles Times and Photoplay, the film magazine. In the early Thirties, he moved to New York and headlined at the famous Waldorf Astoria Hotel for over fifteen years. He and his band appeared in many films and he later returned to Los Angeles. He was better known as Xavier Cugat and one of his band members went on to fame as Desi Armaz, though the two became bitter rivals.
There are some other interesting little tidbits in this program. For example, there is “The Golden Bowl,” concerning the musings of a landscape feature along Pepper Tree Lane which noted “I sit modestly mute at the feet of my big brother, Hollywood Bowl.” It added “A beggar am I. But it is not for myself I beg. My big brother needs me and my gifts” as it was the money dropped by patrons in the Golden Bowl that “shall keep his new garb clean and in repair.”
In the “Sips from the Bowl” feature, there is a reprint of a poem from Ahmad Sohrab, a Persian who claimed descent from the Muslim founder Muhammad and who was the secretary and interpreter of the head of the Baha’i faith. He lived in Los Angeles during the Twenties and he and actress working together on a film idea about Mary Magdalene sued Cecil B. DeMille claiming that his 1927 epic The King of Kings stole from their concept—the case was settled out of court a few years later.
Afterwards, Sohrab lived in New York and worked to spread the Baha’i faith in America, but he encountered trouble with the religion’s leaders and was excommunicated at the end of the Thirties. He continued to work as what was called a “Reform Baha’i” leader until his death in 1958. The poem reads:
I am the Bowl!
In my arms I carry the flowers of the symphony of nature.
In my hands I gold the jar of the altar of music.
I fill the world with the fragrance of ecstacy.
I am the watchtower.
I guide the heart-weary travellers to the Temple of Melody.
I am the Angel of the Everlasting.
I lead God’s children to the haven of sympathy.
I am the Bowl!
Then, there is verse penned by Ernest McGaffey, a Chicago attorney who practiced with Edgar Lee Masters, a renowned poet, and Clarence Darrow, the famed lawyer of the Scopes Monkey Trial, the Leopold and Loeb case, and the defense of the McNamara brothers in the Los Angeles Times bombing attack.
While not viewed on par with Masters, best known for his 1915 Spoon River Anthology, McGaffey was a published poet of some note with his first volumes published in the early 1890s and one work, Ballades and Idylls, issued by the Saturday Night Publishing Company of Los Angeles in 1931.
McGaffey’s contribution to the bowl program is “Deep in a Chasm in the Hills,” of which a sample is:
Deep in a chasm in the hills
A wave of melody throbs and thrills.
Uprising far, and faintly borne,
Yet gathering volume, sounds a horn.
And clear and poignantly begins
The magic of the violins.
Then breaking in vociferous comes
The clash of cymbals; and the drums;
While mellow flute-notes ripple past
Each echo lovelier than the last . . .
And last, a low susurrus sweeps
Like ebb-tides o’er enchanted deeps.
Then, past the hooded gates of night
The soul of Chopin takes its flight.
And bright through moon-encircled bars
Shine down a million myriad stars.
This program, which includes a remarkable colorful wrapper by painter Francis William Vreeland, who had a studio in Los Feliz during the Twenties and was president of the California Art Club, but who was also associated with the Rookwood Pottery Company early in the century and the influence of which can be seen in the cover work, is a fine representative sample of the serious music arena in Los Angeles as the city grew to a major American metropolis by the end of the 1920s.
With its guest conductors of note and the varying program of “Italian Night,” “Popular Night,” and other diverse musical works from the classical repertoire, including some modern pieces, the publication is also reflective of the aims of the Hollywood Bowl Association and those supporting serious music as the arts were developing in the Angel City. As the venue approaches its centennial, occasional posts here will continue to highlight the early history of the Bowl, one of the iconic performance spaces in the city.