Striking a Chord: A Summer Season Concert at The Hollywood Bowl, 28 August 1928

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

The Homestead was happy to be able to provide a couple of photographs of a 1921 woman’s peace rally at the Hollywood Bowl for the coffee table history as it celebrates its centennial this year. As the summer season at the storied venue ends in the next couple of weeks, including its Summer Nights series, this post is our modest contribution to the commemoration, as we look at a program from the Homestead’s collection for the final week of the summer season of 1928 and specifically focus on the concert held on 28 August.

This was the 29th concert of the season, which included eight guest conductors, including Albert Coates of London; Pedro Sanjuan from Havana; the well-known Australian composer Percy Grainger, then in New York; Henri Verbrugghen, who was in Minneapolis; and rounding out the roster at the end of the nearly three months, Eugene Goossens, who was both in London and Rochester, New York.

Los Angeles Express, 3 April 1928.

Goossens was just 25 years old but had quite a conducting pedigree, as his father and grandfather, both named Eugene, were well-known in the field. The younger Goossens studied at the Bruges Conservatory in Belgium as well as the Royal College of Music in London and worked with Sir Thomas Beecham for several years.

In the early 1920s, he formed an orchestra that gave concerts and also performed some of his compositions, which were heavily influenced by the impressionist school including chamber music and a ballet among his early works. In 1923, Goossens became the director of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, which position he held for eight years, following this with a fifteen-year directorship in Cincinnati and then nine years in Australia. Composer of a pair of symphonies, two operas, songs, and pieces for cello, piano and violin, Goossens was knighted in 1955 and died seven years later.

San Pedro News Pilot, 16 August 1928.

In April 1928, the Hollywood Bowl Association announced its summer season. In heralding the “world-famous conductors and soloists” signed to appear, the Los Angeles Express of the 3rd referred to Goossens as “the brilliant British conductor, who will marshal the orchestra for the last two weeks of the series.”

The president of the organization was Allan C. Balch (1864-1943,) a native of New York and holder of two engineering degrees at Cornell University. After marriage to Janet Jacks, whose family was prominent in Monterey, they lived on the west coast, with Balch involved electric companies in Portland and Seattle.

Express, 18 August 1928.

The Balchs settled in Los Angeles in 1896 and he became a partner with another powerful figure, William G. Kerckhoff. The two were first involved with the San Gabriel Electric Company, folowed soon after with Henry E. Huntington’s Pacific Light and Power Company, which supplied electricity to his extensive streetcar system, while the company also established the vital Big Creek hydroelectric power project that delivered electricity from the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the Angel City. In 1917, Pacific was subsumed within Southern California Edison.

Balch was also among a group that, in 1913, took control of Southern California Gas Company and he had a number of other roles in land development, oil and other regional activities. As a philanthropist, Balch joined the Board of Trustees for the California Institute of Technology in 1925, was president in the following decade, and he and Janet endowed the well-known Athenaeum and the Balch Graduate School of the Geological Sciences at that institution, as well as residence halls at Cornell and Scripps College in Claremont.

Hollywood Citizen, 28 August 1928

The couple were also avid art collectors and left their holdings to the Los Angeles County Museum, while Allan was a director of the Automobile Club of Southern California, the Southwest Museum, the Huntington Library, the Southern California Symphony Association and, of course, the Bowl association.

The Express article paraphrased Balch as stating that “the season promises to equal, if not surpass, former standards, while also observing that “parking space is being enlarged, which, with a new entrance, will facilitate and hasten traffic,” a $10,000 planting budget was established and “a new ‘shell’ has been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright” with seating improvements also on the docket. The shell mentioned here was the famous semi-circular one symbolic of the venue, replacing the pyramidal one (built of left-over lumber from a film project) used only in 1927, but both were the work of Lloyd Wright, the underappreciated son of the iconic architect.

Express, 28 August 1928.

Also of note from the article was that Bowl General Manager Raymond Brite announced that, after three years of negotiations, the Victor Talking Machine Company, later RCA-Victor, would record concerts and that a quintet of discs would be issued under the moniker of “Symphony Under the Stars.” In addition to having documentation of performances at the Bowl, Brite added, the effect would be that the recording of concerts was “serving as excellent publicity means for this community.” The program also informed patrons that “descriptive program notes, musically illustrated” were to be broadcast mornings on the KHJ and KMTR radio stations.

Other Hollywood Bowl Association officers included Hollywood developer Charles E. Toberman as first vice-president (he was president in 1923-1924) and Fred E. Keeler (who later was a funder of Lockheed Aircraft Corporation) as second vice-president. Among the directors were Mrs. Leiland Atherton Irish and Mrs. Burdette H. Norton with Balch, Keeler and Toberman, while charter and active members included such well-known names as Los Angeles Philharmonic founder William Andrews Clark, Jr., oil and real estate developer G. Allan Hancock, banker Henry M. Robinson, Harry M. Haldeman (whose grandson was Richard Nixon’s chief of staff), Julia C. Morgan, the wife of banker Joseph F. Sartori, the wife of prominent USC sociologist Emory Bogardus, the wife of developer Fred Bixby, and prominent Hollywood woman’s club leader Jessica M. Lawrence.

Los Angeles Times, 30 August 1928.

Naturally, the roster of boxholders included many prominent Angelenos and some institutions, such as banks, churches, and others. Some of the well-known names were legendary film comedian Charles Chaplin; arts impresario Lynden E. Behymer; composer Charles Wakefield Cadman; oil producer Aline Barnsdall; film director and producer Cecil B. de Mille and his wife; oil tycoon Edward L. Doheny and his wife; screen legend Douglas Fairbanks and his wife; actor Janet Gaynor; Judge Carlos Hardy and his wife; banker Irving H. Hellman; architect Lloyd Wright (son of the more famous Frank Lloyd Wright) and designer of the recently built band shell at the venue; and actor Fay Wray.

In its 16 August edition, the San Pedro Pilot noted that, after a fortnight of concerts, “the picturesque Hollywood hills that have echoed for the past two months the glorious music of one of the greatest orchestras in the world will be engulfed in silence.” As for Goossens, the paper added that he was “the youngest director to appear in any of the three successive years that he has been guest conductor at the Bowl” and that he “returns this summer as the result of enormous popular demand.”

This was because the conductor “has endeared himself to all Bowl patrons because of his dynamic personality and musical leadership.” Goossens, it was reported, was coming from London, “where he has just completed a season of triumphant engagements as symphony director, and at Covent Garden in opera.” Willem Mengelberg, the conductor of the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam, also invited Goossens to be a guest conductor at that venue.

The Express of the 18th featured a profile photo of the “most brilliant of British conductors” and observed that, with his invitation for a third consecutive year as a guest conductor he was “the only visiting leader to whom such an honor has been accorded.” It also accounted that his Amsterdam appearances constituted “phenomenal successes” while it was anticipated that his concerns at the Bowl were to be “scintillating programs.” The night of the concert focused on here, the Hollywood Citizen reported that it would be “typical of Mr. Goossens art in program-building, in contrasting classic and modern numbers to attain the most telling effect” as it focused on his inclusion of Russian composers

Concerning the program for the concert of the 28th, the first of five selections and presented for the first time at the Bowl was an overture composed in 1848 by Robert Schumann to the poem “Manfred,” written by Lord Byron some three decades before. This was followed by the fourth symphony of Alexander Glazunov with the work completed at the end of 1893 and this, too, was the first time the piece was performed at the venue.

After a fifteen minute intermission, “orchestral fragments” were performed from Maurice Ravel’s 1912 work “Daphnis and Chloe,” called a ballet in the program, but generally referred to as a choreographic symphony. Played straight through, at 56 minutes the work was not only the composer’s longest, but was the centerpiece of the concert.

Following was the “Waldweben” (Forest Murmurs) from Richard Wagner’s “Siegfried,” which premiered in 1876 as the third of the four “music dramas,” often called operas, of the composer’s “The Ring of the Niebelung” epic. The last piece of the evening was the debut in Los Angeles of Mikhail Glinka’s “Kamarinskaya,” which is considered the beginnings of the Russian symphonic when it was composed the same year as the Schumann piece and which also marked the first time a folk song from that nation was rendered into a classical work.

The concert was reviewed by the Los Angeles Times‘ Isabel Morse Jones, who was a music and dance critic for over twenty years from the mid-1920s to the late 1940s and a descendant of Samuel Morse, who developed the Morse code for telegraphs, but was also a painter. Jones was a violinist and cellist for the Los Angeles Woman’s Symphony Orchestra and a violin teacher, but she also was a press representative for the Bowl and wrote a history of the venue that was published in 1951.

A wood block rendering, “From the Last Row,” by Franz Geritz.

In her article, Jones highlighted the more modern of the works, those by Glazunov and Ravel, as the best of the performance and she added that, after Mrs. Irish offered a plea for more patrons of the venue, prominent attorney and civic leader Joseph Scott, known as “Mr. Los Angeles,” employed his “Irish wit,” though he was actually from Penrith, near William Workman’s hometown, in northern England, to support her request.

Jones continued that the cost of mounting the performances was increasing, but

there is a deficit and the only way the music-lovers of this community can give the Bowl managers the requisite courage to begin the negotiations for another year is for 5000 Bowl fans to promise to buy a season ticket book for five consecutive years. So far about 200 have signed.

Turning to the program, she observed that “Mr. Goossens selection of program numbers for last night’s concert was particularly happy” as Glazunov’s symphony “proved to be ideal in the Bowl” because “it is melodic, rhythmical and easy to listen to” while “it was done with a kind of aristocratic grace and charm that were quite irresistible.” The use of woodwinds for the scherzo, Jones noted, worked very well for an outdoor setting.

The Ravel orchestral fragments “demonstrated the unusual interest and facility which Goossens devotes to conducting ballet” and she continued that “the obscurities of Ravel’s modernism were well pointed and the work earned enthusiastic applause.” Deemed to the composer “at his colorful best,” the work utilized “subtle harmonies, atmospheric to a degree,” while it also showed that “Ravel’s modernism is gently, cultivated, supersensitive and filled with that spiritual essence which is felt at once in the delicacy and restraint” of the piece.

The critic, after writing that “for this and for many other charming introductions to new music, Los Angeles has Mr. Goossens to thanks,” went on to note that the Wagner piece “gave the popular conductor another and more solid mood to convey to the listeners” and, in so doing, “proved his versatility.” While she briefly noted the “lively tunes and characteristic rhythms” of the Glinka piece, Jones did not remark on the opening work by Schumann.

The program provided notes from Bruno David Ussher, a native of Germany who studied music and philosophy and came to Los Angeles in 1919, writing for Saturday Night magazine, the Express and other publications and teaching at the Hollywood Conservatory of Music and Arts. Ussher noted, for example, that Schumann was “the arch-romantic among romantic composers” and his love of Byron’s “Manfred” was such that it “stirred him to extraordinary depth of emotion, even to tears.” The composer, Ussher added, wrote to Franz Liszt, that he felt that the overture was “one of the finest children of my brain, and [I] hope that you will agree with me.”

For Glazunov’s piece, the critic opined that the composer “has outgrown this symphony” and cited an expert who called the fourth symphony “a half-way house in the artistic evolution of its creator.” Still, Ussher observed, the work “speaks for itself, its finely human message being uttered with fine clarity.” For the Ravel piece, the composer’s “orchestra mastery is at no time exemplified better” as the critic went into some detail about the work and its elements, as well as the plot.

With respect to the “Forest Murmurs” from “Siegfried,” Ussher called it “another incomparable, almost indefinable creation of the genius [that was] Wagner,” who “reveals himself a master in [the] painting of moods in man and nature.” One paramount example cited was the “delightful . . . indication of the warbling of birds by the oboes, flutes, and clarinets,” while “a bit of poignant detail in the bird-calls” occurs as “the whole ensemble weaves and murmurs in great chant” in an unusual rhythm.

Finally, the critic’s discussion of the “Kamarinskaya” stated that it “is a characteristic work of the composer, whose artistic and historic importance has been well summed up in naming him ‘the Father of Russian Music.'” By moving away from influences from France and Italy, Glinka established “a national school or movement of Russian compositions that has given to his country and the world music doubly treasurable in its racial uniqueness.” Ussher cited the great Tchaikovsky, who observed that “Kamarinskaya contained the germ of all subsequent Russian music,” while noting that Glinka, for health reasons, was in France and longing for his homeland when he wrote his classic work.

As the Hollywood Bowl comes near the close of its centennial celebration, the Homestead is happy to offer this and a previous post as a small way to join in.

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