Center offers a new sound for south O.C.

A new performing arts center in South Orange County might give the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Segerstrom Center for the Arts a little competition.

Soka University's Performing Arts Center in Aliso Viejo opens Sept. 17.

It has something in common with the famous L.A. music hall: Yasuhisa Toyota of Nagata Acoustics, who also worked on the Disney hall, helped create the 47,836-square-foot, $73-million project.

A walk through the center, which can seat up to 1,000, reveals Toyota's minimalist design and an attention to his specialty: acoustics.

"He understands both the creation of music and how you hear it as a musician," said David Palmer, the center's general manager. "As an engineer, he gets how it works and how different materials affect the sound. He's an artist and scientist in one package."

Every element — from the cherry wood on the walls and unfinished Alaskan white cedar on the floor to the polished concrete — changes the way that sound is heard inside the hall.

Toyota was the acoustical consultant and worked on the project with Zimmer Gunsul Frasca architects, theater consultant Auerbach Pollock Friedlander, McCarthy Building Companies and R.W. Buck & Associates.

The building is also applying for LEED Gold certification because of its environmentally conscious design that features solar panels, shaded glass and rooftop plants that absorb rainwater.

The school has already had various performances in the hall — from solo pianists to orchestras and a Hawaiian music group — to test the sound, and Palmer says each one sounded splendid.

"It's about time that South Orange County had a really nice performing arts center," he said.

Soka plans to bring its focus on global awareness to the arts, encouraging acts from all around the world to come to the center.

There is one performance that Palmer is particularly excited about: a group from the atolls in the South Pacific, islands that are slowly submerging due to global warming.

"It's estimated within 15 years their land will be completely submerged," he said. "As a result, we will lose a society and the people in those areas."

Palmer believes we owe it to that society to learn its culture before it's too late.

"Let's find out who they are and what they are all about," he said. "Maybe we can help preserve that and remember that, so when they are displaced we can say, 'Yes, help them and keep their creativity and keep their contribution to society.'"

"Water is Rising: Music & Dance Amid Climate Change, the Pacific Atolls of Kiribati, Tokelau and Tuvalu" will play at the center on Oct. 23.

"The mission of the university is to create a student population that is aware of the global situation — to create global citizens that will lead contributive life," he said. "The Performing Arts Center really embodies that as well."

Soka University is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. The private liberal arts college currently has 438 students, 40% of whom are international.

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