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Soka Performing Arts Center

1 University Drive
Aliso Viejo, CA 92656

Designed for perfect acoustical adaptability by world-renowned specialists including the same acoustician who helped formulate the design for the acclaimed Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Soka Performing Arts Center has lived up to the highest expectations at every event so far in its first season and even revealed a few unexpected attributes, according to General Manager David Palmer.

Certainly the Center has been put to the test. Palmer says the university chose a diverse range of groups for the debut season to challenge its capabilities, although greater focus was on classical and jazz music since the Center was built especially for those kinds of performances. Its adjustable acoustic features were as responsive to intimate chamber ensembles and jazz combos as they were to full symphony orchestras, just as Palmer expected they would be.

Nor was he surprised when the Center easily accommodated trickier groups such as the Peking Acrobats and dancers from the Pacific Atolls in “Water is Rising: Music and Dance Amid Climate Change.” The Center wasn’t specifically designed for such events, but Palmer trusted it would be as adaptable to the basic needs of dance and theater as it was to variable acoustic challenges.

“We were delighted how well theatrical types of events fit into the space,” he says. “We adjusted the theater’s seating configuration, hung masking draperies to create wings, and put down a vinyl dance floor. Things went incredibly smoothly.”

It led to the discovery of one of the Center’s unexpected attributes: a third seating configuration. Its two main configurations include a 1,032-seat thrust layout with seating wrapped about three-quarters around the stage, and a 915-seat concert configuration, where the side seating and first two rows of center seats are removed and the areas elevated to increase the stage area. The third “quasi-thrust” 947-seat configuration restores the two rows of center seating and creates a wide, if shallower proscenium-type stage.

The second unexpected aspect of the Center will be demonstrated directly when The Myriad Trio performs Sunday, March 11. The last time the group played at the Center was in July of 2011, months before it had officially opened. Even then, however, it could serve as an excellent recording studio, so the group rented the space and produced their debut CD. The recording engineers raved about the “beautiful, natural sound and the fact that they didn’t have to do any electronic reverberation or enhancements,” Palmer recalls. “We knew the Center would have dynamite acoustics, but we hadn’t thought much about its potential as a recording facility.”

Next on the schedule is Emanuel Ax on Sunday, March 18, in a solo piano recital performed on the Steinway concert grand that he helped select for the Center. Among other events finishing the season are some Jazz Monsters series performances, and a closing concert by the Pacific Symphony Orchestra, which also performed at the Center’s grand opening.

Plans for the 2012-2013 season are still in the works. Palmer is pleased about a partnership formed between the Center and the Philharmonic Society of Orange County, which has two concerts slated for the season – including an appearance by Yo-Yo Ma. Palmer sees continuing classical music ahead with soloists, chamber groups, and a few international orchestras, plus more “Jazz Monsters” with the introduction of Latin jazz artists in the mix.
“We might even bring in a little bit of light opera,” Palmer said. “I’m confident enough in this facility that we can push the boundaries for next season.”

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