October 11, 2012
By Jennifer Raiser
Music lovers will want to head up — double time — to Sonoma State University for a sonorous sensation. That verdant venue is now home to one of the most remarkable performance spaces in the country, Weill Hall at the Green Music Center.
As befits a California institution, this Wine Country campus managed to wrangle a new building that combines acoustic perfection and aesthetic richness with a picnic venue — the concert hall has a “fourth wall” that opens up to the back 40, a la Tanglewood. That wrangle was primarily wrought by two generous couples: Maureen and Donald Green, who envisioned a world-class music center and provided the cornerstone gift to begin the planning over 15 years ago; and Joan and Sanford “Sandy” Weill, who moved into a little cottage over the hill last year, and decided to make a neighborly gesture to complete the project.
The Greens, the Weills, and a number of significant donors were the honored guests at the Opening Gala, which drew 600 of Sonoma’s finest in their finery to celebrate the cultural life of college and community. As they often do, the festivities began with a bubbly reception, which was local, literal and figurative. In their black tie splendor, it was difficult to tell the farmers from the faculty, the grape growers from the government officials, although Governor Jerry Brown and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi were easy to spot as they processed into the soaring three-story concert hall.
Two hours of piano sensation Lang Lang playing Mozart and Chopin (from memory!) gave plenty of time for the appreciative audience inside and the packed-tight picnickers outside to marvel at the superlative sound. During intermission, Sandy Weill was asked how this Weill Hall differed from Carnegie Hall, where he serves as chairman of the board of trustees. “Well, Carnegie Hall doesn’t open in the back,” he smiled. “And more importantly, it doesn’t have my name on it!” But the accomplishment he really wanted to emphasize was deflected to Lang Lang, whom Weill met 13 years ago, when the pianist was a 17-year-old prodigy. “He is the most passionate musician I know,” continued Weill. “He really believes that music has the potential to change people’s lives, and the world. I’m proud to have helped him set up a foundation to do that.” With Weill’s estimate of 50 million Chinese children currently taking piano lessons, that’s a lot of world changing to do.
Many ovations later, Lang Lang’s piano-bound pyrotechnics ended and the new show began, a twenty minute fireworks display well worthy of Handel. But the celebrating was far from finished; inside a tent lavishly decorated by Thierry Chantrel, Chef Michael Chiarello had whipped up a Sonoma showcase dinner of heirloom tomatoes with burrata and balsamic vinegar ‘caviar,’ followed by lamb chops dusted with fennel pollen and accompanied by local wines donated by the Sterling Family, Valeria and Agustin Huneeus, Anne Moses and James Hall, and Morgan Twain-Peterson. A divinely decadent chocolate budino ended the evening as it had begun, on a lingering sweet note. But the notes were not silent for long — Weill Hall was slated to open again at sunrise for a community choral concert, followed by a the Santa Rosa Symphony in the afternoon, and a bluegrass barbecue with Allison Krauss in the evening. With concerts currently announced through April, 2013, it sounded like Sonoma State is becoming the spot for state-of-the-art sound.
And who was there? Among the many supporters of note: Norma and Corrick Brown, Jean Schulz, Norma Person, Deborah and David Hopkins, Judy and Les Vadasz, H. Andrea Neves and Barton Evans, Jennifer and John Webley, Edward and Carolyn Stolman, GK Hardt, Herb and Jane Dwight, Barbara and Jacques Schlumberger, Alexsis de Raadt St. James, and the elegant and academic Anisya Fritz, with her ebullient husband Lynn Fritz. Architect William Rawn and acoustician Larry Kirkegaard received well-deserved applause, as did theater consultant Len Auerbach. Who else was sounding sweet? Sonoma State President Ruben Arminana gave full credit to his wife, gala co-chair Marne Olson; other credits were due to James Lamb, Ed Stolman, Larry Gould, Debby Hopkins, Tracy Terrill, and Richard West. Jessica and Natan Biblowitcz came out to salute her parents, the Weills. Dinner patrons included Karen and Jay Abbe, Jane and Gerald Baldwin, Connie Codding, Michael and Mary Calhoun, Hallie and Paul Downie, Cherie and Keith Hughes, Sandra Larson, Ginger Martin and Carol Sebastiani, Joyce and Steve Pease, Earle and Terri Sweat, Marcia and Harold Wagner, Bev and Kirt Zeigler, Deborah and David Hopkins, Stuart Harrison and David Ring, Jack Stuppin, Thomas Angstadt and Nancy Kivelson, Maribelle and Stephen Leavitt, and Carol and Sam Miller. San Franciscan supporters included JaMel and Tom Perkins, Cissie Swig, Paul Pelosi, Anne Gust, Barbro and Barney Osher, Priscilla and Keith Geeslin, Mary Beth LaMotte, and blushing bride Maria Manetti Shrem with Jan Shrem. And both San Francisco and Sonoma are thrilled to have a Green Center that is so very worth Weill. Encore!