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Groundbreaking set for concert hall, part of new arts initiative

The new Bing Concert Hall, whose groundbreaking ceremony is set for next Tuesday, will be situated across from the Cantor Arts Museum and will open in January of 2013. (Graphic courtesy of Architect Renderings, Polshek Partnership Architects)

The groundbreaking date has been set for the University’s new Bing Concert Hall, a building that has been in the planning stage for more than a decade and represents part of a larger effort at Stanford to revive the arts, an area sometimes overshadowed by the University’s more technical and scientific focus.

“Our concert hall is really meant to be a beacon,” said University architect David Lenox at a Wednesday evening showing of the concert hall plans.

“It’s meant to be very transparent,” he added metaphorically as he projected a visual rendering of what will be the glowing, glass-walled lobby of Bing Concert Hall. “We want everyone to be welcome.”

Lenox and other members of the core planning team, including Jennifer Bilfield, Maggie Burgett, Chris Chafe, Karen Nagy and Stephen Sano, who represent groups such as the Stanford Music Department and Stanford Lively Arts, were on hand Wednesday for a public glimpse of the plans and construction site.

According to Bilfield, the artistic and executive director of Lively Arts, the plans are “pretty finalized” and the planning team recently submitted a plan to Santa Clara County for approval. However, Bilfield said the structural design may be modified over the next year and a half, as further technology evolves on building in seismic zones.

“There haven’t been any serious impasses, because communication has been really good,” Bilfield said. “We’ve been meeting every Thursday for three and a half years, and many Wednesdays as well. So there is a certain rhythm and tempo.”

The 112,000-square-foot hall will be constructed at the end of Museum Way, deliberately located along the same axis as the Cantor Arts Center in what Lenox described as the “arts district,” the region in which Stanford’s arts education and performance spaces reside.

Full-size orchestras, chamber groups and the most advanced electronic and computer music from both within and outside Stanford will use the 844-seat, vineyard-style hall, planners said.

The acoustical design is meant to accommodate both unamplified and computer-music performances. For example, the sails in the hall will double not only as acoustical panels, but also as projection screens that will complement computer music.

The state-of-the-art performance facility is scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2012, with its first public performances expected to take place in January of 2013.

Music faculty and administrators have been discussing the construction of a new hall for nearly 15 years.

“For students who come here to play in orchestra, for us to teach them what fine ensemble means — that’s really something we can’t do right now,” Sano, a music professor, said.

Helen Bing and Peter Bing ’55 made the naming donation of the hall. The hall was designed by Polshek Parternship Architects, and the acoustics were designed by Nagata Toyota, designer of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

According to Lenox, after seeing the less-than-desirable results of failing to include a sound system in the initial design of Disney Hall, Toyota anticipated for more electronic and technological needs in Stanford’s performance space.

The design process was finely detailed. In planning the acoustics, the core planning team measured noise levels on the site with an acoustician on football game days and when a plane was flying over the site. Particular thoughtfulness was devoted to the design of the women’s restroom, and the core team visited performance venues around the nation in order to finalize details of the artists’ dressing and rehearsal spaces.

“If the musician isn’t sitting there feeling the beauty of the space, they won’t play as well,” Lenox said. “That really struck a note with us.”

A New Focus on the Arts at Stanford

The building of the new hall embodies Stanford’s arts initiative, a deliberate movement on the part of administrators and Lively Arts to strengthen creative life on campus and enhance all students’ ability to easily and meaningfully engage in artistic endeavors.

“This building says Stanford is serious about doing the arts, and we’re serious about doing it now,” Bilfield said.

Nagy, vice president of the arts, emphasized the magnitude and depth of the initiative. “Arts” represents one of only five of Stanford’s recent capital campaign concentration areas, and has taken the form of expanding faculty hiring and creating 10 new Ph.D. student fellowships and 15 master’s student fellowships.

Nagy said the administration is trying to enhance arts in students’ lives through programs like “Off the Farm” and “Farm Aid,” which provide funding for resident assistants and faculty planning educational experiences for students. Lively Arts also tries to make performances affordable by pricing student tickets at $10; Nagy has also been working to improve partnerships with public arts organizations.

According to Bilfield, these initiatives have already “doubled and tripled” arts events in dorms and within the student community.

“Many students came here with arts backgrounds,” Nagy said. “And we need to enable them to continue that here.”

As the details of the project’s physical design are hammered down, the core team has shifted its focus to developing the hall’s future concert programming.

“We wanted to build a program that looked like Stanford, that was innovative and experimental,” Bilfield said, “We also wanted to increase the visibility of students and faculty in programming.”

The construction site has been fenced, and Nagy said in regard to the plans that “everything is full steam ahead.”

The official groundbreaking celebration is scheduled for the afternoon of May 11.

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