Already a highlight of live music in the North Bay, the Green Music Center at Sonoma State University has announced that it is dropping plans to build a proposed 10,000-seat outdoor pavilion on the university’s campus. The school will instead focus efforts on enhancing graduation rates, the student experience and academic programs.
In a statement, new Sonoma State University President Judy K. Sakaki said, “After reviewing the project with my new administrative team, and consulting with key stakeholders we’ve agreed that utilizing our already existing facilities at the Green Music Center, in lieu of adding an additional facility, would best serve our students, our academic mission and the surrounding communities.”
The Green Music Center already includes the dynamic Weill Hall, which features outdoor lawn seating for bigger concerts, and Schroeder Hall, housing an amazing pipe organ and used for recitals and student classes. This weekend, the Green Music Center opens its 2016-2017 season with a performance by Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis on Saturday, Oct 1, and Buena Vista Social Club vocalist Omara Portuondo on Sunday, Oct 2.
North Carolina’s the Avett Brothers, aka siblings Scott and Seth Avett, have been making lovely harmonic country folk music since 2000, when they were still in college and high school, respectively. With a slew of critically beloved albums–including this summer’s masterfully emotional True Sadness–and a reputation for rollicking and heartfelt live shows, they’ve become one of the biggest ‘indie’ acts touring today.
And if their show last night at Sonoma State University’s Green Music Center is any indication, their hard-working ethics and dynamic musicianship is a strong as ever. The band played a high soaring set of music from their entire 16-year catalogue in the beautiful Weill Hall, with the back wall open and fans packed on the lawn. Folks sung and clapped along for the two-hour set that saw the brothers power through dozens of their best songs.
With no opener, the band came out strong with an instrumental opener complete with kazoo solos. Backing the banjo picking Scott and guitar slinging Seth is bassist Bob Crawford, cellist Joe Kwon, violinist Tania Elizabeth, pianist Paul DeFiglia and drummer Mike Marsh. The ensemble offered lots of selections from True Sadness, though they also reached back to the earlier works and gave every member of the group a chance to spotlight their talents.
I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the Avett Brothers play live four times now over the last few years, from the fields of BottleRock Napa Valley and under the columns of Berkeley’s Greek Theatre, to an intimate theater in Visalia, and last night’s performance stood out for it’s eclectic mix of song selections and juxtaposition of hushed acoustic and all-out electric power. At one point, Seth took his guitar into the crowd for a blazing rock and roll guitar solo, and Tania Elizabeth damn near stole the show with an amazing violin performance that sounded like a full assortment of stringed players.
Congrats to whoever is booking the shows at the Green Music Center. They’ve got a great ear for music and a great taste for a wide range of acts. For a list of upcoming concerts there, click the link.
The visually stunning and acoustically renowned Weill Hall is the crown jewel of Sonoma State University’s Green Music Center. Though the hall has been around since 2012, the process that lead to its existence dates back to the 1990s, when Donald and Maureen Green first envisioned a performance space for the Santa Rosa Symphony on the campus of the university.
Now, the stories of this ambitious endeavor is told through revealing and personal stories in the new book, “For the Love of Music,” available now through the Sonoma State University Bookstore, in the lobby of Weill Hall at the Green Music Center and at Copperfield’s Books.
The book was conceived by Marne Olson, wife of SSU president Ruben Armiñana and vice chair of the Green Music Center Board of Advisors, as a tribute to the donors and staff who brought life to the music center, now considered one of the premiere music halls in the country.
Subscriptions for the Green Music Center’s 2016-2017 season are on sale soon. “For the Love of Music” retails for $39.95. Contact the SSU bookstore at 707.664.2329.
Santa Rosa Symphony board president Sara Woodfield recently announced that music director and conductor Bruno Ferrandis will end his tenure with the Symphony when his contract expires at the end of the 2017-2018 season.
Ferrandis, only the fourth musical director in the Symphony’s 88-year history, plans to pursue an international role as a guest conductor.
Of the decision, Ferrandis said he hopes to conduct more opera, collaborate with contemporary composers and travel the world. He also thanked the community in Sonoma County for their “fabulous faith and support for the Santa Rosa Symphony over so many years.”
Highlights of Ferrandis’ time with SRS include the Symphony’s move to the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall in 2012. Also, in 2013, the Symphony was awarded an ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming of Contemporary Music, in recognition of Ferrandis’ balance of traditional classic repertoire with newer works.
Woodfield also announced the Symphony’s board of directors will begin an international search for the next music director, with finalists conducting five of the seven classical concerts in the 2017-2018 season before Ferrandis leads the orchestra for the final two concerts, both of which are sure to be filled with personal favorites and emotional works.
Award-winning Asheville, NC, bluegrass ensemble Steep Canyon Rangers is having another busy summer, touring the country with Steve Martin and finishing up touches on a new LP, Radio, due to be released in early September.
And for your listening pleasure, the band has released the music video for the album’s title track and first single. The nostalgic lyrics and melodic fiddles of “Radio” are presented in a video collage made up from intimate, on-the-road footage gathered from the band’s relentless touring life.
Earlier this year, I caught up with Steep Canyon Rangers banjo player Graham Sharp. You can read that interview here. And click below to hear “Radio.”
Steve Martin & Steep Canyon Rangers perform on Thursday, Aug 20, at the Green Music Center, 1801 East Cotati Ave, Rohnert Park. 866.955.6040.
July 4 was full of patriotic mainstays at Sonoma State’s Green Music Center, with songs that celebrated both the country and Collins’ long career. Her touch on the Cole Porter songbook brought tingles of nostalgia to the crowd, and a John Denver medley was superbly arranged and executed. The show-stopping Sondheim classic, “Send in the Clowns,” the song Collins is perhaps best known for, was nothing short of marvelous.
“I said, ‘I want to do this song,’” she recalls telling her manager upon hearing it. “He says, ‘It’s been recorded 200 times already,’ and I told him I don’t care.”
Even at 75, Collins’ voice still has a good amount of power. The Santa Rosa Symphony kept up with her and her piano accompanist, but took a well deserved break during an a cappella rendition of “This Land Is Your Land.” The lawn patrons were less enthusiastic with the sing-along, perhaps because it was not as loud in the back of the sloped grass as inside the main hall.
The relaxing atmosphere is really the best way to experience a concert like this one; it’s relaxing to be able to lay back, watch the clouds and enjoy food and drink while tuning in and out of the concert. Intensive listening can be exhausting after a couple hours, and the casual setting provided perfect respite during Collins’ storytelling breaks between songs, which took up about one-third of the show.
The fireworks went off without a hitch this year, a welcome change from last year’s celebration at the GMC, when the light show was cancelled due to a technical difficulty. This year’s production was only marred by unusual July fog, but the explosions were still invigorating and loud enough to rattle ribcages.
Renée Fleming is a reeeeeeally good singer, but you already knew that. Hell, she’s probably the best American soprano performing today, but anyone who reads the arts & entertainment section knows that already, too. What we learned at her performance at Saturday’s opening concert of the second season at Sonoma State University’s Green Music Center was that she loves the venue, deeming it a “favorite stop” for big-name touring artists.
Before singing “The hills are alive, with the sound of music,” Fleming described what she saw looking out at the rolling, green hills outside the opened rear wall of the main hall, saying she was “inspired” by the view. Indeed, her performance of the showtune was inspired, despite a false start, and had many in the 1,600-person crowd singing along.
Though not full to its 3,400-capacity (the interior showed some empty chairs; the tiered seating area was nearly full outside; the sloped hill beyond that was almost vacant), the concert could not have featured a more beautiful performance. Even sitting outside, Fleming and pianist Gerald Martin Moore were visible on the stage and facial expressions and the details of her stunning dresses (a silver gown by Vivienne Westwood followed by a golden gown with an opera cape by Angel Sanchez) were highlighted on a giant screen, with several camera shots including one inside the piano and one showing the crowd outside. Fleming’s voice carried just beyond the edge of the hall and was reinforced by a transparent sound system, picking up just the right amount of the hall’s beautiful acoustics to highlight its rich treatment of the human voice.
The program included classical pieces by Handel, Canteloube, Delibes, Korngold, Cilea, Puccini, Zandonal, Johan Strauss II and Richard Straus, whom Fleming called her “desert island composer.” Her performances of the latter composer’s work were especially touching, in part because he wrote such beautiful music for the soprano voice, but it was apparent that she was moved by it beyond notes on a staff. A section folk tunes, including a medley of “The River is Wide” and “Shenandoah” and a performance of “Wild Horses” by folk artist Jean Richie, ended with a powerful rendition of “We Hold These Truths” by J. Todd Frazier, a slow, stirring piece with text from the beginning of the Declaration of Independence.
Fleming finished with two songs from West Side Story (“I Feel Pretty” and “Somewhere”) and two Rogers & Hammerstein classics (“The Sound of Music” and “A Wonderful Guy”). And for her encore, another crowd favorite: “I Could Have Danced All Night” from My Fair Lady. Taking advantage of the unique forum, Fleming broke the rules of a classical music hall’s opening gala–she invited all the singers in the audience to participate in the second half of the song, which freed her up to improvise a bit. From designer dresses to mom jeans, tuxedos to T-shirts, voices from the crowd carried the tune while Fleming showcased her incredible range and comfort on stage. Even outside the hall, we felt the warmth of a vocal embrace surrounding us.
Upcoming concerts at the Green Music Center include superstar pianist Lang Lang Sept. 17, classical violinist Itzhak Perlman Sept. 21, jazz pianist Herbie Hancock Sept. 28 and soprano Ruth Ann Swenson Sept. 29.
Renee Fleming, Izthak Perlman, Hilary Hahn, Lang Lang, Jessye Norman, Herbie Hancock to Play Green Music Center
Made public in a season announcement today, the Green Music Center‘s second season includes Renee Fleming, Izthak Perlman, Hilary Hahn, Lang Lang, Jessye Norman, Herbie Hancock, Richard Goode, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Mariza, Bryn Terfel, Garrick Ohlsson, Ruth Ann Swenson and more.
Without a doubt, this is another star-studded season for the center, which opened on the campus of SSU last year. Classical enthusiasts, especially, have reason to celebrate.
Renee Fleming will appear in a season opener on Sunday, Sept. 15, at 3pm.
Lang Lang, who performed at the hall’s grand opening last September, returns on Sept. 17.
Tickets for the season range from $27–$140 each, with subscription packages available starting today for donors in the $1,000 Benefactor Society and higher; Tuesday, April 2 for current subscribers and all MasterCard holders; and Monday, April 22 to the general public.
SSU students receive 50% off.
Ticket sales and more info. can be found at the Green Music Center’s site.
Other dates are as follows:
So Yo-Yo Ma’s deep into the third movement of Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne, right? And he’s plucking and pulling at the strings like a madman, and bouncing his bow all over the strings, and then he starts strumming the cello while grunting and heaving loudly and banging his head. And then, in the midst of all this chaos, Yo-Yo Ma twists his instrument sideways, stands up halfway out of his chair, throws his head backwards and at the same time glides the bow ever so softly to produce one entirely delicate, gossamer note that hangs in the air like silk.
You think you know Yo-Yo Ma; he’s the face of virtually every other PBS telethon, he’s a constant at awards shows and inaugurations, he’s the punchline for cheap standup comics because of his name. But as proven by a jaw-dropping performance at the Green Music Center on Saturday night, you don’t know Yo-Yo Ma until you see the man live, doing unearthly things with a cello and wresting a lifetime of emotion from his sheet music—which, incidentally, he ignores most of the time.
The San Francisco Symphony’s opening night performance at Sonoma State University’s Green Music Center was beautiful and exciting. Each player in the symphony is fantastic individually, and together under the baton of the rockstar of the classical world, Michael Tilson Thomas, the orchestra elucidated every ounce emotion in the evening’s music program. Weill Hall, the acoustic gem and main hall of the GMC, plays gorgeously to this. The premier acoustic space seems to widen the ear canal, allowing for more sound to be heard at once than ever thought possible. The pieces on this night showcased this clarity.
Richard Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks (Op.28) begins with a sneaky little theme, proceeding to take the listener through all sorts of jollity but always with the sense of danger right around the corner. After all, a little mischief never hurt anyone, just don’t get caught. The clarinetist in this piece has a challenge, playing extremely high notes, the highest the instrument can make. I ran into a much loved SSU music professor during intermission, and he suggested this piece was specifically chosen for tonight to showcase the acoustics of the hall. I couldn’t agree more. The fast runs in the higher registers translated not into harsh overtones, but velvety notes that were easily followable in the clarity of the space. When the merry prankster does get caught (and executed), the low bass and drum notes were ferocious, vibrating my loose pant legs (or was that just my legs trembling from the tremendous magnitude of unamplified sound?)
The only sound that hasn’t made me gush so far in this hall is the low mid frequency. It can sound a bit muddled, especially with piano. On opening night with superstar Lang Lang at piano, his dexterous Mozart performance was lost a bit in this register, and parts of the SF Symphony performance were not as sonically brilliant in this area during faster sections. It sounds as though this frequency takes longer to develop than others in the hall. But really, this is splitting hairs. It’s not a problem so much as an observation.
Yefim Bronfman’s playing on Beethoven’s 5th piano concerto (Emperor) was superb. It was not flashy or self-indulgent but more bold and heroic like the piece itself. Though it did not have the passion one would imagine of Beethoven himself pounding the ivory keys, demanding more from his instrument than ever thought possible, it was not lacking for emotion, either. Whether it was just my ears or the players adjusting to the space, during the first five minutes it felt like the piano was just a hair too soft. But soon after, everything settled in. From then on it was pure ecstasy, like listening to a fabulous recording on the best audio system, but it was real, and it was happening right in front of us. I was reminded of this when, during a quiet moment just before the piano flourish at the end of the final movement, a cell phone, ironically with the “piano” ringtone, went off somewhere in the building. This only made enhanced the experience for me with its reminder that it was taking place in reality.
Also performed this evening was “Pandora,” which the SF Symphony had just performed for the first time the night before. This 20-minute piece for strings written by SF Symphony assistant concertmaster and violinist Mark Volkert in 2010 again showcased the heavenly acoustics of the main hall with several solos and double basses playing extended low notes, vibrating the floor in some cases. It is a 21st century work, to be sure, but it is more accessible than some newer pieces. It’s a story piece with a concrete narrative following the Greek myth of Pandora, and can be followed without too much confusion and with beautiful imagery. Volkert was in the audience and came up from his seat to shake hands with MTT after the piece. Both looked quite pleased with the result.
The sad truth of a generation hooked on mp3s is they will rarely experience a full acoustic experience in music. Earbuds are a terrible listening device, reproducing, at best, about two-thirds of the human hearing spectrum. The best mp3 is 25 percent of the data of a full recording compressed into the middle of the frequency spectrum where our ears are tuned to listen more easily. Without getting too technical, let’s just say the sound is flat and lifeless. The main hall at Sonoma State’s Green Music Center is the anti-mp3. It is pure sonic expression, giving music a forum to be heard as it was intended by its creator and perhaps even enhancing it through the warmth of the acoustic environment. Though their home, Davies’ Symphony Hall in San Francisco, is stunning in its own right, I wouldn’t be surprised if members of the SF Symphony prefer playing in Weill Hall. This was the first of four SF Symphony performances at the Green Music Center for its 2012-2013 season, and hopefully next season features even more.