Guests at Saturday night's public christening of the Green Music Center — easily the largest and most widely noticed social-cultural event ever in Sonoma County — seemed powerfully struck by two things:
The splendor of the new music complex on the Sonoma State University campus and the gift, after an interminable string of delays and battles, of being alive to witness its debut.
"What I lack in intelligence I make up for in persistence," mused Don Green, the musical philanthropist whose initial donations made SSU President Ruben Armi?na's vision of a supreme-quality music center seem possible.
The premiere drew familiar names from the worlds of music, academia, technology, business and politics in Sonoma County.
"Nothing can beat what's happening tonight," Green said during a champagne reception that preceded the performance by renowned pianist Lang Lang, followed by fireworks and dinner beneath a flowing tent. "It's a world-class facility. Now we have to prove it to the music world."
About 3,400 people attended the Lang Lang performance, about 600 the reception and dinner. The opening-weekend festivities continue today with a morning free-admission chorale concert, afternoon performance by the Santa Rosa Symphony and evening show by bluegrass star Alison Krauss.
Gov. Jerry Brown and his wife, Anne Gust Brown, strolled into the party with the center's largest donors, former banker Sanford "Sandy" Weill and his wife, Joan. The governor said he was impressed with what he'd seen so far of the place.
"I like to see Sonoma County on the cultural map," Brown said, adding, "I spend most of my time in Sonoma County on the Russian River."
His wife said that as they arrived at the Green Center, with its all-wooden, Tanglewood-inspired Weill Hall, "I didn't even realize what a jewel it is."
To stand in the $145 million music facility was a triumph for Jim Meyer, Sonoma State's first vice president of development. He recalled the moment the ambitious project was born in August 1996 — in the living room of his home.
He said Armi?na and SSU administrators were meeting there chiefly to discuss the loss of $1 million of funding.
"In the middle of that," Meyer said, "Ruben breaks out a brochure and says, &‘I want one of these.'" The brochure, which Armi?na had picked up while at a conference on the East Coast, highlighted the artistic and innovative features of Seiji Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood in western Massachusetts.
Armi?na asked him who he thought might help SSU build such a world-class performance hall. Meyer suggested Don and Maureen Green. Armi?na's response, Meyer recalled, was, "Let's have them to our home for dinner."
The Greens pledged several million dollars to the project, and planning began. But building the center turned out to be more complicated, costly and controversial than anyone could have predicted.
Armi?na was a man in his element Saturday night.
"It's here!" he said before the crowd filed into Weill Hall for the Lang Lang performance. "You can kick the doors and the walls and they don't crumble."
He added that, as with a fine Sonoma County wine, creating the Green Center has taken time.
The long, often painful gestation period was on the minds of many of the project's donors on Saturday.
"Everybody kind of got tired for a while," said tech entrepreneur John Webley.