Green Music Center in the spotlight
Lang Lang to open $145 million music hall at SSU
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By Dave Williams  September 28, 2012 12:00 am

The public finally gets a chance to judge whether the Green Music Center (GMC) on the campus of Sonoma State University is worth its $145 million price tag and all the controversy involved in building it.

The GMC makes its highly anticipated debut on Saturday, Sept. 29, with world renowned pianist Lang Lang as the first performer at 7 p.m. in Weill Hall, named after major benefactors Sanford “Sandy” and Joan Weill. The Sunrise Choral Concert will be held Sunday at 7 a.m. in Weill Hall, followed by 2 p.m. Orchestral Opening by the Santa Rosa Symphony at Weill Hall and Lawn. Opening weekend winds down with a performance by Alison Krauss and Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas at Weill Hall.

Those who have been able to hear music inside Weill Hall on a preview basis all agree the GMC will take its place among the finest music halls in the world.

“This is a fantastic facility in an unbelievable part of the world,” said Weill, who along with his wife Joan, donated $12 million to help complete the state-of-the-art hall. “Not only will the center create an innovative learning environment for students, it will provide an economic boost to the area and help diversify its tourist base.”

Still, there is more to be done to complete the 600,000 sq. ft. facility. The 250-seat Schroeder recital hall and an outdoor pavilion that will seat 10,000 people is around $15 million away from completion.

There were several critics who felt the building of the GMC would turn into a multi-million dollar boondoggle, especially when considering the project began with modest aspirations. It was originally planned to be a choral auditorium that ran in the price range of $10 million. Obviously, plans expanded into making the GMC what appears to be among the crown jewels of music centers.

No one bore the brunt of criticism more than SSU President Ruben Armiñana. He was on the wrong end of a no-confidence faculty vote in 2007 when it was deemed the center was too expensive for the university. This came in the face of state funds for education being slashed and the cost of tuition rising at an accelerated pace.

Armiñana stood firm in his belief SSU could build a music hall that can stand up against any in the world.

“We have thought about this day for more than 15 years,” Armiñana said. “During a visit to Tanglewood (Mass.) in the early 1990s, my wife and I had a breathtaking experience –and an idea. That idea was to build a world-class music center on the Sonoma State University campus, with many similarities to Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood. Not only would such a place enhance the university's academic growth, but it would provide a remarkable venue for attracting and highlighting significant performers for the campus and the community.”

In 2007, frustration mounted for Armiñana as the project stalled, but a midnight meeting with Weill, Lang Lang and other SSU officials turned the tide. Weill saw the unfinished hall and inquired as to how much it would  take to complete the project. He gave $12 million ($4 million of it a matching gift) to complete the majority of the music center. Since then, local donors have helped bring Armiñana’s vision to fruition.

“Extraordinary members of our local community have shared this dream and championed the cause, including the faculty and staff of the Sonoma State University, the State of California and the California State University system, Donald and Maureen Green, Corrick and Norma Brown, Jean Schulz, Norma and Evert Person, Joan and Sandy Weill, and hundreds more—who together brought this vision to reality," Armiñana said.

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