Aiming High and Reaching Wide, We Are Ready

steinway.jpgKamen Nikolov (left) and Jerry Uhlig move the Steinway piano into position for another rehearsal in Weill Hall.(Photo by Sandy Destiny)

SSU staff step up the pace to provide a Green Music Center gala opening weekend that the campus and community has never seen before.

Box office manager Megan Christensen finds the rewards of her job in interesting places - the thrill of hearing how excited her ticket buyers are to be able to experience Weill Hall this season.

Christensen and her staff have been the eyes and ears for patrons who will sit in those seats for the first time this Saturday and Sunday. They have trained well for it, spending hours understanding every vantage point and sight line in the hall.

They are like the many staff members assigned to Green Music Center duty this past year- from marketing to grounds to operations to guest services and dining - who have stretched their work days to nights and weekends to bring the Green Music Center to the stage of readiness it is today as the grand opening weekend approaches.

Neil Markley, Senior Director for Entrepreneurial Activities, has called this project a "start-up" to frame the effort for his staff and expects the operation to normalize as the first season is behind them.

Pat Maloney, Associate Director of Guest Services, has been busy training the 55 student ushers who will staff the Hall. For some, this will be their first job. Training sessions on the past two Saturdays for five hours each provided an understanding of the grounds, the facilities, how to handle guests, and more.

Kinesiology professor Steven Winter drilled 12 of them in first aid and CPR last weekend as well. All have been educated in the demands of crisis response in case of an emergency.

"We are responsible for an excellent experience for our guests from the moment they leave their car to the hours later when they return," says Maloney who is working to master "a million details" that he and his staff have never encountered before. Despite Maloney's concerns, they seem up to the challenge.

The grand opening weekend will see an anticipated 12,000 people come to the SSU campus. Though this size crowd is not unusual to a campus that hosts an annual Commencement ceremonies that draws about 15,000 each May, the schedule encompasses four major events in 24 hours that will challenge and stretch the staff in many directions from morning to night.

Parking and traffic flow is not an unusual concern to Missy Brunetta, Parking Services. "We have been fine tuning our plans since the Eagles concert five years ago that drew 10,000," she says. "And we always get lot of support for Rohnert Park police and fire services."

Managers in the Administration and Finance Division were told a year ago to save this weekend for duty and volunteer coordinator Anna Reynolds Smith, Director of Financial Planning and Analysis, has developed a crew of 150 volunteers from the campus to serve as everything from parking attendants to way finders to VIP support and security.

Jessica AndersonMarketing Director Jessica Anderson (left) has watched her countdown calendar run down as the weeks have rolled by and she is fielding a growing response from media from all over the world as Saturday approaches.

Kelly Kasler, Hospitality Director for the Green Music Center, has been juggling a tough schedule nailing down final details with celebrity chef Michael Chiarello over his menu choices and coordinating the needs of the caterers and others to host a 600-person gala on Saturday night in a huge white dining tent near Prelude.

French landscape, event and floral designer Thierry Chantrel has planned an enchanting décor for the dinner tent, complete with more than 60 individually designed "still life tablescapes" unique to each table.

The Saturday night gala expects a visit by House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Governor Jerry Brown. A league of long-time University donors and special patrons have purchased tables ranging from $10,000 - $30,000 for the privilege of attending the gala dinner which Chinese super pianist Lang Lang, featured that night in the season's first concert, will attend.

A sense of discovery

Christopher Dinno, Senior Director for Facilities Management, Capital Planning and Design and Construction, walks the grounds of Weill Commons and marvels at how fast the landscaping has transformed the area behind Weill Hall. More than 100 mature redwoods, red oaks and magnolias were planted over a space of weeks that transformed the site of a building sitting amidst hard scrabble to an instant park.

olivetree.jpgThe landscaping has softened the area around the Hall and invigorated the whole site with a sense of completion. The views of the eastern Sonoma mountain range add to it a sense that this facility was meant to be here.

As he points the way through the back walks from the southern gate to the area he notes the sense of discovery created when seeing the Hall from that vantage point for the first time.

Kamen Nikolov, Associate Director of Production Operations, ushers a Steinway piano gingerly from the hallway to the doorway to the main concert hall stage. With only a half inch of clearance on each side, he moves the $100,000 instrument with an experienced hand. It has been in use at the many, many rehearsals recently which have created a demanding schedule for staff in the hall itself.

The May 20 "fine tuning" by the Santa Rosa Symphony also resulted in more acoustical fixes necessary and the training that goes with them. New colored theatrical lighting will be installed on upper rails to accommodate the needs of several performers in the upcoming season. Huge video screens, rented by the University, will be installed outside Weill Hall this week and will provide real time sound and imagery for the Lang Lang and Alison Krauss events.


Jenny Bent rehearses the chamber orchestra for this weekend's Choral Sunrise concert. (Photo by Ruth Wilson)

Early to rise

Three choir directors are putting their singers through their paces in preparation for Sunday morning's Choral Sunrise concert. SSU Director of Choral Activities Jenny Bent will conduct Dedicated to You, a multi-movement cantata, composed by music professor and Green Music Center Artistic Director Jeff Langley.

Joining her will be the Maria Carrillo High School Chamber Singers, Gail Bowers, director, and the Santa Rosa Children's Chorus and Cantiamo Sonoma, both led by Carol Menke.

The 40-minute concert features guest soloists Carol Menke, Jenni Samuelson, Christopher Fritzsche, Kevin Baum and Thomas Hart with a professional chamber orchestra.  

Dedicated To You, set to texts by author, teacher and stage director Amanda McTigue, is testimony to those who envisioned and worked tirelessly to push the project to completion over the 15 years since its inception.

Each movement bears a dedication - the first one, "At the Crossing" is to Bruce Walker, original campus architect who died unexpectedly - as well as to Jean Schulz, supporter of the campus and funding for Schroeder Hall, and to Evert B. Person, Donald and Maureen Green, Sandy and Joan Weill, to the university students and the community at large.

Tickets to the 40-minute free concert on Sunday sold out quickly to the 1200 willing to brave a 7 a.m. Sonoma County morning. Without it, the weekend would not be complete.
"We have many voices to coordinate," says Langley, a sentiment that symbolizes the heart of the project from its birth 15 years ago to the future it promises the campus and the community. 

New to the scene last week was Weill Hall house manager Lori Herc who, in try to keep up catch up to the pace of those around her, beamed "it is all going to be magic."

- Jean Wasp

Wiring for sound under Weill Lawn
Workman lays sound cables under Weill lawn.

Above, right, landcscape staffer waters 150-year old olive tree in Trione Courtyard.
(Photos by Sandy Destiny)
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