LOS ANGELES -- People say that Los Angeles has no seasons - that there are no markings of the passage of time as the pages of the calendar turn. Although it's true that we don't have snow in winter and much changing of foliage in autumn, we have a delightful reminder of the arrival of summer. That's when the Hollywood Bowl season begins.
What could be a more enchanting announcement of the start of summertime than an evening outdoor concert at the Bowl. As the day's heat begins to cool down, we settle down in our seats, open up the picnic basket and uncork the wine bottles. As the sky darkens and stars begin sparkling against its dark velvet backdrop, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra strikes up the overture and the hills of Hollywood resound with glorious music. That's when we know that summer has definitely arrived in Los Angeles.
Two weeks ago, a banker friend and fellow trustee of the Japanese American National Museum, Tom Decker and his charming wife Denise invited me as their guest to their box for an evening of Leonard Bernstein and Johannes Brahms at the Bowl. The soloist was a gifted young violinist, Joshua Bell.
The conductor was the vivacious stylist, Keri-Lynn Wilson. The program began with Bernstein's "Candide" and moved on to his popular, "West Side Story." Joshua Bell's violin rendition of "Maria" was as mellow and rich as the California pinot noir that I was sipping. The second half of the evening was Brahms who took us on a musical journey a century back to classical old Germany. His "Symphony No. 2 in D Major" began as softly, as lyrically as fine chardonnay and ended as bubbly as the effervescence of champagne. It was an intoxicating evening under the stars, musically as well as by the fine produce of California's legendary Napa Valley. I was not driving that evening.
The boxes at the Hollywood Bowl are enormously difficult to get. They have literally become family heirlooms passed in wills from one generation to the next. Fortunately, I have a friend whose family has a box that they do not use for every concert. So, at the beginning of a season, I look over the schedule and buy through him, certain nights in his family box. I donate some of my nights to a few of my favorite charities as fund-raising auction items. In a couple of weeks I have my guests from the East West Players fund raiser for an evening of music from Broadway and Hollywood with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra conducted by John Mauceri. This night always ends spectacularly with fireworks lighting up the summer night sky.
I remember when my parents first took me as a kid to the Hollywood Bowl. It was a pageant of California history. As darkness descended, we heard a trumpet call from a distant hill and Spanish conquistadors on horseback appeared over the hill with their troops carrying multi-colored flags. Then, spotlights suddenly shone on the opposite hill picking out a tribe of Indians. They came down the hills and met on stage to sign a peace pact. This was followed by the arrival of Father Serra and the Jesuit missionaries and a California mission magically rose up before us. Spectacular battle scenes between the Mexicans and Americanos, as well as a panorama of a devastating earthquake, were staged right before our enthralled eyes. The spectacle was brought to the point of the introduction of movies to the then rustic farm town called Hollywood. It was a thrilling and unforgettable introduction to the magic of a summer evening at the Hollywood Bowl.
As a teenager, I used to go on dates in the upper tiers of the Bowl. We took our sandwiches, fruits and soda pops huffing and puffing up the hillside to our lofty perches and looked down on the miniature orchestra playing in the tiny bowl in the distance below. It was a cheap date but the music was the same fabulous sound as that heard down in the pricey and remote boxes in the distance. As a matter of fact, I know that some of my friends sneaked in from the street above the Bowl, hid up in the trees and enjoyed the concerts for free.
Now I enjoy the concerts from the comfort and opulence of the very boxes I used to peer down on so wistfully. When Walt Disney's animated feature film, "Mulan," in which I was the voice of the Great Ancestor, had its gala premiere, it was there at the Hollywood Bowl. The opening was an extravagant affair. A gourmet picnic buffet was followed by a spectacular stage review of popular Disney animated films with a cast of a hundred dancers and singers. Then a gigantic screen appeared on stage and the premiere screening of "Mulan" began. Very appropriately for the Great Ancestor, I was ensconced in a great box smack dab in the center of the prime section down by the stage. The premiere finished with a dazzling fireworks display that had us arching our heads back to see the explosive spectacle. At the Hollywood Bowl, as we succeed in life, we don't go up, we go downward. We go down to our boxes right near the orchestra for gourmet food, fine wine and glorious music under the summer night sky. The Hollywood Bowl not only marks the passage of our seasons, it's our southern Californian summer rites of passage.