By John Burgess


Many years from now, when they talk about historical cultural happenings, I will be able to say that I was there on that special day in 2012 when the Santa Rosa Symphony played its opening concert at Sonoma State University’s Green Music Center.

That was me hiding in the sea of white tablecloths, using a table and cooler to block out the 90-plus degree sun. I didn’t have a lot of company. Most of the hundreds of tables around me sat empty, abandoned while the outdoor concert goers huddled beneath every twig, branch and tree on the outskirts that offered shade.

Those inside Weill Hall had paid good money to watch the symphony up close in that gorgeous, air-conditioned space. Most of us on the outside had obtained free tickets that allowed us to take seats on the tiered lawn and peer inside.

On a mild day, the lawn is going to be a fabulous venue from which to watch a concert. The twin jumbo video screens give close-ups of conductors and musicians unavailable to the indoor crowd. And it’s very nice to sit back at your table as the music plays and nibble on a strawberry, forever linking its sweetness with the strains of Beethoven’s Concerto No. 4 in G major for Piano and Orchestra.

Also, at night I’m told the view into the lighted hall looks especially captivating. And for the kids, the best part may be that they actually get to see the man on the outside balcony hit the gong to begin the concert. (Ask your kids whether that gong doesn’t look like the one eye of Mike Wasowski from Monsters Inc.)

So take my advice and sit on that lawn on a mild day. However, Sunday was not a mild day. Not even close. Nonetheless, the outdoor crowd gamely sat and perspired and applauded and watched for any sign that a breeze might soon be wafting our way. And at intermission we got up and searched for cooler climes. Some of us even walked into the concert hall, where we were treated kindly despite looking like we’d just pulled our red faces from a hot oven. After intermission, many never returned to those sunny white tablecloths.

The concert, by the way, was historic, as you would expect on the center’s gala opening weekend. It was indeed a treat to see conductor emeritus Corrick Brown once more lead the orchestra, as well as conductor laureate Jeffrey Kahane return to play the grand piano while the orchestra was led by Music Director and Conductor Bruno Ferrandis.

Moreover, I very much enjoyed seeing the orchestra members captured on the big screen making incredible music. When Ravel’s “Bolero” began, there was flautist Kathleen Reynolds, my daughter’s old flute teacher, giving a wondrous solo. Later Santa Rosa High music teacher and clarinet player Mark Wardlaw played a fine solo. They were just two of a number of great soloists on that piece, showing the depth of talent to be found in this symphony.

All in all, it was an unusual opportunity for the greater community to take part in a never-to-be-repeated weekend. It was free. It was hot. It was worth it.