When a community acquires a world-class new performance hall, it can be an exhilarating experience. Many of you will remember the excitement surrounding Carmel's newly renovated state-of-the-art Sunset Center 10 years ago. So it is with Stanford University's spacious and elegant Bing Concert Hall, which opened last week to speeches, fanfare and a smart display of the hall's flexibility and acoustical suppleness.

The program began by showcasing Bing's superb audio system with speeches by Stanford's president and Peter S. Bing, followed by a palate-cleansing fanfare of ambient sounds electronically composed at the Stanford Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA).

The live music included small-ensemble choral and chamber works followed impressively by the San Francisco Symphony, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. Beloved Bay Area mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade crowned the evening with a vocal solo.

Actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith as master of ceremonies delivered the spoken-word artistry of the evening, emphasizing (maybe too much) the august contributions of Stanford to the world.

At 842 seats Bing is roughly the same size as Carmel's Sunset Theater. The hall's design, however, is radically different. Architect Richard Olcott of Ennead Architects created a series of tiered sections to seat an audience that completely surround the stage — a so-called "vineyard" oval design that allows patrons to see each other as well as the performers.


The stage itself adapts easily to cozy settings of solo and small-ensemble performances yet also nimbly accommodates large-scale ensembles like the San Francisco Symphony. During intermission, while the audience sipped celebratory champagne in the expansive, airy lobby that curves artfully around the hall, the crew set up risers for the orchestra. We returned to see the theater transformed into a symphony hall — a stunning contrast to the previous chamber coziness and a testimony to the brilliance of Olcott's design. The effect was reminiscent of Mary Poppins' magic satchel morphing to contain whatever she put in it.

The Bing facility benefits from the skills of the legendary Yasuhisa Toyota of Nagata Acoustics, famous for his contributions to the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, among others. It takes time and practice to work out the optimum settings and configurations for the range of performances in a new hall, but the overall clarity and subtlety of sound opening night declared another triumph by Toyota.

The university's chamber ensemble-in-residence, St. Lawrence String Quartet, delivered a Haydn quartet of filigree precision and warmth suggesting a highly successful future for Bing chamber concerts.

The Stanford Chamber Chorale and members of the Stanford Symphony and Philharmonic Orchestras, conducted by music director Stephen M. Sano, performed a new work by Stanford music professor Jonathan Berger based on words by Peter Bing at the time of the groundbreaking ceremony for the hall in May of 2010. While the text sung by the chorale came across as mushy and hard to understand, it was not clear if this was an artistic or acoustical issue or, perhaps, both. The instrumental elements, on the other hand, seemed ideal.

Tilson Thomas entered the room buoyantly after the half, charming the room with his enthusiasm for the occasion.

"This is exciting, isn't it?" he beamed. Indeed it was.

He led the symphony in the big, lush sound of the evening, full of intensity and complexity, beginning with John Adams' dizzying fanfare "Short Ride in a Fast Machine." After an vibrant performance of Debussy's "La Mer," Thomas and the orchestra joined von Stade in her heartfelt account of "Take Care of This House," from Leonard Bernstein's "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue."

This new facility is located at the gateway to the campus as the centerpiece to its arts district and a visually powerful reminder of Stanford's growing commitment to the arts.

Bing will serve the performing arts curricula for Stanford students as well as be a resource for Bay Area communities. Stanford Live (formerly Stanford Lively Arts) presents its inaugural 2013 season at the Bing Concert Hall.

On the Monterey Peninsula we are accustomed to driving up to the Bay Area for theater, music, opera and other performing arts events. I encourage you to attend Stanford Live events and enjoy this splendid hall that Peter Bing calls "A place of coming together. A place of concert."

For more by Barbara Rose Shuler see www.barbarasbest.com.

If you go

·What: Bing Concert Hall & Stanford Live

·Where: 327 Lasuen St. (at Campus Drive), Stanford University

·Tickets: Prices vary by event

·Learn more: 650-725-2787 or visit the web at www.live.stanford.edu





Interior, Hall (© Ennead Architects, Aislinn Weidele)