I have had the good fortune to have an extended winter visit in Palo Alto for the past several years. Last year (2012) as a friend and I stepped out of the Cantor Arts Center Stanford University, we looked at a huge construction site, which she told me would be the Bing Concert Hall. Returning this year (2013) and hearing on the radio that the Bing was to open, I was very anxious to be there and am thrilled that I was, in fact, able to attend the opening concert on January 11, 2013. It was surely a night I will remember and three things in particular. There was the enthusiasm of the concert attendees, the beauty and uniqueness of the building’s architecture and the quality and range of the performance.
When Helen and Peter Bing, (Stanford '55), donated $50 million to Stanford University in 2006 to build a world-class concert hall, they envisioned a premier venue for both artists and audiences on the Stanford campus, which has now become a reality. Up to this time, the Lively Arts programs, which often featured internationally recognized artists, open to members of the university community and Stanford's neighbors. Many of the programs were presented at Memorial Auditorium, a 70-year-old facility that does not meet current technical requirements. The new state-of-the-art venue facilitates an optimal performance experience for both the performers and the audience.
Everyone connected to the exciting opening night was helpful and enthusiastic beginning with the guards directing traffic and including the groups of young men in white evening attire lined up to valet park cars. The auditorium was beautiful, the light pouring fourth at night. Inside an expansive lobby greeted us, and there were helpful people everywhere to answer questions and give directions.
We decided to try the food at the café. The menu was limited but everything we tried was tasty and attractively presented. The wine was excellent and the casual atmosphere, sitting on benches was conducive to chatting with others nearby. The atmosphere is warm and inviting and the natural woods and stone materials were both beautiful and comfortable.
We entered the lobby, which is the upper level. When we wandered to the stage level, we were amazed. It is said that you can not get a seat that is bad. You can see and hear everything from all seats, and it certainly seemed that way as we experienced the performance. Ennead Architects’ Richard Olcott, FAIA was the Design Partner for the project, Timothy Hartung, FAIA, was the management Partner and Dr. Yasuhisa Toyota of Nagata Acoustics brought his expertise (also used to design the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles) to the state of the art acoustic properties of the Bing Concert Hall. A few random features interested me such as: 842 seats, the 26 female patron fixtures (with red and green lights) compared to the 16 male patron fixtures, 4,000 hours of Stanford staff time, 67 new trees and 4,550 shrubs among others.
The program seemed to have been made up almost as one would select a bouquet. Elements in the program were customized to bring out the unique qualities of Bing Concert Hall. Showcasing the hall’s audio systems was Fugue 1 (Fanfare) by Chris Chafe, Duca Family Professor, and Fernando Lopez-Lezcano from the Stanford Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) . The sound quality held it own from electronic music to spoken word to string quartet, full symphony and the beautiful voice of special guest mezzo-soprano Frederica Von Stade as she joined joined MTT and the Symphony in “Take Care of this House” from Leonard Bernstein’s 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Following remarks by John L. Hennessy, President, Stanford University, The Bing Presidential Professor, Peter S. Bing (Stanford ’55) spoke briefly. His words rang in my head as the concert progressed. He referred to the round shape of the concert hall as a means of bringing the community together, where you can look at other audience members. The curved orchestra pit is reminiscent of a campfire. He mentioned the sense of being alone with your imagination and your thoughts while enjoying this space with others, students, faculty, staff and residence of the Bay Area.
The unique program featured actor, author and former Stanford faculty member Anna Deavere Smith as master of ceremonies. Her introductions and interesting comments at key moments kept the program moving smoothly. Our first taste of the magnificent sound quality in the hall came when Stanford Chamber Chorale Members of the Stanford Symphony and Philharmonia Orchestras with Stephen M. Sano, Music Director, conducting The Harold C. Schmidt Director of Choral Studies performing A Place of Concert (2012) by Jonathan Berger, The Denning Family Provostial Professor followed by Stanford’s Ensemble-in-Residence St. Lawrence String Quartet - Geoff Nuttall, Violin, Scott St. John, Violin, Lesley Robertson, Viola and Christopher Costanza, Cello.
The sold out house was offered champagne during intermission. This hall can do it all elegantly and efficiently. Contining there was the San Francisco Symphony Michael Tilson Thomas, Music Director, conducting Joseph Haydn String Quartet in F Major, op. 77, no. 2 (Hob. III: 82) (1799)
Short Ride in a Fast Machine: Fanfare for Great Woods (1986)
Claude Debussy La Mer: Three Symphonic Sketches (1905)
From Dawn till Noon on the Sea
Play of the Waves
Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea
I was particularly struck by Claude Debussy’s La Mer, which I have heard and loved countless times. But the sounds that night were clearer, cleaner and listening was a joy. We were seated so that we looked at Michael Tilson Thomas as he conducted. We were above the brass section and could observe the players movements. I heard a nearby audience member say, “I am in heaven”. It was heavenly. Guest artist Frederica von Stade, Mezzo-soprano sang the words to Leonard Bernstein’s “Take Care of This House” from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (1976) and the program concluded with the Stanford Chamber Chorale leading the audience in Albert Smith and Mary Roberts Coolidge’s Hail Stanford Hail! Audience members included composer, John Adams, a Stanford alum, students in wide ranging fields, staff, faculty, alumni and residents of the entire Bay area and beyond.
From 1891 until now Stanford Arts have been important to the university. At one point opera used to be performed in Stanford Stadium (arts.stanford.edu/timeline). No longer with the world class Bing Concert Hall and a world-class series to fill it, Stanford is on the world map. As Stanford Live's inaugural Season at Bing Concert Hall continues, you will want to be part of the magic. Hurry and get tickets.
Bing Concert Hall
327 Lauen Street
Stanford University Campus
Photos: Leon Keer and Stanford University unless otherwise noted
The hall includes a sizable and acoustically superior rehearsal studio for campus and visiting performers, a state‐of‐the‐art recording studio linked to both the main hall and rehearsal studio, four artists' suites and a performers' lounge and garden to serve as both a greenroom for artists and space for casual events for guests. Combined with the main stage and 844 vineyard-style seats, the hall fully integrates teaching, technology and performance. Sound is managed by "sails" on which video can also be projected and the "cloud" which houses electonic equipment that can drop down.