Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Opening the Kanbar Performing Arts Center

The latest cultural institution in the Civic Center area had a grand opening last Friday the 11th.

The San Francisco Girls Chorus had just bought a beautiful old four-story building next door to the biggest Harley-Davidson dealership in San Francisco on Page Street between Franklin and Gough.

Donors and their families were invited to the opening which featured refreshments...

...and local celebrities such as Pamela Rosenberg, the outgoing San Francisco Opera general manager...

...along with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The major benefactor in raising the millions of dollars required for the purchase was Maurice Kanbar, a self-made inventor/mogul from Brooklyn who has lived in San Francisco for the last 15 years.

From Wikipedia: "Kanbar created New York's first multiplex cinema, and owns over 36 patents on various consumer and medical products, invented the D-Fuzz-It comb for sweaters, Tangoes Puzzle Game, the Safetyglide hypodermic needle protector, a cryogenic cataract remover, and a new LED stoplight." He also wrote a slim, well-received self-help book called "Secrets from an Inventor's Notebook" that was published a couple of years ago.

In San Francisco, Kanbar started the SKYY Vodka brand which has made him quite rich, and he has been spreading contributions around to various cultural institutions such as NYU's Film and TV program (named after him), the Jewish Community Center's new "Kanbar Recital Hall," the San Francisco Film Festival, and now the San Francisco Girls Chorus.

One of his latest ventures is as a movie mogul, and his Kanbar Entertainment has just finished a digitally animated feature based on the Red Riding Hood story called "Hoodwinked!"

After the ribbon-cutting, everyone went inside for a celebratory concert to a large room that is slated to become a new concert hall.

For the record, the acoustics of the room were quite wonderful for such a high-ceilinged space.

"How come you don't get your own building from rich donors too?" I asked the Executive Director of another musical nonprofit in town.

"Because they've got children involved," she replied, and that may have something to do with it.

In his short, charming speech, Maurice Kanbar called the San Francisco Girls Chorus "little angels" which conveyed a hint of the ancient Maurice Chevalier singing "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" in "Gigi" with that odd twinkle in his eye.

Echoing the "little angels" remark was the concert's star and emcee, the semi-retired mezzo-soprano opera star Frederica von Stade.

She lives in Alameda and has apparently been helping to raise money for the chorus through a host of fundraisers and wealthy friends.

She referred to a story she had told many times at these events where she had been going through the San Francisco Airport one Christmas season feeling very low and she suddenly heard "angels singing, I thought they were real angels, and in my particular mood I thought they were singing just for me." They turned out to be the San Francisco Girls Chorus.

Flicka, as she is known familiarly, was one of the greatest singers of the twentieth-century and she practically owned the tricky, ineffable part of Melisande in Debussy's "Pelleas et Melisande." On top of that, there's not a pompous ounce to her. She's god.

The concert featured Flicka alone and with the chorus, various sections of the San Francisco Girls Chorus, the Contemporary Music Ensemble which rents out space in the building doing Steve Reich's "Clapping," and best of all, a trio of adult female choruses who were mostly alumnae of the Girls Chorus. They were all awesome performers.

The San Francisco Girls Chorus started up in 1978 and seems to be prospering mightily. To find out more about the group, check out their website by clicking here.

I attended the event as a paid videographer, but I invited my friend Rick Gydesen to join me and take some stll photos. All of the great pics in this account are his. Thanks, Rick.

No comments: