Classically Trained: Tuned into new performance venue

October 06, 2011|By Bradley Zint
  • Solo pianist Xiayin Wang takes a bow after performing with the St. Petersburg State Academic Symphony Orchestra at the Soka Performing Arts Center on Tuesday.
Solo pianist Xiayin Wang takes a bow after performing… (KEVIN CHANG, Coastline…)

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.


Likely reflecting the center's burgeoning status, and host Soka University of America's relative obscurity in the higher-education world, the place wasn't quite full Tuesday, but still attracted a good-sized crowd.

Those who did attend were understandably enthusiastic to be in the new setting, whose setup is derivative of L.A.'s Walt Disney Concert Hall and provides great views all around.

Earning much of that interest was Wang, whose virtuosic, crisp attacks on the Prokofiev concerto aptly demonstrated her skills. The orchestra, however, while equally impressive on its own, had the all-too-often tendency to drown her out and leave the listener lightly straining to hear her.

This regrettable scenario I attributed to the hall and the orchestra's novice experience playing in it. It can be hard to quickly perfect instrumental balance in an unfamiliar setting.

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