Friday, March 16, 2012

Weill Hall Announces Its Inaugural Season

The full name of the impossibly beautiful, new 1,400-seat concert hall above at Sonoma State University is the Joan and Sanford I. Weill Hall, Lawn and Commons at the Donald & Maureen Green Music Center, which should give you some idea of the long and winding road this building has taken towards its realization over the last decade.

Last Friday, members of the press were invited for a lunch and the announcement of the inaugural season at the hall. Opening weekend will start on Saturday evening, September 29th, with a concert by pianist Lang Lang, followed by a Choral Sunrise Concert on Sunday morning, the Santa Rosa Symphony in the afternoon, and bluegrass superstar Alison Krauss with Union Station on Sunday evening.

The building opens up at the back, where the curtain is in the photo above, and terraced outdoor seating is envisioned with dining tables looking towards the stage. Also included in the plans is an adjoining permanent outdoor stage for 15,000 people with "large video screens and audio equipment which will broadcast the performances to patrons seated in the Weill Commons, just east of the concert hall."

The great modern architect William Rawn (check here for his website) has modeled the building, by request, after his own Seiji Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood which was "designed to replicate the intimacy and acoustics of Vienna's Muskverein and Symphony Hall in Boston."

For a sample of sound, the Sonoma State Brass Ensemble were recruited to play from the back balcony while we sat on the stage, which wasn't a particularly good test of the acoustics. What was thrilling about the sound, however, was when a young soprano started singing a Puccini song and the warm resonance of the voice as it bounced off those wooden chairs and walls was extraordinary and extremely flattering. Singers are probably going to love this place.

Robert Cole, the retired UC Berkeley Cal Performances impresario, was pulled out of retirement to recruit "High and Wide" for the starriest performers in a variety of musical genres. So you have cellist Yo Yo Ma in recital, composer John Adams conducting a 20th century music concert, opera stars Stephanie Blythe singing Kate Smith songs and Joyce DiDonato singing operatic Drama Queens, Wynton Marsalis playing with Jazz at Lincoln Center, and the San Francisco Symphony making four guest appearances, among others.

Sanford I. Weill above and his wife Joan looked pleased as punch to be the new cultural king and queen of Sonoma County.

Sonoma State University President Ruben Arminana looked happiest of all. He later told us how it all began, with an academic conference in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. With his wife, he went with friends to a concert at the nearby Tanglewood Music Festival where the Seiji Ozawa Hall had just being constructed. "I want one of those," he told his wife, and through some form of sorcery he did get one of those, and in the Bay Area we're all the richer for that vision.

Also adjoining the concert hall is a beautiful indoor/outdoor restaurant and bar that has already become the newest, hottest ticket for wedding receptions in the wine country, and it's easy to see why. For more information on the season, click here for the Green Music Center site, and click here for Axel and here for Charlise who were perfectly delightful companions on this field trip, and who have more detailed reporting about the season.


Matty Boy said...

It looks great, but I have to wonder about location, location, location. Does Sonoma have enough population to keep this vibrant or will it need folks from the Bay Area making the trip to keep it working?

sfmike said...

Dear Matty: Good question. It helps that the building is on a state university campus, which means it will be used for large lecture classes among other things. Its beauty and sound will also probably turn it into a destination location.

The 15,000 outdoor amphitheatre strikes me as unnecessary, since we already have the Shoreline Amphitheatre and Concord Pavilion in the Bay Area, both of which are sort of creepy and difficult to get to. We'll see how it plays out in real life.