SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Yo-Yo Ma has spent most of the pandemic playing cello to audiences online seeking solace in his music.
On Friday, he marked his return to San Francisco by performing an energetic Bach Cello Suite in front of a live audience to usher in the opening of a new performance center designed to increase public access to classical and jazz music. .
Ma praised the first-rate acoustics of the Bowes Center for Performing Arts at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and the “safe space that provides students and faculty … with the prerequisites for creativity.” .
The towering Civic Center campus was one of a handful of construction projects that were allowed to continue during the pandemic to house students and provide them with classrooms, a recording studio, and a radio station under one roof.
The centerpiece of the $ 200 million building, however, is a street-level recital hall with floor-to-ceiling windows for passers-by to watch students perfect their art. Along with the recital hall and two other performance spaces in the building, the conservatory plans to offer free admission to 90% of its concerts each year.
The goal is to create a welcoming space and expand the audience to include those who may not be able to afford a live performance.
“It was very important for us to create a space that promotes access and opens up barriers,” said conservatory president David Stull. “For too long the world of classical music has been seen as exclusive, with a huge barrier to entry – in its transparency, the Bowes Center invites audiences and creates connections.
The glass design contrasts sharply with the towering neoclassical columns of the War Memorial and Performing Arts Center, home to the city’s opera and ballet companies. The center, named after the late venture capitalist and donor William K. Bowes, Jr., is also within walking distance of the conservatory and performance halls of SFJAZZ and the San Francisco Symphony.
A penthouse performance space where Ma and pianist Garrick Ohlsson performed Chopin’s music overlooks City Hall and the bustling traffic of Van Ness Avenue. The thick glass walls allow natural light to enter and prevent noise and vibrations from the street.
“These two performance spaces, I think, will be magical for years to come,” said Mark Cavagnero, the building’s architect. “They will showcase the work of students and professional musicians and allow the public to enter. They will also highlight the city and the conservatory’s proud role within.
Construction was allowed to move forward during the pandemic to address the city’s housing shortage. The conservatory paid to relocate residents from a 27-unit apartment building previously on the site, covered their expenses temporarily, and offered to move them to rent-controlled housing in the new building. More than 400 students and teachers have also moved in.
The center was funded with money raised by the conservatory, including a $ 46 million donation from the family of late venture capitalist William K. Bowes, Jr. Construction began in 2018 and the facility was slated to open last year before pandemic supply chain issues slowed it down. down.
The Mayor of London Breed called the center a ‘real gem’ for the city and said she has supported the project since its inception ‘not just because of the amazing concert halls where you can have those experiences with those amazing views, but because it offered the opportunity to help the students. “
She joked that when she wants to play hooky, she can cross the street from her office to enjoy a free concert.
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