San Francisco’s new center for sharing classical music with everyone

San Francisco’s new center for sharing classical music with everyone

San Francisco Yo-Yo Ma has spent the bulk of the pandemic playing the cello to an online audience looking for solace in his music.

On Friday, he celebrated his return to San Francisco by playing the energetic Bach Cello Suite in front of a live audience to mark the opening of a new performance center designed to increase public access to classical and jazz music.

Ma praised the first-class acoustics at the Bowes Institute for the Performing Arts at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and “the safe space that gives students and faculty … the prerequisites for creativity.”

The Civic Center’s towering campus was among the few construction projects allowed to continue during the pandemic to house students and provide them with classrooms, a recording studio and a radio station under one roof.

However, the centerpiece of the $200 million building is a street-level concert hall with floor-to-ceiling glass windows to allow passersby to watch the students polish their craft. With a concert hall and two other performance spaces on the premises, 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 experience a live performance.

“It was very important for us to create a space that encourages access and breaks down the silos,” said the head of the conservatory, David Stoll. Entering – In its transparency, the Bowes Center invites the public and builds communication.”

The glass design contrasts starkly with the majestic neoclassical columns found in the nearby War Memorial and Performing Arts Center, home to the city’s opera and ballet companies. The center, named after the late venture capitalist and benefactor William K.

The penthouse performance space where Ma and pianist Garrick Ohlsson played Chopin’s music overlooks City Hall and the bustling Van Ness Street traffic. Thick glass walls allow natural light to flow in and block noise and vibration from the street.


Mark Cavagnero, the building’s architect, said: “I think these two spaces will be magical for years to come. They will showcase the work of students and the work of professional musicians and let the audience in. They will also showcase the city and the conservatory’s proud role in.”

Construction has been allowed to move forward during the pandemic to meet the city’s housing shortage. The Conservatory paid to relocate the residents of a 27-unit apartment building previously on the site, covered their expenses temporarily and offered to move them to rental housing in the new building. More than 400 students and faculty have also moved.

The center was funded with money raised by the conservatory, including a $46 million donation from the family of late venture capitalist William K. Under.


Mayor London Breed described the center as a “true gem” of the city and said she had supported the project from its inception “not only because of the wonderful concert halls where you can enjoy these experiences with such wonderful views, but because it provides the opportunity to help students”.

She joked that when she wanted to play hockey, she could walk across the street from her office to catch a free concert.

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