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Curtain Rises on a New Stage

The Pacific Symphony performs Saturday, Sept. 17, in the inaugural concert at Soka University’s performing arts center. Photo by Ted Reckas

Two years after breaking ground, Soka University will at last show off its new performing arts center, beginning with an inaugural concert Saturday, Sept. 17, by the Pacific Symphony, usually at home in the Henry and Renee Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa.

The program includes a performance by pianist Horacio Guitierrez and has been designed to demonstrate the yet-to-be-named concert hall’s spectacular acoustic properties that can be controlled by a touch of a button. The concert hall boasts acoustical engineering by Yasuhisa Toyota who designed the acoustics at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

“We can accommodate any repertoire from works like John Adams’ ‘Short Ride in a Fast Machine’ with its unusual dynamics to Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 to Ravel,” said general manager David Palmer.

Palmer’s once a week programming line-up will feature jazz, world music and mixed performances emphasizing the university’s global mission. “We are designing programming that increases the community’s cultural awareness while maintaining a strong classical music presence,” he said.

Future shows, for example, include “Woven Harmony” with Robert and Rebecca Bluestone, who will combine acoustic guitar music with choreographed demonstrations of the art of weaving.

Located on Soka’s Aliso Viejo campus, the $73 million, roughly 100,000 square foot venue comprises two buildings housing a concert hall seating 1,000, a black box theater with 180 seats, a rehearsal/dance studio, classrooms and faculty offices.

With its intimate sense of space and elegant cherry wood appointments, the hall physically resembles the interior of the Frank Gehry designed Disney Hall. Architects Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects, LLP designed Soka’s performing arts buildings.

The black box theater will have less formal and more experimental uses. “Students can perform hip-hop shows and we are planning on a repertoire of digital sounds, computer and new music,” said Michael Golden, a professor of composition and musical theory. In keeping with the venue’s potential, he will introduce a new course in music and ecology. “Music has long served as a means of communication between people and the environment. It’s something that we can demonstrate in both the theater and the concert hall,” he said.

While there are several performance venues throughout north and central Orange County, there have been no major performing arts venues in south county.

“Soka’s performing arts center has been designed as a resource for students and a bridge into the surrounding communities. We are not here to be competition to north and central county venues but to complement all that Orange County already has to offer,” said Palmer.

Art professionals tend to enthusiastically agree: “I don’t see Soka’s new venue as competition. It’s a concert hall on the Disney model and a great training ground for new performance professionals,” said Joseph C. Lewis III, dean of the Trevor School of Arts at UC Irvine. “One of my personal platforms is the importance of training new professionals in music, theater, dance and visual arts and I welcome any place that offers such training,” he added.

Cal State Fullerton’s performing arts center opened in spring of 2006. While open to the public, its multiple spaces are more geared toward student performances in music, theater and dance, said Joseph Arnold, CSUF’s dean of the college of performing arts. “Opening another major performing arts venue is a healthy sign for Orange County culture. We have maintained a loyal viewer base that, while shorter on disposable income now, realizes that it all turns back to education,” he said.

Eileen Jeanette, the Pacific Symphony’s vice president of artistic and orchestra operation, said Soka’s acoustics are comparable to those of the Segerstrom concert hall. Jeanette, a non-performing cellist, serves as “tonemeister,” music speak for sound coordinator who manages acoustic settings for the symphony. “With the new venue, we really have an embarrassment of riches,” she said.

“Every major university should have its own performing arts venue. It enriches the county immensely,” said William Hall, a founding dean of Chapman University, which too is breaking ground for its own state of the art, high tech performing arts center next year.

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