Ground is broken for Stanford’s stunning Bing Concert Hall

Two Stanford presidents led the celebration Tuesday as ground was broken for the 844-seat Bing Concert Hall. The striking building will be home for Stanford Lively Arts, and part of a new campus arts district.

Peter and Helen Bing join Stanford President John Hennessy to break ground for the new Bing Concert Hall, scheduled to open in 2012.

“Welcome to our new front door!”  Stanford University President John Hennessy beamed to the group of about 250 people assembled in a tent for the groundbreaking for the new Bing Concert Hall on Tuesday.

The 844-seat hall will stand at the east end of Museum Way, facing the Cantor Arts Center on the opposite side of Palm Drive, the university's palm-lined gateway to the campus.  It will be the “new front door” in the sense that visitors will reach the landmark building, which will be completed in summer 2012, before they arrive at the signature sandstone facades of the central campus.

However, the groundbreaking for the hall heralds the beginning of an even more comprehensive Stanford vision: the launch of an arts district that will offer easy access from downtown Palo Alto and the nearby highways.

The mood under the big tent was jubilant. As Hennessy put it, in hard economic times, “a dream we desperately wanted could easily have been deferred.”  Yet the $111.9 million project is going forward, with the help of major supporters Helen and Peter Bing (a 1955 graduate of Stanford), for whom the building is named.

Leslie Parker Hume, chair of the Stanford Board of Trustees, noted that “Their generosity, their creativity, their thoughtfulness and heart touch every nook and cranny at this university.”

With a symbolic sandbox and three golden spades, Stanford President Emeritus Gerhard Casper commented that the occasion was  “the most virtual groundbreaking I have ever attended.”

The 112,000-square-foot Bing Concert Hall has been designed for a wide range of music performances, from small chamber ensembles to full-sized orchestras, jazz, multi-media, newly commissioned works and world music.  The range was evident in the musical choices at the groundbreaking – from the classic sounds of the St. Lawrence String Quartet playing Beethoven to Ge Wang’s mobile phone orchestra, known as MoPhO, which lent a distinctly high-tech aspect to the groundbreaking in the heart of Silicon Valley.

Casper introduced Wang, an assistant professor of music, to the gathering.  He laughingly recalled trying to describe MoPhO to his wife, Regina, who looked at him “in utter disbelief.” 

“And for that you are going to build a concert hall?” she asked.

But when the eerie, slightly Asian chiming from the iPads and iPhones filled the tent on the sunny May afternoon, it provided a different kind of magic for the groundbreaking.

Even Regina Casper looked enchanted.