Sonoma County steps onto a larger cultural stage today when the renowned pianist Lang Lang performs at the Don and Maureen Green Music Center.
It's taken longer and cost considerably more than anticipated, but Sonoma State University President Ruben Armiñana is finally achieving his ambitious vision: opening a concert hall on the Rohnert Park campus that rivals any in the nation.
“It will make Sonoma State a unique campus where people from all over the world will want to come,” said Sanford Weill, a former Citigroup chairman and the largest private benefactor of the $145 million music complex.
For most patrons, a visit to the Green Music Center is likely to mean attending a performance in the 1,400-seat concert hall named for Weill and his wife, Joan. With its 53-foot high ceiling and polished-wood panels, the room is designed for pitch-perfect acoustics. A retractable wall opens to an outdoor lawn with seating for another 3,000 people.
But the Green Music Center is more than a dazzling concert venue. It's also the home of Sonoma State's music program, with a wing of new classrooms and practice space for student musicians.
A 250-seat recital hall named for Shroeder of “Peanuts' fame is not yet completed. Plans also are in place for a 10,000-seat amphitheater, a year-round outdoor music venue befitting the Bay Area's climate.
This grand facility sprouted from a $10 million gift in 1997 from the Greens. They hoped to provide Sonoma State with a proper choral room. Armiñana imagined more, a West Coast equivalent of Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony, and set about raising millions of public and private dollars to create it.
There have been discordant notes along the way — rising costs, two withering recessions and campus controversy, including the faculty's vote of no-confidence in Armiñana in 2007.
Challenges lie ahead, too. Another $15 million is needed to finish the recital hall and the amphiteater, with ongoing fundraising to help meet the annual operating budget of $3 million. Booking performers is a competitive business, and new concert halls at Stanford University and in San Francisco will be looking to build audiences, too.
On this day, however, let's stop to recognize this achievement and toast the debut of a spectacular new attraction for Sonoma County.