ALISO VIEJO — Refreshingly intimate, visually understated and acoustically marvelous, the new Soka Performing Arts Center seems to have it all.
Its 1,000 configurable seats, especially the ground-level, front-and-center ones, provide a wonderful proximity to the performers, as if they were playing in your very own multimillion-dollar living room. The cherry wood walls and Alaskan white cedar floor imbue warmth but aren't a visual distraction from the real gem at hand: the onstage sound that's remarkably live, vibrant and rich.
The most recent large group to sound off at the $73-million facility, still fresh from its Sept. 17 opening gala with the Pacific Symphony and pianist Horacio Gutiérrez, was the St. Petersburg State Academic Symphony Orchestra on Tuesday night.
Led by Russian conductor Alexander Titov and featuring Chinese pianist Xiayin Wang, this Russian ensemble was the center's first visiting orchestra, and surely one of many others to come.
The program was simple: Mieczyslaw Weinberg's "Rhapsody of Moldavian Themes for orchestra," Prokofiev's "Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major" and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4.