On April 23, 2006, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) held its final concert at its Sunset District home of 50 years. For conservatory students, faculty and staff, the event was as much a farewell to a building filled with history and memories as it was a new beginning. In the fall of 2006, the 89 year-old conservatory, considered one of the West Coast’s premier institutions for higher music education, will make a much-anticipated move into an eight-story building in the heart of the city, a building that school officials, students and members of the community hope will match the talent that has long been associated with the school with state-of-the-art facilities and adequate space.
Six years in the making, the $80 million project joins two buildings into one facility on Oak Street near the Civic Center, just blocks from some of the city’s most vibrant musical performance spaces, including Davies Symphony Hall and the Opera House. Both venues are visible from the new conservatory’s upper floors. “This is really a view of dreams for our students,” President Colin Murdoch tells Spark as he gazes out a window at the surrounding cityscape.
Keeping its 1914-era historic façade intact, the new building, designed by Simon Martin-Vegue Winkelstein Moris Architects of San Francisco, more than doubles the size of the conservatory’s library, recording studio and computer lab and increases the number of practice rooms from 15 to 33. Students will have access to more than 40 new Steinway and Yamaha pianos and to equipment that will turn out commercial-quality CD recordings. And the new 450-seat concert hall, 140-seat recital hall and 120-seat salon not only come with better acoustics for those at the school, but also translate into many new opportunities to showcase the students’ musical gifts in front of music lovers from all over the Bay Area.
Acoustic upgrades, designed for different types of music and performances, include “floating” rooms isolated from noise both outside the building and in neighboring interior rooms and adjustable sound absorption systems and acoustical climates. The state-of-the-art acoustics were implemented by Kirkegaard Associates, which has previously completed projects for Carnegie Hall, Davies Symphony Hall, Tanglewood, Barbican Concert Hall and many more.
“We spent three years looking almost nonstop for this particular site, and it was one of a kind. It was certainly more money than we had anticipated spending, and it was a larger fund-raising effort than we ever imagined would be possible. But we simply had to do it,” Murdoch says.
In 1917, Ada Clement and Lillian Hodgehead started the Ada Clement Piano School with just three pianos, four studios, two blackboards and 40 students. Though the resources were limited, the student population continued to grow. In 1923, they transformed the school into the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Since then, the SFCM has grown by leaps and bounds. The school has a preparatory division for young people aged 4 through 18 and programs for undergraduates, graduates and adults who continue to study music. The SFCM is the first conservatory in the United States to add Asian music to the curriculum, to offer a degree in classical guitar and to offer a master’s degree in chamber music.