Big names turn out to christen Weill Hall
Published: Saturday, September 29, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, September 29, 2012 at 10:39 p.m.
Guests at Saturday night's public christening of the Green Music Center — easily the largest and most widely noticed social-cultural event ever in Sonoma County — seemed powerfully struck by two things:
The splendor of the new music complex on the Sonoma State University campus and the gift, after an interminable string of delays and battles, of being alive to witness its debut.
“What I lack in intelligence I make up for in persistence,” mused Don Green, the musical philanthropist whose initial donations made SSU President Ruben Armiñana's vision of a supreme-quality music center seem possible.
The premiere drew familiar names from the worlds of music, academia, technology, business and politics in Sonoma County.
“Nothing can beat what's happening tonight,” Green said during a champagne reception that preceded the performance by renowned pianist Lang Lang, followed by fireworks and dinner beneath a flowing tent. “It's a world-class facility. Now we have to prove it to the music world.”
About 3,400 people attended the Lang Lang performance, about 600 the reception and dinner. The opening-weekend festivities continue today with a morning free-admission chorale concert, afternoon performance by the Santa Rosa Symphony and evening show by bluegrass star Alison Krauss.
Gov. Jerry Brown and his wife, Anne Gust Brown, strolled into the party with the center's largest donors, former banker Sanford “Sandy” Weill and his wife, Joan. The governor said he was impressed with what he'd seen so far of the place.
“I like to see Sonoma County on the cultural map,” Brown said, adding, “I spend most of my time in Sonoma County on the Russian River.”
His wife said that as they arrived at the Green Center, with its all-wooden, Tanglewood-inspired Weill Hall, “I didn't even realize what a jewel it is.”
To stand in the $145 million music facility was a triumph for Jim Meyer, Sonoma State's first vice president of development. He recalled the moment the ambitious project was born in August 1996 — in the living room of his home.
He said Armiñana and SSU administrators were meeting there chiefly to discuss the loss of $1 million of funding.
“In the middle of that,” Meyer said, “Ruben breaks out a brochure and says, ‘I want one of these.'” The brochure, which Armiñana had picked up while at a conference on the East Coast, highlighted the artistic and innovative features of Seiji Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood in western Massachusetts.
Armiñana asked him who he thought might help SSU build such a world-class performance hall. Meyer suggested Don and Maureen Green. Armiñana's response, Meyer recalled, was, “Let's have them to our home for dinner.”
The Greens pledged several million dollars to the project, and planning began. But building the center turned out to be more complicated, costly and controversial than anyone could have predicted.
Armiñana was a man in his element Saturday night.
“It's here!” he said before the crowd filed into Weill Hall for the Lang Lang performance. “You can kick the doors and the walls and they don't crumble.”
He added that, as with a fine Sonoma County wine, creating the Green Center has taken time.
The long, often painful gestation period was on the minds of many of the project's donors on Saturday.
“Everybody kind of got tired for a while,” said tech entrepreneur John Webley.
“But we're back,” said Webley, the owner and restorer of the Santa Rosa landmark home known best as the McDonald Mansion. “You need an event like this to re-energize you.”
The beauty of the center and the potential it holds for elevating the Sonoma County music scene left Bruno Ferrandis, music director of the Santa Rosa Symphony, struggling for words.
“The truth of the matter is that I'm so far up I really don't know how I feel. I'm elevated by the importance of this event,” said Ferrandis, who will share the baton at this afternoon's premiere symphony performances with his predecessors, symphony conductor laureate Corrick Brown and conductor emeritus Jeffrey Kahane.
He said the significance of the symphony's move to the Green Music Center is also difficult to put to words. “You can use the word metamorphosis. It's a metamorphosis,” Ferrandis said.
Rep. Lynn Woolsey said the symphony's move from its longtime home at the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts, north of Santa Rosa, comes at a good time for her.
“Now that I'm retiring, I've already bought my season tickets,” said the 10-term congresswoman.
Woolsey said the new center will be an important asset to students at SSU and for all of Sonoma County. “It is important,” she said, “and it will be important for a long time.”
Prominent Sonoma County philanthropist Connie Codding said she enjoyed the observation by a friend that local people hadn't gathered for a more emotional event since the farewell to the county courthouse demolished by wreckers following the 1969 earthquake.
“This is so exciting,” said the widow of Sonoma County's most prolific builder, Hugh Codding. “We waited a long time.”
She added, “Thank goodness for the Weills moving to the area.”
The project was languishing when Sandy and Joan Weill bought an estate in Sonoma Valley and agreed to donate millions to bring it near to completion.
“It's incredible,” Sandy Weill said as he and his wife were entering the reception with the governor and his wife. “It's really, really exciting to see all the people here.”
Now that the center is open and nearly finished, Weill said, the task is to fulfill its potential.
“It's just starting,” he said. “We've got a lot to do.”
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