Son et Lumiere by Lunardi Electric: Sonoma State University's Green Music Center

Joe Lunardi Electric provided the lighting for the Green Music Center concert hall. Photo credit: Joe Lunardi Electric Co.

Sonoma State University’s state-of-the-art music complex is the result of a decade-long construction project that turned what could have been a basic concert hall into a facility with some of the best acoustics a venue can offer. The Donald and Maureen Green Music Center’s structure design and lighting—controls, interior and exterior illumination—make the public space as unique visually as it is acoustically. The electrical installation was provided by Joe Lunardi Electric Co., Santa Rosa, Calif.

For music performance, it’s all about sound, and the university had high ambitions when it came to the new center’s sound quality. In fact, the hall is intended to rival the acoustics as well as the sense of intimacy (for the audience) of two of the highest quality concert halls in the world: the Grosse Musikvereinssaal in Vienna, and the more recently constructed Seiji Ozawa Hall in Tanglewood, Mass., which serves as the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Lunardi Electric served as prime electrical subcontractor for the Green Music Center and provided power for the sound system, lighting and controls. The EC already had a presence on the Sonoma State University (SSU) campus. The company’s project portfolio also includes SSU’s student housing buildings as well as a high-tech installation at Next Level Communications (Motorola) in Rohnert Park, Calif.

In fact, the company has over a half-century history in Sonoma County. The family-owned company, which provides both high- and low-voltage construction, started with Joe Lunardi in the 1960s. Today it earns about $10 million annually.

Outside the concert hall. Photo credit: Joe Lunardi Electric Co.
Outside the concert hall. Photo credit: Joe Lunardi Electric Co.

Years of planning and construction

SSU began planning for the new music hall many years ago. In fact, the groundbreaking was in 2000. At that time, planners predicted it would open in 2003. But rising steel prices and other costs delayed the work.

Even when the concert hall opened for SSU music student performances in 2010, it was still unfinished. There was a formal grand opening gala in September 2012; however, interior and exterior work continued long after that.

Lunardi first arrived on-site in 2006 and remained with general contractor Rudolph and Sletten until the complex’s completion. Construction on the two-building complex started in the spring of 2007, and the structure was ready for occupancy and performances five years after that, said Christopher Dinno, SSU’s chief planning officer, administration and finance. Subsequent work included the addition of an outdoor amphitheater.

In fact, by the time the buildings were completed, the site had undergone as many as 11 changes from the initial plans, said Jolene Corcoran, Lunardi Electric president.

The finished complex is intended to combine education and artistry. It has a unique shape with a sloped roof intended to complement the rolling hills around it. The L-shaped Green Music Center includes two structures: the Joan and Sanford I. Weill Hall and Schroeder Hall. The entire project cost $128 million to complete.

Much of the work was done on scaffolding, lifts and specialized equipment. Photo credit: Joe Lunardi Electric Co.
Much of the work was done on scaffolding, lifts and specialized equipment. Photo credit: Joe Lunardi Electric Co.

17th century meets 21st century

The 1,400-seat Weill Hall features a long, narrow theater for the greatest acoustic impact. Both the sound and lighting are intended to make performances intimate although the back door slides open to allow an outdoor audience to enjoy the concert from the lawn.

The Schroeder Concert Hall—named after Charles Schulz’s piano-playing character from Peanuts—is a 300-seat recital hall that aims for a 17th-century European style where choral music, recitals and chamber music are performed. (Schulz and his wife lived in Santa Rosa and were SSU benefactors.)

The specifications for lighting and other customized theatrical and architectural requirements in the Green Music Center were extremely specific, Dinno said. SSU staff worked directly with Auerbach Pollock Friedlander, a performing arts/media planner and designer, and focused on a few specific areas. One was a theatrical lighting system, which required overhead rigging to install from considerable heights.

In a separate system, the EC also installed architectural lighting that highlighted the building’s exterior. The lighting includes color-changing LEDs on the facade that can shift through a spectrum of colors for specific events, said Blain Wong, Lunardi Electric project manager and electrical engineer.

That lighting system provided by Sacramento Theatrical Lighting enables dynamic color-changing and controllable LED accents that can be customized to create vibrant, wall-washing LED displays.

Other high-tech features were built into the complex as well, such as a low-voltage audio/video system for recording and other purposes. PCD of Santa Rosa provided the audio and video system integration.

Additionally, the buildings have controls to manage lighting and other services. The construction team needed to consider stage specifications to provide lighting, and services needed to support musicians and performers backstage.

Executive Retreat lighting with pendant fixtures at the Green Music Center. Photo credit: Joe Lunardi Electric Co.
Executive Retreat lighting with pendant fixtures at the Green Music Center. Photo credit: Joe Lunardi Electric Co.

Using the space

Additional features include a 1,000-square-foot Founders Room; 7,000-square-foot exterior courtyard and “back-of-the-house” infrastructure with backstage areas, loading dock, dressing rooms for the conductor, soloists and musicians, warm-up space and instrument storage.

There are also two 5,000-square-foot rehearsal halls, two 60-workstation classrooms, three ensemble rooms, three practice studios and four practice rooms as well as faculty offices and departmental suites for Green Music Center staff, the music department, and the theater arts department.

The scope of work, which continued after the Green Music Center opened in 2012, was specifically focused on two areas. One was the complete interior build-out of Schroeder Hall, where organists from all over the world perform. The other is the outdoor amphitheater, expressly designed for popular music and intended to serve thousands of patrons. Like the Ozawa Hall, the back door of the concert hall slides open, allowing outdoor audiences of up to 10,000 to picnic and enjoy live performances under the sky.

Today, the theatrical lighting, including overhead rigging and the architectural lighting systems are primarily used and arranged in the way they were programmed and designed.

“The customizable theatrical and architectural lighting designs in the Green Music Center complex serve the requirements of each of the music programs as well as the educational needs of the students, faculty, staff and performers as planned,” Dinno said.

By the time the construction was complete, Lunardi had run hundreds of thousands of feet of cable altogether. The digital multiplex portion of that cable reached close to about 50,000 feet, Wong said.

Electricians were tasked with ensuring the lighting met the visual needs of the buildings, which meant hiding any sign of cable. Photo credit: Joe Lunardi Electric Co.
Electricians were tasked with ensuring the lighting met the visual needs of the buildings, which meant hiding any sign of cable. Photo credit: Joe Lunardi Electric Co.

Maintaining aesthetics

For Lunardi Electric, the challenge was providing a lighting experience in which the complex adhered to the aesthetics of a time centuries before the advent of conduit and light fixtures, while still accomplishing state-of-the-art, controllable theatrical lighting.

Company electricians were tasked with ensuring the lighting met the building’s visual needs, and that meant hiding any sign of cable by running it through concrete footings and concrete columns.

“Everything had to be hidden from view,” Wong said.

Additionally, that required hiding conduit behind finished wood panels. The company also ran power for the lighting controls for dimming features in all high ceilings.

To accomplish this, much of the work was done with scaffolding, lifts and specialized equipment to get electricians into those ceilings where cable was installed, not only in the performance areas, but also the lobby, restaurant and patio. Throughout the project, Wong said everything was safety-oriented. The same was true for exterior lighting.

Lighting illuminates the outdoor corridor leading from the academic building to the restaurant. Photo credit: Joe Lunardi Electric Co.
Lighting illuminates the outdoor corridor leading from the academic building to the restaurant. Photo credit: Joe Lunardi Electric Co.

When the back doors are open to include those on the lawn, attendees can see and hear performances from outside. A big screen offers close-up visuals for those outside. Lunardi Electric also provided power for that screen.

Lunardi electricians were on call on opening night in case anything went wrong in the concert hall. Fortunately, the system worked exactly as planned.

The Music Center is now used year-round for SSU’s educational and music programs. It is the university’s premier performance setting and a regular venue for the Bach Choral Society and other classical, contemporary orchestras, chamber, jazz, big band and popular music groups. Additionally, the Santa Rosa Symphony calls the hall home, and a variety of famous and lesser-known bands and performers play there as well. Whatever the musical style, the hall aims to make the sound immediate and intimate.

“We’re very proud of this project,” Corcoran said. ”It was a long time coming and with many parts and pieces, but it’s going to be there a long time.”

When Wong considers the work accomplished at the complex, especially related to its acoustics and lighting, he’s proud of what Lunardi and the entire project team accomplished.

“It’s an amazing piece of art,” he said.

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