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North Bay Business Journal

Thursday, March 24, 2011, 5:02 pm

Green Music Center world class, world known

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    Brad BollingerAt precisely 2 p.m. Tuesday when the embargoed press release became public, news broke of a stunning $12 million gift to the Donald and Maureen Green Music Center at Sonoma State University that will allow the concert hall to be completed next fall.

    The news appeared locally … and in New York on Bloomberg and in the New York Times and the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Sonoma County residents with friends or family back East were soon getting congratulatory emails.

    That’s sums up the almost incalculable impact of the record SSU gift from Joan and Sanford I. “Sandy” Weill, the former CEO of Citigroup.

    Everyone associated with the center here knew it was world class. And many prominent artists knew as well. But not enough. Now, because of whom this gift came from, the Green Music Center and its spectacular concert hall went from world class to world known, too. Just like that, the Green Music Center is now more broadly known as the Tanglewood of the Wine Country, an equal on the West Coast to the famed Seiji Ozawa Hall in Massachusetts.

    As one of its most ardent supporters said last week, the Weills and the Green center, named for telecom pioneer Don Green and his wife, Maureen, couldn’t have been a more perfect match.

    Mrs. Weill is the founder of one of the nation’s most prominent dance schools. Mr. Weill has been on the board of Carnegie Hall for two decades. He is so well-connected in the music world that he could ask acclaimed Chinese pianist Lang Lang to come to the Green Music Center hall to test it out.

    Mr. Lang arrived at midnight in January. Imagine the scene: a great pianist playing a Steinway as the window coverings were moved up and down so he could hear the change, just one part of how the hall will be tuned for performances. He called the hall extraordinary and told Mr. Weill he would want to visit it on future world tours.

    Carnegie Hall Executive and Artistic Director Clive Gillinson also came to visit. He, too, gave it his resounding approval.

    Again, the hall went from world class to world known.

    Like much of the music world, the Weills, who purchased a home in Sonoma County in October, were unaware of the $120 million center until they were told about it at a social gathering. They visited the center and learned about its architecture and acoustical design. They loved it.

    But they went a major step father, vastly increasing the number of people that could use the center. They could give $4 million and finish the hall. But they gave $12 million so that outdoor seating for 3,000 could be completed as well as a 10,000-person capacity outdoor commons and stage.

    In a matter of weeks over December and January the gift was finalized.

    “And the rest is history,” said Patricia McNeill, vice president of university development at SSU. Ms. McNeill will be directing a continuing $4 million one-for-one fundraising campaign that was part of the Weills’ gift.

    At a reception in their honor last week, Mrs. Weill praised the level of involvement in the project by the community. It’s very rare, she said, for a potential donor to come across a project so close to fruition.

    Mr. Weill said what struck him when he first saw the hall was that the university “never took any shortcuts.” He is convinced that if the vision for the hall is executed, it will have broad benefits for students and the broad community.

    For SSU President Ruben Armiñana, the gift is the culmination of a sometimes challenging journey that spans more than a decade. It was the vision of him and his wife, Marne, that “at a public university you could blend together music, performance and education,” he said.

    In an interview last week, Mr. Weill noted that creating the perfect conditions for a musical performance by a talented artist requires both science — the finest acoustical design and instrument making — and a bit of prayer.

    When they come together, it is magical. And for those who have been devoted to the Green Music Center effort for these many years, this is magical.

    •••

    Brad Bollinger is Business Journal editor in chief and associate publisher. He can be reached at 707-521-4251 or bbollinger@busjrnl.com.

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