January 2, 2012

Green Music Center Joins the Country's Outstanding Venues

By Janos Gereben

Weill Hall on New Year's Day Photos by Michael StricklandProduct of a difficult birth — of great effort, difficult fundraising, delays, and mounting costs — Sonoma State University's Donald & Maureen Green Music Center is finally reality; a splendid one.

What started as a $37 million project a decade ago is now all but complete: an imposing, appealing, 105,435-square-foot edifice with a price tag over $130 million.

The heart of the center is the stunning 1,400-seat Joan and Sanford I. Weill Hall, designed by architect William Rawn Associates, with matchless acoustics by Lawrence Kirkegaard. It is a major addition to contemporary West Coast concert venues, on par with the acclaimed Disney Hall in Los Angeles. The shoebox-shaped hall is reminiscent of such exceptional venues as the Boston Symphony Hall, Vienna's Musikvereinssaal, and Tanglewood's Seiji Ozawa Hall.

Ruben Armiñana speaks; on his right: Sanford Weill On the first day of 2012, a powerful trio told invited visitors some of plans for the first season. Sonoma State University President Ruben Armiñana; naming donor and "Father of Telecom Valley" Donald Green; and adviser board chair Sanford Weill, also one of the country's premier financiers, announced:

  • The center's formal opening on Sept. 29-30 will be marked by a piano recital by Lang Lang and a concert by the Santa Rosa Symphony, which will be the center's resident orchestra.
  • Some 20 other soloists will be announced in early March. The center's operating budget, Weill estimated, will be about $3 million a year.
  • The San Francisco Symphony will perform in Weill Hall four concerts annually, beginning in the inaugural 2012-2013 season. Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas and guest conductors will lead the orchestra. Details of dates, artists, and repertoire will be announced in March.
  • Weill is board chair of New York's Carnegie Hall, which is "exploring a number of future partnership opportunities" with the Green Center, "including music education programs ... special residencies ... combining performance and community activities."

"This is truly the moment for which we have all been waiting," said Armiñana. "We would not be here without the community of music lovers and philanthropists who have come together around our vision of a world class performing arts venue at a public university."

The unusual wooden chairs have silent airconditioning vents under them Green said the project has been a labor of love for him and his wife, Maureen, "and many in our community for more than 12 years. We feel excited and grateful to everyone as we watch the Green Music Center come to fruition in such a positive way with so many supporters."

Weill said at the announcement that he and his wife are "extremely passionate about education, music, and the arts and we are firm believers that they help bridge cultural divides that exist throughout the world." The Green Music Center, Weill said, brings all three together on the campus of a public university:

Not only will the Center create an innovative learning environment for students with our exciting new partnerships, but it will provide an economic boost to the area and help diversify its tourist base. Northern California boasts some of the country's best food, wine, weather, people, and now culture. Today’s announcements further enhance the reputation of San Francisco and the whole North Bay as one of the world’s premier cultural destinations.

View from the balcony SFS Executive Director Brent Assink greeted the "beautiful venue," and said the orchestra is "eager to welcome audiences ... to share the inspired music-making that is the trademark of the vibrant partnership between the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas."

The all-wood hall now has permanent chairs, also of wood, but quite comfortable. Everything in the hall serves its extraordinary acoustics. No pins were dropped on the stage, but it's certain they would have been heard everywhere.

An ingenious air conditioning system — by Peterson Mechanical Inc., Rudolf & Sletten general contractors — is unique in its under-floor duct flow, producing no sound at all.

Seiji Ozawa Hall It's no accident the Green Center architecture is similar to Tanglewood's Seiji Ozawa Hall — that was the plan from the beginning, and both halls are the product of William Rawn Associates. The Sonoma project is in collaboration with A. C. Martin Partners and BAR Architects.

In addition to Weill Hall, the center also includes:

  • The Music Education Hall, of seminar rooms, ensemble/rehearsal rooms, practice studios, musical activities rooms, faculty and administrative offices
  • The 250-seat Schroeder's Recital Hall, planned with a high ceiling and curved walls, that will serve choral music, but also accommodate classes.
  • Prelude: a special event, wedding, and meeting facility, with an exterior patio, featuring pools, fire pits, and an arbor overhead.

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at janosg@gmail.com.

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