By now, you’ve read about how many millions went into the Green Music Center, you’ve seen photos of Sonoma County movers and shakers in tuxedos and gowns, you’ve read about the hall’s world-class lineup and perfect acoustics, and maybe you’ve thought, “Oh well, I’m not part of Santa Rosa’s upper crust—doubt I’ll ever be able to go there.”
Guess what? It’s just not true. Although last night’s grand opening twinkled with glitterati, from Nancy Pelosi to Governor Jerry Brown, today’s Santa Rosa Symphony opening offered a look at exactly how the common person can enjoy the place. White-collar donors, blue-collar fans, y’all.
I was headed to the hardware store today, to be honest, and I was certainly dressed for the plumbing aisle in cutoffs, tennies, and a T-shirt. Halfway to Friedman Bros., though, the lingering buzz from last night’s opening caused a spontaneous left turn onto Petaluma Hill Road to get myself to the 2pm symphony opening. “I’ve been watching the Santa Rosa Symphony for 25 years,” I thought to myself, “and I’m going to miss Corrick Brown, Jeffrey Kahane and Bruno Ferrandis inaugurating a beautiful new venue. . . . so I can work on plumbing? Am I nuts?”
So, bypassing the long line of Lexuses clogging Petaluma Hill Road near the Green Music Center, I parked my clunky old car in the south lot of SSU and caught the shuttle. (This is tip No. 1.) Waited for a while in line at the box office, and then asked, “Do you have any lawn tickets?” Yes, they did. What’s more, lawn tickets were free. That’s right: F-R-E-E.
I felt underdressed for a symphony opening, but lots of other people out on the lawn were wearing shorts, too. Some were eating hot dogs. Others were laying flat on their back in the grass. A few dudes were drinking Lagunitas IPA. See those trees down the side of the concrete walkway in the photo below? That’s considered “lawn,” too, meaning you can sit just as close for a fraction of the cost—we sat far off to the side, but still, right up front.
So, yeah, did I mention the concession stands? Formerly, the Santa Rosa Symphony food offerings were limited to wine and cookies. I scanned the menu today, which included salads, wraps and fruit bowls, and got a burger. It was five bucks. Another three bucks bought my three-year-old a hot dog. That’s half the cost of ballpark prices, right there.
And about that three-year-old of mine. There’s no way I could have brought her to a grand opening of the symphony at its old home. Outside on the lawn seemed like a safe bet. Being able to talk to her about the pieces, the instruments and the performers while we listened to the music and watched the jumbotrons on either side of the lawn made it a special daddy-daughter outing—her first symphony. Those with kids, take note.
Yes, it was hot. But that’s another bonus of the lawn’s casual nature: if you want to leave, you just get up and leave, without worry of disapproving stares from the benefactor’s circle. Plenty of tables were abandoned by the end of the program, and we bailed just before the end of Bolero to beat both the heat and the traffic. In doing so, we passed even more people who were lounging around barefoot, fanning themselves in tank tops or flip-flops, or just plain sleeping on the ground. Sleeping on the ground, at the symphony! Crazy!
From the Notebook: What a treat it was to watch Corrick Brown conduct again, and yet the highlight for me was Jeffrey Kahane, whose piano playing I’ll take over Lang Lang’s any day. His notes have far more definition, and unlike Lang Lang, he extracts from the score what the composer truly intends instead of what he believes will most titillate the crowd. . . . Symphony Executive Director Alan Silow waxed the usual rhapsodies about the hall, predicting that in ten years, Sonoma County would become as well-known a destination for the performing arts as we are for our wine. But he also delivered a veiled reference to election year, noting that the emotional connection music provides can be “a really healing force in a divided world.” . . . Charlie Schlangen, symphony board president, thanked several of the hall’s donors, and Don and Maureen Green stood up to receive another sustained, thunderous standing ovation . . . Seated applause for all the others.
Schlangen also thanked the city of Santa Rosa, and the Santa Rosa Visitors’ Bureau; if I’m not mistaken, there was no mention of Rohnert Park from the stage. You might think this a curious omission for a Rohnert Park-situated orchestra, but between retaining the name “Santa Rosa Symphony” and applying for and receiving a $15,000 grant paid for by a business improvement tax on Santa Rosa hotels, the symphony clearly has designs on keeping ties to its hometown. Their main offices are still right across from Santa Rosa City Hall, so what the hell. . . . Oh! Kudos to Nolan Gasser, composer of Sonoma Overture, written for this day—the piece danced along fantastically—lively, triumphant and very early-20th-Century-American-sounding. After the orchestra pounded out the final downbeat, the hall erupted, and Gasser himself came from the wings for his bow. Always a treat to stand and personally applaud the composer. . . . Over at the PD, there’s possibly the world’s eeriest photo of Bruno Ferrandis. Someone cast this guy in a Lars Von Trier film! . . . And I gotta say, the tradition of the gong being struck at the beginning of all shows at the Green Music Center is a fun one, presumably with rotating honors, like throwing in the first pitch or ringing the NASDAQ morning bell. Note to self: new life goal. Strike gong.
More Photos Below.