A modern home for the classics | June 8, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - June 8, 2012

A modern home for the classics

With a new name and a rising concert hall, Stanford Live plans a season of Beethoven and Baroque

by Rebecca Wallace

As Stanford's uber-modern Bing Concert Hall takes shape, its opening season will have a decidedly classical feel. The 2013 season promises a 14-concert "Beethoven Project," a partnership with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, and big-name classical artists Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax and the San Francisco Symphony.

In contrast to the eclectic diversity of Stanford Lively Arts offerings in recent years, this season will have very few performances of world music, dance or other arts with a visual component, like theater. Matthew Tiews, executive director of arts programs at Stanford, says the classical concentration is purposeful.

"We are for this season focusing on this space as a concert hall," he said, promising that more dance and world music would return in future seasons.

Indeed, the $112 million, 844-seat Bing hall has been envisioned as a state-of-the-art concert space. With acoustic design by Yasuhisa Toyota of Nagata Acoustics, who handled the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, this is a venue made for music. The stage will be built of Alaskan yellow cedar, soft and resonant, with sail-like white acoustic panels above.

"The donor wanted a concert hall, first and foremost," said music professor and university Arts Initiative faculty director Stephen Hinton, referring to alumni Peter and Helen Bing. "It's not a proscenium-arch theater."

At the moment, it's a partly finished — but already dramatic — oval structure of scaffolding and steel, concrete and wood. The front entrance faces the Cantor Arts Center, its curving top looking across Palm Drive. Visitors to the site can already walk on concrete steps in the seating areas that will surround the stage, with the first row down on the same level as the performers.

As crews work to get the hall ready by the Jan. 11 opening weekend, Stanford Lively Arts has also undergone a sort of metamorphosis. The 43-year-old arts presenter is now called Stanford Live.

The rebranding coincides with the new concert hall, where most of the season will be held. The Bing opening, Tiews said, is "an opportunity to reframe and expand our arts presentation on campus."

Stanford Live will have a greater focus on collaborations with artists and campus groups, Tiews said. He cited the new partnership with the period-instrument Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, which will perform three concerts at Bing this season.

Stanford Live is also teaming up with the Stanford Symphony Orchestra and the Stanford Philharmonia Orchestra to present the "Beethoven Project" January through June. The concerts feature all nine Beethoven symphonies and his piano concerti, with the pianist Jon Nakamatsu. Music classes will focus on the composer, and students and faculty will give Beethoven concerts.

These programs come on the heels of many past collaborations at Stanford Lively Arts, which have included a year-long campus residency by the Seattle sound sculptor Trimpin, and staged readings of fiction and poetry by writers in Stanford's creative-writing program, performed by the Word for Word Performing Arts Company.

With the name change and the upcoming opening, the university has made some staffing changes. Wiley Hausam, a newcomer to Stanford who came from New York in February, will be the first managing director of the hall. It was recently announced that he will also be executive director of Stanford Live, a position held by Jenny Bilfield at Lively Arts since 2006. Bilfield will remain artistic director.

When asked about the reason for the change, Tiews said: "Wiley is running the operational and financial aspects of the hall, and the hall is the main venue of Stanford Live. His responsibilities include harmonizing all the revenue streams."

Bilfield will remain responsible for planning the seasons, working in collaboration with Hausam and campus partners, Tiews added.

At a press conference this week to announce the 2013 season, both Hausam and Bilfield seemed very enthusiastic about the new venue. Hausam quoted Peter Bing in describing the hall project as "concert in every sense of the word."

"I have just found that so inspiring and poetic," said Hausam, the former executive director of the Performing Arts Center at Purchase College.

Bilfield, a veteran of the music business, said she is looking forward to the intimate seating in the new concert hall. With sections of the audience placed around the stage, some will literally get a new perspective on music, sitting behind the orchestra.

"We love that the audience faces each other," she said, adding that she hoped for "the sense of social exchange and dynamic energy in the hall."

Bilfield is also eager to see the fruits of several commissions, including a new work by the minimalist composer Steve Reich, to be performed by the chamber ensemble Alarm Will Sound on March 16.

Two chamber operas by Stanford faculty composer Jonathan Berger and librettist Dan O'Brien, "Theotokia" and "The War Reporter," will receive "theatricalized" concert stagings on April 12 and 13. Experimental artist Laurie Anderson will present a new evening-length work with the Kronos Quartet on April 20.

After the press conference, the group toured the hall, gazing up at the acoustic panels above. Below, a red steel frame showed where the stage would be. It was already clear that the concert hall, designed by Ennead Architects of New York, would have a dramatic elliptical shape.

"There's not a square corner anywhere in here," said the hard-hatted Matt Rodriquez, director of operations and production for Stanford Live.

Leading the group through the 112,000-square-foot building, Rodriquez pointed out other spaces besides the main performance hall.

The glassy Grand Foyer will also host student programs and lectures. Spaces that are now half-finished will become dressing rooms, a recording studio, an orchestra library, a well-insulated percussion room. A rehearsal studio is the same size as the main stage, 2,635 square feet. Visiting performers will have suites with windows, and a greenroom opening into a garden.

And then there are the high-tech restrooms. With the hope of moving people through them faster at intermission, workers will install lights with sensors over the stalls. When a stall is free, its light will go on.

"Peter (Bing) was always concerned about having to wait for his wife to come out of the restroom because the lines were so long," Rodriquez said.

Outside the hall, crews will add foliage to make the hall "nestle into a really green arboretum," Bilfield said. Two self-serve ticketing kiosks will stand in front.

Once the hall is open, Stanford expects to staff it with about eight full-time employees and up to 200 part-timers and volunteers, Tiews said later. He declined to give specifics on the hall's operating budget.

Stanford students will have "quite a lot of use of the hall," Tiews said. "Music-department ensembles will have some rehearsal and performance opportunities," he added. "There will also be some opportunities for student groups to perform."

As for Stanford Live, its 2013 season will be an abbreviated one, from January to June. Subsequent seasons will mirror the academic year, Tiews said.

Bing will officially open on Jan. 11 with performances by the San Francisco Symphony, the St. Lawrence String Quartet and members of the Stanford Symphony Orchestra, Stanford Chamber Chorale and Stanford Taiko. Actress and New York University professor Anna Deavere Smith will be emcee.

An open house will be on the afternoon of Jan. 12, with two one-hour acoustic concerts by roots rockers Los Lobos that night. The St. Lawrence String Quartet performs on Jan. 13, followed by concerts showcasing Stanford's department of music.

Artists scheduled to perform later in the season include the pianist Emanuel Ax on Jan. 22; the Mingus Big Band on Jan. 25; Yo-Yo Ma on cello and Kathryn Stott on piano on Jan. 27; South African singer Vusi Mahlasela on Jan. 30; the Choir of New College, Oxford, on April 3; and the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain on April 14.

Info: For details about Stanford Live's season, go to http://live.stanford.edu . For more about Bing Concert Hall, go to http://binghall.stanford.edu .


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