THE WILD CARD thrown into the evolving local concert venue mix is the acclaimed Santa Rosa Symphony’s pending relocation to a new, “world-class” music center on the Sonoma State University campus, an ambitious $41 million project fueled mainly by burgeoning high-tech and wine dollars.
The glitzy, acoustically advanced facility, on a 40-acre site. aims to capitalize on the allure of arts and wine. It will boast a main concert hall that seats 1,400 (with additional lawn seating for 7,000), a 300-seat recital hall, numerous lobbies, practice rooms, offices, a music library, concession areas, and possibly a full restaurant.
Besides becoming the new home of the Santa Rosa Symphony, the hall will be the chief venue for SSU music programs, summer festivals, and year-round arts events, attracting such world-class artists as cellist Yo-Yo Ma. The center will also feature choral music and jazz inside the main auditorium, while rock bands could perform outside on the patio surrounded by lawn seating.
Groundbreaking is slated for Oct. 20, and the facility is set to open in the fall of 2002, in time for the Santa Rosa Symphony to celebrate its 75th anniversary.
The project is drawing attention because it’s explicitly modeled on the prestigious Seiji Ozawa Hall in the Boston Symphony’s summer home, Tanglewood, nestled in the rolling hills in western Massachusetts. Indeed, some have dubbed the new venue “Tanglewood West.”
The official name is the Donald and Maureen Green Music Center, named after telecom tycoon Don Green and his wife, Maureen, an SSU alumna. Passionate about choral music, the couple has donated more than $10 million of their personal fortune toward the new center. Many of Don Green’s high-tech employees and protégés have also invested in the facility.
“We’ve received a little over $24 million in gifts and commitment, so we still need about $17 million,” says SSU’s vice president of development, Jim Meyer. “Approximately $15 million of the $24 million has come from the high-tech industry. There’s also wine money. When you look at the donor lists, the ones at the top have had either a winery or a high-tech connection.”
Both SSU and the Santa Rosa Symphony are still energetically raising funds. The campaign has included trips to Tanglewood for Sonoma County arts patrons and receptions held at homes around the North Bay and beyond for potential donors.
“Prior to each subscription concert, we hold a reception, and ticket holders hear a presentation about the new center with wine in the Luther Burbank Center Gold Room,” says Constance Wolfe, Santa Rosa Symphony’s director of development. She adds that the symphony has seen a 30 percent increase in subscriptions over the last three years.
The Festival on the Green, two outdoor music events featuring the Santa Rosa Symphony held this summer on campus, were trial runs aimed at laying the groundwork for a major summer festival. The concerts attracted 3,000 people on July 4, and 2,000 in August. “We expect these to grow,” says Meyer. “Our intent is to build an audience so that when this facility opens we’ll have a summer festival and be able to handle crowds of up to 10,000 people, inside and out.”
But it’s not all about music.
Besides love of choral singing and the desire to leave behind a cultural legacy, Don Green admits his investment in the hall is an attempt to lure skilled high-tech workers into relocating to Sonoma County.
“As an employer of hard-to-get hardware and software engineers, [I think that] having a music festival and a concert hall would improve the cultural environment and make Sonoma County an even more attractive place,” Green said earlier this year. “[Sonoma County] is geographically very attractive, and this concert hall, which will be a world-class facility, will attract the best performances available.”
The relocation factor is already being felt. “We’re finding people have moved up here to Sonoma County from the Bay Area, and they still hold tickets to the San Francisco Symphony and they’re so excited about this,” says Meyer. “They can’t wait for the day when they don’t have to drive down to San Francisco and fight the traffic and the parking to hear great music.”
While organizers are hoping the new center will establish SSU as a major center for the study of music, some students have expressed concerns about whether the facility will be accessible and useful to them. However, Meyer says university events and classes will be held in the new facility.
Although there is no plan for student discounts for the Santa Rosa Symphony and other headliners, Meyer has proposed creating an endowment fund that could allow the university to raffle off a certain number of tickets to students prior to performances. “It’s a great way to build a future audience,” he says.
From the August 24-30, 2000 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.
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