Music@Menlo, Menlo School’s internationally renowned chamber music festival, is heading into its 19th season to great celebration and fanfare. After taking a hiatus in 2020 from in-person concerts, Music@Menlo will program indoor and outdoor concerts for its three-week-long summer season, aptly titled “Gather.” Those who have purchased tickets to see performances indoors will be among the first audience members to fill the seats in Music@Menlo’s new home: the Spieker Center for the Arts.
“After 18 years, it’s wonderful that we feel like Music@Menlo has finally come home. To have all of our activities on this campus — it’s a game changer for us and for how the festival operates,” Music@Menlo Executive Director Edward Sweeney says.
Until now, Music@Menlo has rented facilities in the community for its concerts. In its early years, Music@Menlo leaned heavily on St. Mark’s Church in Palo Alto as a concert venue, and in recent years, it leased Menlo-Atherton High School’s performing arts center from the school district. Menlo School’s ballroom and lecture halls were also used for various smaller events.
“We’ve been a small startup for a performing arts organization. Like many small performing arts organizations, we’ve been going door to door in the community to find places to perform music — so this is a big step for Music@Menlo to have a home,” Sweeney emphasizes.
The Spieker Center was first conceived and designed between 2006 and 2007. Menlo School had been looking at replacing dilapidated structures and building new facilities, including a performing arts center, an arts classroom building, and an athletic center. But then the 2008 recession hit and giving for the school’s capital campaign slowed. While the other two buildings were built, the performing arts center was tabled for the time being.
Recently, donors expressed interest in reviving long-dormant plans to build a new performing arts center. Menlo School needed a multipurpose venue that could be used for school plays, orchestral concerts, and jazz bands. In the redesign process, the school consulted with Music@Menlo, which needed a hall with excellent acoustics. When the Spieker family pitched in with the lead gift, the concept for the performing arts venue became reality: an intimate 384-seat capacity hall perfect for chamber music, outfitted with cutting-edge acoustic design and an open lobby space. It additionally includes administrative offices on-site for Music@Menlo administration.
Because Music@Menlo produces recordings of all its performances, a quiet hall is a must. Moreover, the Spieker Center features sound isolation on its mechanical equipment and good ambient acoustics produced by a combination of reflective and absorptive surfaces. Wood elements in the side walls, overhead clouds of rough wood reflectors over the audience seating, and soft surfaces in the walls together ensure pristine sound quality. “We’ll be able to get up close, multi-angle recordings of mainstage events and bring you more spectacular content to enjoy online at home,” Music@Menlo Communications Director Claire Graham said in an announcement video.
Those who wish to visit the Spieker Center can attend concerts hosted there by Music@Menlo on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays between July 16 and Aug. 1. The festival will kick off with the world premiere of Patrick Castillo’s piece Gather, written in commemoration of the Spieker Center’s opening and performed by festival co-founders David Finckel and Wu Han. The indoor audience will be at half capacity at 4:00 p.m., and repeat outdoor performances will take place at 6:00 p.m. All performances will be livestreamed.