With the Green Music Center's Weill Concert Hall set to open at Sonoma State University this fall, the Santa Rosa Symphony invited about 900 subscribers to the hall on Sunday to try out its custom chairs while symphony musicians performed onstage.
"Basically, we're giving our supporters the opportunity to test-drive the dream," said Alan Silow, executive director of the Santa Rosa Symphony. "It's an interesting challenge for us."
The European-style, shoebox-shaped hall was designed to emulate the acoustics of great halls such as the Musikverein in Vienna and Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood, located in western Massachusetts.
Subscribers will be assigned a seat based on their preferences when subscription renewals are sent out in early March.
The Weill Concert Hall offers 1,420 seats, 160 fewer than the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts, where the symphony currently performs. Weill Hall also features three levels, rather than two: the Orchestra level on the floor, the Choral Circle in the middle, and the Balcony on top.
Subscribers who attended the open house on Sunday were weighing a wide variety of factors, including accessibility, sightlines and financial considerations.
"Because of the price, I'll be sitting in the balcony on the side," said Carol Isaak of Petaluma. "There's only one row of seats, and I like how close I feel to the musicians."
This season's subscription rate ranged from $105 to $392 for seven concerts. In the new hall, the subscription rate will range from $125 to $425, with coveted box seats going for $490.
"These are still seats that are easily affordable, but bumped up somewhat," Silow said. "When you look at the quality of this hall, that's understandable."
Most subscribers on Sunday agreed that the acoustics were top-rate, no matter where they sat.
"I'd like to sit 15 rows back, but the sound is great everywhere," said Richard Grahman of Sonoma. "I can't wait to sit here and have a drink. This is heaven."
Those with acrophobic tendencies, however, were leery about the Balcony level, where low railings can ratchet up a fear of heights. The view and the sound, however, were hard to resist.
"It has a little vertigo feeling, but it's got a terrific view of the stage and the hills," said Hillary Costin of Santa Rosa. "This is a delightful dilemma."
Jayne Kestler of Santa Rosa decided she would be willing to commit more money to snag one of the seats on the Balcony, behind the stage.
"I'm a rock climber, so I'm OK up here," she said. "I've just decided to upgrade to $200, even though I'm a senior on a fixed income."
Sunday's open house was the second of three "seat previews" held this winter.
The symphony will announce its 2012-2013 season in February, then hold three rehearsals in the hall in February, March and May, for acoustical adjustments.
As resident symphony of Weill Hall, the Santa Rosa Symphony will hold its grand opening concert in the hall during a matinee concert on Sept. 29.
You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 521-5287 or firstname.lastname@example.org