Rudolf Serkin, Piano – Edo DeWaart and The San Francisco Symphony – Opening Night Gala – September 16, 1980 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Opening nights this week. The gala spectacle that celebrated the first concert given by The San Francisco Symphony in its new home; The Louise M. Davies Hall, completed in September of 1980, to the tune of some $28 million and the permanent home for the Symphony, which up until that time was house in the War Memorial Opera House, sharing the hall with the San Francisco Opera.
For this initial opening night, which was dubbed by some as the “hardhat concert” because finishing touches were said not to be quite ready, Music Director Edo DeWaart was joined by the legendary pianist Rudolf Serkin in a program that included:
Of course, The Star Spangled Banner. Followed by the Roman Carnival Overture by Berlioz. Happy Voices by David Del Tredici. The Orchestra is joined by Rudolf Serkin in the Mendelssohn Piano Concerto Number 1 and ending with a Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
The San Francisco Chronicle best described it:
Efforts to add a second performing arts building went as far back as 1962. In 1965, voters turned down an initiative that would have provided funding for a $30 million performing arts center. The best chance for a new home for the symphony would involve major financing by private donations.
In November 1970, Mayor Joseph Alioto creating the 25-member Committee for a Performing Arts Center. The Chronicle reported at the time that San Francisco had had to turn away orchestras, ballet companies and other performing artists for lack of a concert venue.
“This is something we urgently need for music, dance and dramatic performances,” Alioto said.
The committee was filled with local performing arts heavyweights and prominent local business executives. By January 1977, the committee had secured $13 million in private donations, including a $4 million donation from Louise M. Davies.
On Feb. 25, 1978, Mayor George Moscone held a groundbreaking ceremony, but not everybody was happy. The San Francisco Mime Troupe demonstrated at the ceremony against the new symphony hall, shouting “Art for the people, not for profit.” They felt that the millions would be better spent on social programs.
After the groundbreaking ceremony, Davies commented, “Those kids have got it wrong. This center will be for all the people.”
The interior of the hall was designed to be acoustically adjustable. Acoustical consultants Bolt, Baranek and Newman were brought in to “tune the building”.
The hall opened on Sept. 16, 1980, and opening night was the hottest ticket in town, with some seats going for $1,000. “Spirits were high and giddy,” Herb Caen noted: “San Francisco has done it again!’ — and self-congratulation the order of the day.”
Mayor Dianne Feinstein compared the new hall favorably to the Kennedy Center, and a Chronicle editorial called it “an architectural triumph.”
The sound, on the other hand, received mixed reviews.
“When Edo de Waart brought the audience to its feet and led the national anthem, everyone smiled at a big, resonant symphonic sound as never heard here before,” Chronicle critic Robert Commanday wrote. “Then the concert proceeded and smiles turned eventually to puzzled looks. Something was wrong.”
Commanday called the new hall acoustically “raw.”
“There’s tremendous potential in it no doubt, but it will take considerable balancing, testing, adjusting,” he wrote.
Eventually the sound problems ironed out, with considerable tweaking and pruning and the new-improved hall got it’s second big send off in 1992. But this is 1980 and that hasn’t happened yet.
And you can be there again, just by hitting the play button.