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Soka Performing Arts Center

David Palmer

Soka Performing Arts Center
1 University Drive
Aliso Viejo, CA 92656

Although the first test-run concert at the spanking-new state-of-the-art Soka Performing Arts Center in January was a wonderful confirmation of the facility’s acoustic innovations and incredible capabilities, it was the relatively impromptu second test event  scarcely two months later that elicited gasps of awed delight from the audience.

“Our first test was an open rehearsal with the Pacific Symphony. We invited everyone who worked on the center’s construction,” says David Palmer, general manager for the recently completed 1,000-seat facility at Soka University that was three years in the planning, two years in the construction, and designed in part by acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota, creator of the acoustic plan for the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

The program included Musorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” “That piece is, sonically, all over the map, a great choice to showcase the hall’s acoustic capabilities,” Palmer recalls. “The most telling response was when someone told me afterward, ‘You know, this is like Disney Hall, only warmer in its sound.’ It was very gratifying.”

The second event, hurriedly organized to raise money for victims of the tsunami that hit Japan in March, featured a popular Hawaiian music trio comprised of two guitars and a bass.

“One of the wonderful aspects of the hall is that we can change the acoustics at the press of a button through a series of controllable draperies in the ceiling and walls,” Palmer says. “We started the performance with the hall in the same configuration it had been in for the Pacific Symphony performance.”

After the first song, Palmer explained the acoustic features to the audience, adding that he was going to test them by way of a remote control adjustor; the audience could hear a soft whirring of motors for about 90 seconds as he spoke. Then he asked the musicians to play exactly the same thing they had just performed.

“The sound completely changed. It was so much more improved that everybody was gasping, ‘Wow, that’s amazing!’ People were immediately able to understand and appreciate the dramatic effectiveness of the hall’s design,” he says.

The official Grand Opening concert for Soka Performing Arts Center is slated for Sept. 17 with the Pacific Symphony and pianist Horacio Gutierrez. The program is built on pieces selected specifically to showcase the hall’s marvelous acoustic adaptability. For example, “Short Ride in a Fast Machine” by John Adams is “just a wonderful example of modern minimalist composition; it’s quirky, jumpy, staccato, legato, and all these different dynamics that have a hard time transferring well in some concert halls,” Palmer says, adding that works by Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, and Ravel will round out the debut program.

In its first year, the hall will mainly feature classical music performances with some exceptions, including a concert with jazz pianist Bill Cunliff. A sparkling line-up of what Palmer calls “special and unusual artists” will also bring out both the best in the hall and in the local community, with local and international artists and musicians in performances that combine such seemingly disparate things as poetry and photography, or woven tapestry and classical guitar.

“One of the things about Soka University is that it strives to create educational value that helps foster leaders of culture, a steady stream of global citizens committed to living contributive lives,” he says. “The Performing Arts Center is one more way that Soka University provides a true embodiment of the contributive life, with people from our own communities as well as from around the world.”

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