Inspiration for a World-class Venue
A symphony conductor shares his thoughts about what makes the Green Music Center a special place for appreciating music
The Donald and Maureen Green Music Center is currently being constructed on the Sonoma State University campus. It is destined to become one of the most sought-after music and arts venues in the world. Featuring an acoustically-superb concert hall which will seat 1,400, it will draw both master and student musicians and audiences eager to experience their performances, surrounded by the natural beauty of northern California’s hills and vineyards. A smaller recital hall, seating 250, is available for more intimate performances and lecturers. An academic building brings students and their educational pursuits to complete the circle.
The vision behind the Center, the value it will bring to the community, and the opportunities it will provide to students, faculty and the community becomes obvious through the words of Conductor Emeritus of the Santa Rosa Symphony Corrick Brown. The Santa Rosa Symphony will be the orchestra-in-residence once the Green Music Center is completed in late 2008. For photographs and information about the project visit greenmusiccenter.sonoma.edu
Since writing this about Tanglewood’s Ozawa Hall (the prototype for the Donald and Maureen Green Music Center), I have been back to Vienna’s Muzikverein for several concerts once again. And, as you may know, that is the famous “inspiration” for Ozawa Hall, sans chandeliers, gold caryatids, etc. There is only one balcony loge in Vienna running both sides of the hall (where Karajan, and all sat); we have two, but the upper tier has only a single seat row (where you can feel like a prince with the concert just for you!).
First off, I couldn’t find a bad seat in Ozawa, or even a mediocre seat, in the house. Second, a few unusual, but good things. When the Emerson Quartet played, we sat mid-orchestra for the first half (good sight lines, raked seating, contrasted to Vienna which is actually a flat floor except at the very back), and then moved to the back of the stage (the continuous balcony loge) for the Brahms Piano Quintet with Stephen Hough.
Here, the piano lid blocked our complete view of the cellist David Finckel; but his sound was almost more unbelievably beautiful and big than from the front, which seems to prove their point about the responsive lower string sound on stage (always the most difficult sound to deal with in symphony halls).
On Friday night, we listened to a lovely Faure piano quartet at a dinnertime concert in the hall, then joined friends on the grass for the second work. We were at least 150 feet in back of the hall’s open doors (not even Vienna can match that), and I could not believe that we were hearing any sound from the six speakers mounted very high on the grassy rise; I was sure we were hearing only direct stage sound, and it seemed that we were in the middle of the hall. What a joy. This summer we heard Hilary Hahn and orchestra at Oregon’s Britt Festival, but with the whole audience on the lawn in front of the stage, a good deal of microphoning was required.
When we sat at the rear of Ozawa Hall, even with the huge doors open, it was amazingly quiet outside. And there were 2,000 people behind us on the grass. Lest you think everything was perfect, the night YoYo Ma and Manny Ax played, the thunder and lightning storm outdid anything we ever experienced in Aspen. Fortunately, Santa Rosa can’t match that.
On Saturday afternoon, the 110-member “high school age” orchestra played the Shostakovich 11th symphony and we sat directly over them with perfect balance (on the second balcony). The orchestra is auditioned nationally each year, and if I played you the tapes and said it was the Boston Symphony, most would believe me.
The upstairs side-seating is unique: two rows with specially designed seating. When the concert begins, you draw your chair (very comfortable by the way) to your private ledge, which you may lean on if you like, and not obstruct your neighbor’s view.
We will have similar experiences here at the Green Music Center. I await the pleasures of a quiet evening in the Wine Country enjoying our wonderful Santa Rosa Symphony melodies.