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San Francisco Conservatory of Music Opens New Performing Arts Center on Van Ness Avenue

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- City leaders, school staff and students celebrated the San Francisco Conservatory of Music's Bowes Center on Friday with a first look at the venue and facilities as well as a special performance by cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

"This is an incredibly artistic city compared to where I'm from, this is unimaginable," said Jess Konye, a technology and applied composition graduate student at SFCM. "When I came back now everything is different. Having the space means that I can go to school whenever I need and whenever I want to so I'm becoming a better musician because of it."

The Ute and William K. Bowes, Jr. Center for Performing Arts is 165,000 square feet that rises several stories above Van Ness Avenue in the Civic Center. More than $130 million were raised for this project.

"One of the biggest challenges that we have in San Francisco is housing affordability," said San Francisco Mayor London Breed. "This project brings together an opportunity for students to be housed and not worry about whether or not they're going to have a roof over their head while they're trying to study and protect their craft."

It will house around 400 students including Konye, who says access to practice rooms at all hours of the day helps her to grow as a student like she never could before living here. Balancing her schedule and school commitments was a challenge and she ultimately left the city during the pandemic.

"We wanted no barrier to people who wanted to bring their families to hear and experience music," said SFCM president David Stull.

The venue will offer 90 percent of its concerts for free to the public. The acoustics inside the performance hall on the 11th floor eliminates all the sounds of the busy streets below.

"The Bowes Center was built with the future of audio and composition in mind and the facilities here really support that mission," said Taurin Barrera, executive director of the technology and applied composition program (TAC).

TAC and the facilities used by SFCM students include new studios that help students become 21st century composers, Barrera explained. Their skills will help them to work on films, video games and new media. They learn computer programming and other technical skills in addition to music composition.

"The students had tears in their eyes when you hear how it sounds in this room, to hear your own music being recorded, you really feel the power of sound in the studio," he said.

Yo-Yo Ma Performs at Bowes Center
Yo-Yo Ma Performs at Bowes Center. (CBS)

Yo-Yo Ma performed for the audience in attendance on Friday morning and spent part of his day working with students in an afternoon master class. He said he was impressed by the clarity he heard while performing at the venue and also how that will help students find their own creativity.

"If there is one thing I love about what an institution like the San Francisco Conservatory can do with this new space -- with the Bowes Center -- is to create a safe space," he said.

Located near other arts organizations in the Civic Center that partner with the school, the Bowes Center will help students make connections and collaborate with other artists in the city. School leaders say they want the character of San Francisco to be present throughout the venue, including the views of City Hall from the performance hall and rooftop.

"We can be engrained in the community, interact with the community, interact with the musicians there in those spaces," Konye said. "I think for me as a student this signifies to me really the beginning of a new era for music here at the conservatory."

An open house for the public is scheduled for Feb. 12, 2022 featuring tours and performances throughout the day.

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