Photo Journal: California Dream - The New Segerstrom Concert Hall in Orange County

Classic Arts News   Photo Journal: California Dream - The New Segerstrom Concert Hall in Orange County
The great and the good of southern California turned out last Saturday (September 16) to hear the Pacific Symphony Orchestra inaugurate Orange County's new Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.

The $200 million venue — named after an 83-year-old Orange County property developer and his late wife, who were the major donors — was designed by Argentine-born architect Cesar Pelli, former dean of the School of Architecture at Yale University.

Segerstrom Concert Hall's limestone, steel and glass structure features a curvilinear glass fa‹ade, comprised of 650 individual panes, which, says Chris Ayres in The Times of London, "billows like a flag in the wind."

The 250,000-square-foot facility houses a 2,000-seat concert hall, which tenor Plšcido Domingo baptized with the world premiere of William Bolcom's Canciones de Lorca, accompanied by conductor Carl St. Clair and the Pacific Symphony, one of the venue's new tenants. The program also included Mahler's Symphony No. 1.

The new hall "may not break any architectural ground," according to the The Washington Post's Philip Kennicott, "but it's elegant enough ... the acoustics are clear if not particularly flattering. In short, the building serves its purpose without major flaws." He adds, however, that "it's definitely not in the same league as the stunning, Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall only 40 miles to the north" in Los Angeles.

David Mermelstein writes for Bloomberg News Service that the acoustics, by Russell Johnson and Artec Consultants, "will be disappointing to anyone expecting a rival to Disney Hall ... This hall's 'sound' is neutral rather than bright or dull, but in the weekend concerts a full orchestra, full chorus, tenor and violin soloist could be heard clearly and truly." This is, by general agreement, a considerable improvement from the Pacific Symphony's previous home, the multi-purpose Segerstrom Hall nearby. (Both Segerstrom venues are part of the Orange County Performing Arts Center in the city of Costa Mesa.)

Mermelstein adds that "despite the building's budget, the materials and furnishings are modest — terrazzo floors, seats covered in scarlet velveteen, brushed stainless-steel banisters. The hall's most striking elements are its atrium lobby and the not-yet-operational pipe organ behind the stage that echoes the acoustic ceiling panels, both covered in aluminum leaf."

Carl St. Clair reportedly said that acousticians were seated throughout the hall on opening night to monitor the sound, with the aim of later fine-tuning it. "It's going to be the flagship that's going to help establish Orange County as the next driving music center in America," The Los Angeles Times quoted him as saying.

The Orange County Register's Timothy Mangan thought that the venue was already doing pretty well, calling it "an exceptional aural space ... Disney's is the more spare acoustic, clear and brilliant and exact. Segerstrom is warmer and more luxurious; it seems to add an extra bloom and presence to the sound, but still has clarity and definition."

Not everything went smoothly on opening night, however. The Los Angeles Times's Mike Boehm noticed a slight hitch during the final movement of the Mahler. "A sharp crack was heard in the hall, and when the music subsided to a soft passage, there it was: the kind of low, rumbling buzz you get when your stereo isn't properly grounded." He added that Artec Consultants later confirmed that there had indeed been a malfunction somewhere in the hall.

A smaller performance space within the new building, the Samueli Theater, with flexible seating for as many as 500, is scheduled to open on October 14.

The Segerstrom Concert Hall is just one of a flurry of new classical music venues in North America this fall: Nashville's Schermerhorn Symphony Center opened on September 9; the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto, new home of the Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet of Canada, had a gala opening in June but began operations in earnest last week with a complete Wagner Ring cycle; and the Carnival Center in Miami, also designed by Cesar Pelli with acoustics by Artec, opens on October 5.

Recommended Reading: