Music, Food and Wine in a Spectacular Setting

GMCI have not yet been there, but friends are raving about the acoustics, the food and the wine at the Green Music Center on the grounds of Sonoma State University.

Just being in Sonoma County is always a pleasure, given the countless wineries to visit and an ever-growing list of fine-dining opportunities. And now, the GMC is giving those of us who love music yet another reason to plan yet another visit — not that you ever needed to twist my arm!

Since my first visit is still in the future, I figured it would be best to glean (a nice word for “steal”) most of the information on the GMC from the university’s website…

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Nestled in the picturesque foothills of Northern California’s esteemed wine country, the Green Music Center is a focal point for arts in the Northern San Francisco Bay Area, presenting year-round programming of premiere classical, contemporary, jazz, chamber and world music artists in concert.

The GMC campus includes the 1,400-seat Weill Hall, the intimate 240-seat Schroeder Hall, as well as the highly unique summertime concert-going experience of Weill Hall + Lawn.

The crown jewel of the Green Music Center is undoubtedly Joan and Sanford I. Weill Hall, which opened in September 2012 and is considered one of the most acoustically superb concert venues in the world. Designed by architect William Rawn, theatre consultant Auerbach Pollock Friedlander, and acoustician Lawrence Kirkegaard, Weill Hall was designed to replicate the intimacy and acoustics of both Vienna’s Musikverein and Symphony Hall in Boston.

The 1,400 handcrafted seats in Weill Hall were built by the 200-year-old Fancher Chair Company. Made of European steamed beech wood, the chairs feature an open back designed for acoustic-neutrality whether the seat is occupied or empty. Seating in Weill Hall is divided amongst a raked orchestra floor, second-floor choral circle, including a choir loft behind the stage, and the third-floor balcony boasting spectacular views of the Sonoma Mountains through large windows on the north and east walls.

The variable acoustics of the hall are achieved through the use of motorized fabric banners on the east and west walls. By adjusting these banners, the hall can be fine-tuned for the specific genre of music being performed — from a single vocalist to a full orchestra setting.

Weill Hall is aesthetically modeled after Seiji Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood, including a back wall that can be fully opened onto the beautifully landscaped and terraced Weill Lawn.

Patrons seated on Weill Lawn are offered a number of distinct experiences, including a full-service gourmet meal on the dining terrace, table seating, or lawn seating where purchased food or picnics can be enjoyed. Summer performances in Weill Hall + Lawn at the Green Music Center typically feature enhanced popular, jazz, country, Broadway and world music programming.

Schroeder Hall is a 240-seat cathedral-like recital hall, designed specifically to accentuate instruments, organ and voice in an intimate setting. Named in 2007 by Jean Schultz after Charlie Brown’s Beethoven-loving, piano-playing friend and in honor of her late husband Charles Schultz and his iconic comic strip, “Peanuts,” Schroeder Hall opened in August 2014.

Designed by BAR Architects of San Francisco, the 3,420 square-foot Schroeder Hall is notable for its curved architecture, featuring no 90-degree angles, soaring ceilings, and dedicated organ balcony where a 1,248-pipe Brombaugh Opus 9 organ is situated on the stage-end wall. Built of red oak with accents of rare woods, the organ’s metal pipes range in size from 16 feet long to some smaller than a pencil.

With 19 stops and 29 ranks on two manual divisions and pedal, the organ sounds both forceful and sweet. The rare organ — gifted to the university by donors B.J. and Bebe Cassin in 2005 — was temporarily housed at Saint Michael’s Cathedral in Rochester, N.Y., until the completion of Schroeder Hall in 2014.

Throughout the year, Schroeder Hall is home to the students and facility of the Sonoma State University Music Department, who utilize the space for classes, rehearsals, recitals and performances. The hall is also used as an expanded classroom for the 9,000-student university, becoming one of the largest academic spaces on the 269-acre campus.

Schroeder Hall’s place in the overall story of the GMC is an important one. The idea to build this small recital hall was the beginning of a journey that would conclude in the creation of a world-class performance complex, and a regional hub for arts and culture in the North Bay Area of San Francisco. The journey began in the 1990s, when local philanthropists and music enthusiasts Donald and Maureen Green set forth with an idea to build a choral recital hall in Sonoma County.

The Greens were founding members of the Bach Choir at SSU, led by music professor Bob Worth. Over lunch in the spring of 1996, the three lamented over the campus’ lack of a suitable hall for choral music. Donald Green pledged his commitment to the building of such a facility — and a recital hall was born. In time, the initial vision of the Greens grew from a choral hall to a performing arts complex: a concert hall, music education facilities, outdoor entertainment, and more.

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That “more” includes the Prelude restaurant, which is open in most concert nights. The culinary creations draw from local products, and both two-course ($35) and three-course ($45) pre-fixe menus are offered.

Attendees may also order a boxed meal from San Francisco’s acclaimed Boudin Bakery, and there is a nice selection of award-winning wines available.

I’m told that the GMC is a wonderful place to visit anytime of the year, but when you combine great music with good food and good wine in an outdoor setting, the experience can be magical.

I can’t wait to get my first taste of this exciting venue. I plan to peruse this list of upcoming events at GMC soon.

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