Bing Concert Hall plans approved

Feb. 18, 2010, 1:02 a.m.

Performers won’t strike their first notes in the newly planned Bing Concert Hall for at least two years, but the music community here is already abuzz with anticipation.

University trustees last week announced that construction plans have been approved for the new $110 million Bing Concert Hall, scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2012, with its first performances expected to occur in winter of 2013.

Bing Concert Hall plans approved
The Bing Concert Hall is projected to be finished in summer 2012 and will house 844 audience members. (Courtesy of Architect Renderings, Polshek Partnership Architects)

The facility will be located behind the Arrillaga Alumni Center on Lasuen Street at the intersection of Museum Way and Palm Drive.

The project marks an important stage in Stanford’s almost 120-year history, as the campus has never had its own true concert hall.

The project cost has been underwritten by a donation made by Peter and Helen Bing, institutional funding, senior donors and friends of the University.

“What the Bings have done for us here is unbelievable,” said Karen Nagy, vice president of the arts. “I think it’s going to enable a generation of music-making and art-making on this campus that will make everyone proud.”

The current plan envisions a 112,635-square-foot structure designed by Polshek Partnership Architects, a New York company. The structure is planned to feature a sandstone-colored stucco exterior, a glass-paned lobby and an 844-seat performance space.

Yasu Toyota, designer of the acoustics of Disney Hall in Los Angeles, was contracted to develop the acoustical design, conducive to not only unamplified solo and orchestral performances, but also to computer and electronic music, including Stanford’s laptop orchestra and other electronic music ensembles.

The hall will be used by campus organizations including the Stanford music department and its orchestral and choral ensembles, Lively Arts and the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA), but also the surrounding Palo Alto community.

The campus arts community is uniformly enthralled about the project.

“I’m joyful and emotional,” said music professor Jindong Cai. “Nothing can be better as a musician than to play in a state-of–the-art concert hall.”

Nagy affirmed that the arts community has been anxiously awaiting a new venue for some time.

“There has been a desire and a conversation to build a new concert hall for over a decade,” Nagy explained. “The major impetus in this direction was a capital campaign that made the arts a key area to strengthen in this community. Strengthening the facilities is a pretty obvious target.”

The music community agreed that Stanford has been in desperate need of a true concert facility. Current performance spaces such as Dinkelspiel Auditorium, Memorial Auditorium and Memorial Church were all constructed as multi-purpose structures, and lack satisfactory acoustics, they say. Nagy conceded that CCRMA has a gem of an acoustical space at The Knoll, but its capacity is limited to about 90 people.

Performers often find that they cannot adequately hear themselves in current auditoriums, and sound does not reverberate well throughout the audience.

“What we have now is [Dinkelspiel Auditorium], which is basically an acoustical dead-zone,” said Nick Hersh ’10, a music and conducting student.

“[Dinkelspiel] is not really built for an orchestra to sound really good in it,” he said.

Not only is Bing Concert Hall expected to surpass Dinkelspiel Auditorium both technologically and acoustically, but it will also employ an entirely different internal design. Instead of retaining the traditional shoebox style performance space, the hall will be built in vineyard style, with seats encircling a slightly ovular stage, and will also include sails swelling from the walls of the hall, which are pivotal to Toyota’s acoustic vision.

The hall will also have large projection screens that can be coordinated with film, light, and sound.

“It’s a very intimate space,” said Jenny Bilfield, the executive director of Lively Arts. “We want school children, students and community members to be able to hear the musicians breathing. We want to reanimate the experience of a live performance.”

In addition to providing a great physical performance space, Bilfield also hopes the hall will help attract guest artists.

“There are certain ensembles that we would just love to have, but we’ve just never historically had a place to present them in an appropriate and responsible way,” said director of choral studies Stephen Sano. “And now we will.”

The only complaint among music advocates for now, it seems, is the wait Bing Concert Hall will require: it won’t be operable for another three years, even though mass excavation is targeted to begin as early as this May.

“I’m really excited for it,” Hersh said. “But I’m disappointed that it will be finished two years after I graduate.”

But the music department has high hopes that the Bing Concert Hall’s place in the future of music making will be worth the wait.

“If you look at concert halls around the world, there are halls that were built hundreds of years ago that are still the best halls in the world,” Sano said. “And it would be fabulous to see this hall be one of those kinds of spaces.”

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