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Sitting in his office at the Green Music Center, Emmanuel Morlet appears relaxed and at home.

The artistic and managing director of Sonoma State University's new 1,400-seat Weill Hall was born and raised in Paris. For the past 15 years, he and his family have lived in New York City.

While growing up, however, he spent large stretches of time in the region around Clermont-Ferrand, a city in the heart of France known for its famous tire company, Michelin, and its food production.

"My grandparents were growing corn and wheat and making wine, and they had apple and peach trees," said the 45-year-old. "As I kid, I spent vacations there and worked in the fields."

The region sits on a fertile, flat plain with a river running through it and a chain of dormant and extinct volcanos encircling it.

"It looks a little like this," he said, pointing to the rolling hills just outside his office window.

For the past 14 years, Morlet has worked at the French Embassy in New York, where he served as director of the Music Office for the Cultural Services.

"It was a fascinating job," he said. "We not only brought French culture here but worked on collaborations between American and French artists."

Collaboration is going to be a key part of his new job as well, as he attempts to balance the needs of the university with the demands of the community.

"We're not Carnegie Hall, we're not in a major city, and we have a brand to develop," he said. "We have to be on the map even more and collaborate with other people."

Until July, Morlet is spending about half of his time in Rohnert Park and half in New York, where his wife, Kathryn, and two children — Adrien, 10, and Claire Lily, 7 — are finishing up the school year.

"The kids are New Yorkers," he said. "But they love the country. ... They love it here."

What Morlet loves most of all is music.

His grandfather played the clarinet and led the local band in his village of Dallet. As a boy, he used to go to concerts in Paris with his father.

"Music saved me when I was young," he said. "I have always loved classical music."

As a child, Morlet started playing piano, then gravitated toward guitar.

"Berlioz used to call it (the guitar) 'the little orchestra,'" he said. "I don't consider myself a great musician, but I had a good ear."

When his parents divorced, he went to high school in Clermont-Ferrand. While studying literature at Blaise Pascal University in Clermont-Ferrand, he started organizing campus concerts and met his wife, Kathryn, an American who was teaching abroad.

The couple fell in love, then moved to Paris, where Morlet continued his studies in French literature at the Sorbonne while working in the music field.

During his 20s, he held posts as the administrator of a contemporary jazz association and director of an arts center, then was hired to build an arts center.

In 1997, he and his wife packed up two big suitcases and moved to New York, where he landed the job with the French Embassy at age 30.

As co-founder of the French American Cultural Exchange (FACE), which is housed at the embassy, Morlet got a crash course in fundraising. He also co-founded the "GlobalFest" festival in New York, a one-night, three-stage showcase of world music artists.

All of these gigs helped build a r?um?that made him an ideal candidate for artistic director of a world-class music venue at a university.

"For this job, you need a pretty broad knowledge of music and the field in general, planning and booking, marketing and communications, fundraising and education," he said. "It's a busy hall, there are hundreds of events, and we have a small team."

Exuding a quiet but clear-eyed confidence, Morlet knows he has a challenge ahead, but he plans to elicit help from others as he steers the start-up venue into the future.

"This place has to be alive, and people should give their opinions," he said. "Of course, I will decide, but I don't like to be dictatorial."

Still, Morlet has expressed a strong desire to open up the programming, especially after the 250-seat Schroeder Hall is finished next year, and the 10,000-capacity MasterCard Performing Arts Pavilion launches down the road.

"Classical music is No.1," he said. "But if we want to put this place on the map, we also have to do more adventurous programming."

You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com.