Music marathon at new Green Music Center
Published: Sunday, September 30, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, September 30, 2012 at 9:48 p.m.
The crescendo of excitement surrounding the grand opening of Weill Hall at Sonoma State University reached a climax Sunday with a dawn-to-dusk, all-American trio of concerts spanning the heights of local and national talents.
From an uplifting choral concert at sunrise to an orchestral showcase in mid-afternoon and a rollicking bluegrass show at sundown, the musical marathon at the Rohnert Park campus drew more than 10,000 audience members throughout the day, giving a taste of the diversity of music to be presented at the $145 million Green Music Center in the months and years to come.
The biggest event of the day came last, when bluegrass maven Alison Krauss and Union Station with Jerry Douglas took over the stage a little after 7:30 p.m. and got toes tapping and hands clapping with traditional, Americana tunes and ballads. The concert was mostly acoustic, but the voices were miked.
"We knew we wanted the definitive sound and voice of America's music," said Jeff Langley, artistic director of the Green Music Center, while introducing the band. "There is no better representative of American music at its best than Alison Krauss."
The laid-back concert drew a sold-out, capacity crowd of 6,000, who wore cowboy hats and jeans, down vests and denim jackets while sipping wine outdoors at the tables and on the lawn, where the temperature had cooled into the high 60s.
Among those seated inside the hall was Gary Humbarger of San Francisco, who was given a ticket at the last minute by friends in celebration of his 50th birthday.
"I've seen her many times," he said of the multiple Grammy-winning Krauss. "She has a very pure, crystal clear voice, and she's an amazing fiddle player. She tells good stories, too."
Coming on the heels of Saturday night's sold-out, gala recital by pianist Lang Lang, the early morning Sunrise Choral Concert was a quiet and contemplative affair, with the rear wall of the hall closed but a full house of 1,400.
About halfway through the free 40-minute program, which featured original songs by Langley, the sun's rays peeked over the Sonoma Mountains and flooded the eastern half of the hall with sunlight.
"I don't think Jeff Langley could have predicted the dramatic effect of the light pouring through the windows," said David Marsten of Calistoga, a board member of the Santa Rosa Symphony. "We have been dreaming of this moment for many years, and it surpasses all expectations."
Arnie Carston of World of Carpet One and a major donor to the hall, was especially moved by the song, "The Loving Cup," which was dedicated to Telecom entrepreneur Donald Green and his wife, Maureen. The couple kicked off the fundraising effort in 1996-'97 with a $10 million gift to SSU for a choral recital hall.
"I was crying like a baby in there," Carston said after the early morning concert. "The Greens have never lost heart. At times, it was like a yo-yo, up and down. … And today, he's still alive to enjoy this."
The tempo on campus quickened before the 2 p.m. concert by the Santa Rosa Symphony, which drew about 4,200 people inside the hall as well as on the outdoor terrace and lawn area.
Those who did not arrive at least an hour in advance, however, faced traffic jams on the roads leading to the northwest corner of campus, where the Green Music Center and the main parking lot are located. But those who arrived on campus in advance had plenty of time to park and find their seats.
"We got here at 1 p.m., and parking was fine," said Sandy Sandine of Santa Rosa. "You can't expect to park like at the Wells Fargo Center. … things will settle down."
Welcoming the audience, Santa Rosa Symphony Board President Charlie Schlangen thanked the donors and announced that the stage of Weill Hall had been named in honor of Santa Rosa Symphony Conductor Emeritus Corrick Brown and his wife, Norma.
"We're so lucky to be here," Schlangen said. "This will help us achieve our vision of becoming one of the leading regional symphony orchestras in the U.S.
"This is a transformative moment seldom afforded any American orchestra," " said Santa Rosa Symphony Executive Director Allan Silow. "In 10 years, Sonoma County will be known as much for our quality arts as we are known for our quality wine today."
The orchestra program kicked off with a rousing rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" and Beethoven's "Consecration of the House" Overture, both conducted by Brown, who led the symphony's fundraising efforts for the hall.
Next up, Conductor Laureate Jeffrey Kahane performed a glittering and upbeat Beethoven's Concerto No. 4 with Music Director Bruno Ferrandis conducting.
"I had full body goose bumps during that concerto," said Floyd Ross, former executive director of the Green Music Center. "When I go to concerts around the country, I'm always frustrated because I can't hear the piano."
The second half of the concert was filled with shorter works, including a world premiere of "Sonoma Overture" by Nolan Gasser of Petaluma, Aaron Copland's "Canticle of Freedom" for orchestra and chorus, and Ravel's hypnotically rhythmic "Bolero."
"I just closed my eyes, and I could hear every single instrument," Sonoma County Supervisor Shirley Zane said. "Bolero was fun because there was a dance going on between the snare drummer and Bruno."
Those seated outside included lots of families with kids, who proceeded to dance and tumble down the hillside while the music played.
"I would not be able to bring Lena, my 3-year-old daughter, to the symphony otherwise," Gabe Melin of Santa Rosa said. "It's casual out on the lawn, and that accessibility didn't exist before. "
The one drawback to sitting outdoors was the soaring temperature. At intermission, patrons who had been sweating in the direct sun scrambled for shade and water after temperatures reached the mid-90s.
"The sound is excellent, but it is hot on a day like this," said Katherine Williams of Sebastopol, pouring water over her head. "I had heat stroke, and I had to get under the table."
SSU President Ruben Armiñana and his wife, Marne Olson, who were the driving forces behind the hall, attended all three concerts on Sunday, as well as the Saturday night recital.
"Fifteen years ago, I said I want one of those," Armiñana said Sunday night, addressing the crowd before the Alison Krauss concert. "Today, you have one of those."
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