Lang Lang -- "Let us always try new things."

langsmall.pngThe Green Music Center opening weekend was full of good omens when a harvest moon shone over Weill Hall on Saturday and a brilliant sunlight maneuver awed the audience with its timing on Sunday morning.

World-renowned pianist Lang Lang performed to a wildly enthusiastic crowd on Saturday evening and welcomed them to "this great new hall." Even Lang Lang knew it had taken a long time in coming but was worth the wait.

After his performance, the Chinese superstar confessed that he had played the seven works -- three Mozart piano sonatas and four Chopin ballades -- for the first time that night. "So let's do something new each time," he said, sounding a note for the future.

The hundreds of guests who walked the red carpet toward the reception and performance brought a touch of elegance to the evening with their ball gowns and tuxedos. The air was alive with excitement.

And just the right amount of common sense was shown by thousands who braved the 50° weather to sit outside on Weill Lawn and Terrace. They were rewarded with an intimate and mesmerizing look at the concert on large monitors that displayed Lang Lang playing, from multiple camera angles, including one from inside the Steinway piano. Lang Lang played two encores, responding to demands from the audience both inside and outside the hall.

One guest thought the hall's acoustics seemed "brighter" with the doors open, which occurred for the first time that evening.

SSU's resident piano legend Marilyn Thomson observed how Lang Lang's idiosyncratic playing thrilled the audience.

"Lang Lang found and used so many of the truly unique qualities of the American Steinway piano he played to portray the musical dialogue and character of each piece that he performed," she said.

"It was as though he and the piano were having a profound conversation with one another," she said." And not one sound -- from the very hushed pianissimo to the most tumultuous fortissimo - was lost in the phenomenal acoustics of Weill Hall."

The celebratory mood throughout the evening excited longtime supporters as well as the new friends who were being made at the reception.

The Wine Country elite from both Sonoma and Napa counties and San Francisco, rubbed shoulders with Governor Jerry Brown and First Lady Ann Brown, Nancy and Paul Pelosi, Lynn Woolsey, MasterCard Worldwide CEO Ajaypal Banga, many Bank of America officials, and local legislators at an event that was only imagined a year ago as final planning began.

"Sonoma State University is the kind of place where good things happen at the last minute," said President Ruben Armiñana in his opening remarks, noting the early history of the University that had been created by the stroke of a pen with last-minute legislation in 1961.

The evening was full of speeches and testimonies to founders Donald and Maureen Green, Santa Rosa Symphony Conductor Emeritus Corrick Brown, Joan and Sandy Weill, and the 1,800 donors who contributed $62 million as the project grew from a vision of a small choral hall in the 1990s to the $145 million facility it is today.

Armiñana particularly paid homage to his wife Marne who he said was primarily responsible for the Green Music Center's role in the cultivation of the arts at a state university.

Sandy and Joan Weill, new to Sonoma County and whose $12 million donation boosted the project to completion this year, paid homage to their friend Lang Lang whom they first met when the pianist was 17.

"I told him then he was the Tiger Woods of the piano," Sandy Weill joked. "But now I think we are going to have to change that."

Lang Lang, who has been supported in his efforts by the Weills to create his own music foundation for young artists, called the couple "my favorite people in the world."

Rohnert Park Councilmember Gina Bellaforte felt the facility was not only a stage for world-class performers but will offer inspiration to future music students who will choose to come to Sonoma State and the area to study and pursue their passion for music. This idea was spelled out many times throughout the evening by those who commented on the new cultural opportunities that will be possible for the region.


Musical fireworks followed Lang Lang's performance before invited guests made their way to the white tent behind Prelude for a special dinner where seating ranged from $10,000 to $30,000 a table.

The dinner featured a menu by celebrity chef Michael Chiarello. Dinner guests were treated to music by the University Jazz Band before the dinner and were serenaded afterwards as they left past midnight.

Observers said that nearly a third of those at the reception appeared to be new to the campus confirming what many said that this music center will help make new friends for the University.

SSU-TV professor Ed Beebout asked U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi about her impressions of the event. "Tonight we saw a real tribute to the people of Sonoma County. The vision, the building, the appreciation of an other-worldy performance like Lang Lang's. We saw the generosity of the Greens and the Weills and we heard some fabulous acoustics." she said.

MasterCard Worldwide CEO Ajaypal Banga told Beebout that his sponsorship of the opening season - and construction of an outdoor pavilion behind the hall - is part of what his company "can do very well" to offer their customers a "priceless" experience.
"What can be more priceless than the kind of location that this school and this hall provides. I think the location of a school like Sonoma State University and a hall like this is an outstanding vision and we want to be a part of it," he said.

Armiñana said at the dinner that those who had been known in the early days of the project as "the three accents" -- himself (Cuban), Corrick Brown (Canadian), and Donald Green (Scottish) -- had made hundreds of appearances throughout the community in the initial years of fundraising would now be joined by a new accent -- a New York one --- with the involvement of Sandy and Joan Weill.

At the dinner, Don Green spoke movingly about his initial vision for a choral hall as a way to create a rich cultural center in Sonoma County that would attract engineers to the then burgeoning Telecomm Valley industry that he was pioneering at the time.

Many shared President Armiñana's sentiment that what happened Saturday night is only a hint of what is to come.

On Sunday, the Santa Rosa Symphony transitioned to its permanent home at Weill Hall. The San Francisco Symphony will call it their North Bay home beginning later in the season.

Carnegie Hall will offer a Visiting Artists in Residence program at SSU in 2013 whose musicians will reside on the SSU campus for a year, fully engaging musically with the SSU community and throughout the local community, including its schools.

Noted Sonoma County historian Gaye LeBaron said at the reception in the early evening that the outcome of the project fits in with her "third law of progress - everything always takes 20 years."

Written by Jean Wasp

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