Published online by Cambridge University Press: 09 April 2021
ERNEST FLEISCHMANN HAD been at the helm of the Los Angeles Philharmonic since 1969. He had been a good friend with programme ideas all through his 1960s LSO days and he turned up trumps again at the turn of the decade. After I directed a video of his new orchestra in 1982, Ernest confided that he wanted a rest: he no longer enjoyed running the crowded summer season of concerts at the Hollywood Bowl. He asked whether I would consider taking over for a year so he could enjoy a sabbatical; we would swap houses, he and his partner Rebecca Rickman going to our little French maison secondaire in the village of La Garde-Freinet (half an hour from the beaches of St Tropez) and we to his house in the Hollywood Hills, close to the Bowl and not far from the downtown freeway. I was curious and eager for new experiences so I agreed, fondly believing that Ernest, who was famous for his abrasive interventionism, would be 7,000 miles away. In the event there was a financial crisis at the orchestra, or so Ernest claimed, and he and Rebecca were unhappy with our not very mod-con French cottage. So after only a few weeks they were back in LA. Meanwhile, the Burton family had installed itself in their house, which meant they had to spend the summer living with friends in far-off Pasadena, but Ernest's presence in town meant Big Brother was watching my every move.
Happily, the Bowl was a marvel. Once a park and picnic place in Bolton Canyon, off Highland Avenue, the Bowl's natural amphitheatre was transformed into an outdoor concert venue back in the 1920s. The eccentric Australian, Percy Grainger, was famously married on its stage. The Bowl was beautiful, and because of its seating capacity it was also a tremendous moneymaker. A record 26,000 had crowded in before the war to hear Lily Pons: in my year, 1983, the top attendance was close to 20,000 and that was for another diva, Sarah Vaughan, singing jazz with Michael Tilson Thomas at the piano; wherever one sat that night it was an electrifying experience. ‘Music under the stars’ was one of the Bowl's branding slogans. Amplification played a big part in how one heard that music.