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Actor, author and former Stanford faculty member Anna Deavere Smith introduces the St. Lawrence String Quartet on Friday.

Actor, author and former Stanford faculty member Anna Deavere Smith introduces the St. Lawrence String Quartet on Friday. (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

Stanford's Bing Concert Hall opens to rave reviews

More than 700 performers participated in opening weekend and 5,000 patrons enjoyed the new hall.

Early reviews of Bing Concert Hall from the press, performers and patrons are in, and they are glowing. The best of the bon mots include: "The sound popped like champagne," "The hall exudes a serenely majestic air,"  "The acoustics in the room and the intimacy of the space made performing an incredibly personal musical experience," and "In a word, it's magnificent."

Seven concerts in three days, most with multiple performers, made for a very busy hall. Impressions from the staff ranged from exhausting to exhilarating.

"For me, there were too many great moments to single out just one. In general, my favorite realization was that our weekend of visitors were thrilled to be with us," said Wiley Hausam, the executive director of Bing Concert Hall. Echoing remarks made by master of ceremonies Anna Deavere Smith at the opening night celebration about the hall being a place to foster relationships, Hausam added, "We are now launched into the world and the truly exciting experience of discovering how the performances in the hall change us and our relationship to each other begins."

Stanford Music Director Stephen Sano described the weekend's opening events as the beginning of what will be a truly transformative time for music performance at Stanford.

L.A. CiceroPatrons Dennis Facchino and Angela Sowa enjoy refreshments before the concert.

Patrons Dennis Facchino and Angela Sowa enjoy refreshments before the concert.

"Indeed, from the time our large ensembles moved into the Bing in early November and started rehearsing, it has been clear that the hall is an incredible game changer for us," he said. "In the brief time since then, the amount of musical growth experienced by our students has confirmed exactly what we hoped we could achieve in the space  – their musical acuity has already grown by leaps and bounds."

Opening night celebration

Bing Concert Hall hosted the opening night celebration on Friday, Jan. 11. Actress, playwright and former Stanford faculty member Anna Deavere Smith presided over performances by the members of the Stanford Chamber Chorale, Stanford Symphony Orchestra and Stanford Philharmonia Orchestra, all under Sano, plus artists-in-residence the St. Lawrence String Quartet and the San Francisco Symphony under Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas with special guest mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade.

At one point during the concert, Thomas faced the audience and gleefully called out, "Isn't this exciting?" He later introduced Mark Volkert, the symphony's associate concertmaster and a Stanford alum, and expressed his appreciation for Stanford's contribution to the musical landscape.

Perched on the edge of their seats in an upper terrace, several students watched their fellow students perform on Friday night, and then found their way backstage to get Thomas' autograph. 

Bing fling: community open house

The doors were flung open to the community on Saturday with two free concerts featuring Stanford and community groups and two evening performances by Los Lobos.

Cantabile Youth Singers of Silicon Valley opened Sing the Bing, the first concert of the day. "Performing at the historic opening of Stanford's Bing Concert Hall was the thrilling culmination of weeks of preparation, and will forever remain a source of pride to each member of Cantabile," said Eman Isadiar, executive director, after the performance.

Jennah Delp, the group's conductor, said that performing at Bing was "amazing and refreshing."

"We are grateful to Stanford Live for promoting community music-making in the Silicon Valley," he said.

The Ragazzi Boys Chorus and Stanford Talisman were also part of Sing the Bing. Talisman embraced the round theater configuration by performing in a circle, alternatively facing in and out. This clever staging eliminated any front, back, left, right orientation.

Play the Bing, the second concert of the day, started with the invigorating Stanford Taiko, followed by the Gunn High School Jazz Band and the ethereal Stanford Laptop Orchestra (SLOrk).

Nathan Chandra, a sophomore piano player at Gunn High School, said it was an honor to be invited to play at the opening of such an amazing venue. "As a pianist, it was so great to get the opportunity to play on such a fine instrument as the Steinway in Bing," she said.

Stanford Taiko drummer Jane Lin was impressed by the back-of-the-house facilities of the hall and said she's looking forward to Taiko's annual spring concert at Bing later this year.

The Grammy award-winning rock band Los Lobos always delivers and on Saturday night singer and guitarist Cesar Rosas invited the audience to dance in the aisles, which they did. Drummer Enrique "Bugs" Gonzales, banging away and grinning ear to ear, looked like one of the happiest guys in the hall.

New Sundays with the St. Lawrence and Music of the House

Members of the Stanford resident ensemble St. Lawrence String Quartet seemed delighted with their new digs. Violinist Geoff Nuttal called the sound in the hall "devastatingly good" and their performance on Sunday had the audience demanding an encore.

An annual fixture on the Stanford Live season, SLSQ returns to Bing on March 10 for the second of its Sunday matinee series.

The final concert of opening weekend was a Stanford Department of Music showcase featuring SLOrk, Stanford Jazz Sextet, Stanford Woodwind Quintet, Stanford Wind Ensemble, Stanford Philharmonia Orchestra, Jaroslaw Kapuscinski, Mark Applebaum, Early Music Singers and, finally, the Stanford Symphony Orchestra with the Stanford Choral Union.

The program put the tech staff through its paces between arranging furniture after each group to dropping the media screen for Kapuscinski's piece to utilizing the 24.6 channel sound system.

Conductor Jindong Cai had the last word of the weekend when he addressed the Sunday evening audience after leading the Stanford Symphony Orchestra and the Stanford Choral Union in Maurice Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé Suite No. 2 and declared, "From now on this is our home, our palace, our shrine," adding a note to the Bings: "Thank you, Helen and Peter."