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SF’s New ‘Eagle’s Nest’ Concert Hall & Monument to Music

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The New SF Music Conservatory, at 200 Van Ness Ave, SF.  All photos by Alex Mak.

It’s not every day our city adds a concert venue to the Civic Center, or ‘Performing Arts District’ as some call it.  This week, the new fancy Conservatory of Music opened just across the street from The SF Symphony, and from its 11th-floor recital hall, you look down on the Opera House, Van Ness Ave, City Hall, the Asian Art Museum, and the Civic Center Tent City.

In a small crowd of journalists, students, and millionaires we sat and listened to Yo-Yo Ma play his cello in the new state-of-the-art Cha Chi Ming Recital Hall, while sipping coffee and admiring the view.  Few play their instrument with more grandeur and joy than Yo-Yo, there is a reason why he’s been invited to play all over the world for decades, he’s a gentleman-assassin with that bow of his.

Yo-Yo Ma playing briefly for the SFCM opening November 12, 2021.

Mayor Breed stood and said some nice things about music and San Francisco.  She said that this new conservatory of music would produce tomorrow’s revolutionary artists and that she saw herself sneaking away from City Hall from time to time, to attend concerts there incognito.

We also listened to a money-man talk about raising the $200 Million dollars to build the Conservatory, and how they had people go all the way to Germany to find the perfect, handmade, 10ft long concert piano specifically for the acoustics in this eagle’s nest recital hall.

It was then I began to think of the absurdity of money San Francisco has, to build such a temple to the arts.  The money-man proudly informed us that the school would be catering to the top 1% of student musicians.

All the while in the corner of our million-dollar view, lies the safe sleeping site, where +71 homeless souls take turns sleeping on concrete, in the shadow of our palatial concert.  “That’s San Francisco for you for you,” I thought, in the past there would have been far more protest and outrage to such expenditures.

Back in 1978, when Mayor Moscone broke ground for the new Symphony Hall, the Mime Troupe showed up to protest, blowing through horns and waving signs that said, “art for people, not profit”.  The troupe released a statement that read, “When no one in the city has to eat out of trashcans, when old people don’t get evicted, when the streets are clean.  When we have enough buses and jobs.  Then it will be time to build a palace.

February 25 1978 Chronicle coverage of the groundbreaking ceremonies for the new performing arts center are interrupted by the San Francisco Mime Troupe.  SF Chronicle 1978

What’s more symbolic of today’s San Francisco than standing in a brand new $200 million dollar ‘vertical campus’ for the top 1% of classical music students while peering down at dozens of tents, nestled next to Beaux-Arts architecture and our greatest seats of power…

San Franciscans commonly complain about how much the city has changed over the years, but perhaps not as much as we thought.  “The mime troupe would have been here if they hadn’t been priced out of the city decades ago,” I thought to myself cynically.

Breed and the brain trust watching Garrick Ohlsson play the piano. Photo by Patricia Colli

Then world-renowned concert pianist Garrick Ohlsson sat down and played Chopin, and I’ve never heard a better-sounding piano in my life. The music was so beautiful I felt it in my chest, those chords nearly brought a tear to my eye.

The acoustics were so fine in that hall I swear I could hear what London Breed was thinking from across the room, “It’s absurd how much that piano cost, but goddamn does it sound good.”

SFCM ground-level recital hall had a jazz concert, displaying its diverse repertoire.

There is a silver lining in all of this.  The new monument to classical music will be holding concerts throughout the year, and 9 out of 10 of those concerts will be FREE to the public.  Along with that, the building provides affordable housing for 420 SFCM and SF Ballet School students, who no doubt bring talent, culture, youth, and music from around the world to our creativity-starved shores.

The SFCM also houses 36 local residents, many of who lived on the lot before the construction began, and would have been displaced, but the SFCM made sure they got apartments in the new building if they wanted them.  Which is nice.

And on a fiscal level, this expensive building and school were overwhelmingly paid for with private money, so the taxpayer was not harmed in the making of this dream.

There are three recital halls, one on the ground level with floor-to-ceiling glass that looks right onto the street, there’s also the ‘eagle’s nest’  hall overlooking our city, and a third special recital hall that is dedicated to the ‘Technology and Applied Composition department’.   More info on the new concert venues here.  But rest assured, they all sound amazing.

In-person concerts for the public begin in 2022, The SFCM “Bowes Center” was designed by architect Mark Cavagnero, and for the time being, most recitals will be streamed online.

SFCM Performance Calendar Here. 


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Alex Mak - Managing Editor

Alex Mak - Managing Editor

I'm the managing editor here at Broke-Ass Stuart. I enjoy covering Bay Area News as well as writing about Arts, Culture & Nightlife.

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1 Comment

  1. Tron
    November 19, 2021 at 2:32 pm — Reply

    The top 1% of classical music students are at Curtis.

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