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COVER STORY

Getting to know the neighbors

The new Segerstrom venue isn't the only landmark in Costa Mesa, where art and commerce go hand in hand.

September 14, 2006|Sorina Diaconescu | Special to The Times

FOR four decades, the idea of a concert hall with state-of-the-art acoustics in Costa Mesa remained just that -- a concept, plagued by timing and funding problems, that never quite materialized. On Friday, the Orange County Performing Arts Center will set the past aside as it unveils the $200-million, 2,000-seat Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.

The opening is a full-weekend affair, with Friday night's gala pairing the resident Pacific Symphony and guest Placido Domingo for a world premiere of a William Bolcom song cycle; Saturday night's world premiere of a Philip Glass work and, in the evening's second half, a performance by violinist Midori; and Sunday night's Mozart celebration. Just more than a week after the gala opening, with its tickets of up to $3,000 a seat, the concert hall will hold a free day of concerts and tours. And then there is an October's worth of still more performances, with the Kirov Opera, Ballet and Orchestra.

But the new hall is far from the only landmark in Costa Mesa, a city in the heart of Orange County where art and commerce, culture and counterculture are deeply intertwined.

Drive north on Bristol Street, just past the 405 Freeway, and to your left is sprawling South Coast Plaza -- a temple of upscale consumerism where shoppers duck into Chanel and Chloe boutiques, nosh in style and spend about $1.5 billion a year.

To your right is downtown's cultural cluster, composed of the acclaimed South Coast Repertory theater complex, Isamu Noguchi's serene California Scenario sculpture garden and the Orange County Performing Arts Center. Though OCPAC's new limestone, steel and glass concert hall is getting most of the attention, the development also includes the 500-seat Samueli Theater (where Sheryl Crow is slated to play Oct. 14 in a very exclusive show) and a 46,000-square-foot arts plaza outside its entrance.

Two Sundays ago, workers were still bustling about the plaza, whose centerpiece is a Richard Serra sculpture called "Connector." The reflection of Serra's 66-foot-tall torqued plates of steel -- bunched together like the petals of a giant rosebud -- beams from the undulating 300-foot-long glass facade of the hall, designed by Argentine architect Cesar Pelli.

Inside the venue, music lovers will be able to experience concerts in a space that can be acoustically fine-tuned, like a musical instrument, via echo chambers, retractable wood paneling and a lowering canopy. Pre- or post-performance, they have only to traverse the lobby -- outfitted with a silver-leafed ceiling and chandelier composed of 300 pendants tipped with Baccarat crystal globes -- to repair to Leatherby's Cafe Rouge. The restaurant is run by the same company behind Joachim Splichal's Patina in Walt Disney Concert Hall and is joining a host of posh nearby eateries such as Turner New Zealand and Mastro's Steakhouse.

This all sounded exciting to Jim and Barbara Dixon, a couple from neighboring Newport Beach who had driven up to snap pictures of the site. "We went up to see the Disney Concert Hall in L.A. two weeks ago, and I was very impressed," says Barbara, a hospital worker who's come to see theater performances at South Coast Repertory for the last 20 years. "Then I thought, you know, I've got to take a closer look at this new thing in our own backyard."

Drawing Orange County concertgoers who would have otherwise journeyed to L.A.'s Disney Hall is exactly one of the things that OCPAC President Terrence Dwyer hopes to accomplish. He's convinced that the new annexes will "help make Costa Mesa into more of a destination city for cultural tourists."

"Orange County used to be a pretty flat cultural experience," says Laurie Hassold, a Costa Mesa artist and longtime resident who also teaches art and design at Cal State Fullerton. "Nowadays I see fine arts and design and fashion and music merging to produce a richer culture."

Indeed, the idea behind the new concert hall's plaza is to sculpt a space where people can take in public art communally, perhaps after a prolonged indoor shopping spree. It might be seen as a busier cousin to the California Scenario sculpture garden, a snug spot just to the south that invites meditation amid office buildings. Strewn about Noguchi's early-'80s creation are abstract renderings of natural and man-made landscapes -- a slab of granite jutting toward the sky; a stack of blond boulders shaped like giant lima beans; water that murmurs down the conic surface of a tall fountain and cuts a zigzag pattern through slabs embedded in the pavement.

DRIVE a few blocks south on Bristol Street, past the 405, and you'll feel an entirely different vibe. If South Coast Plaza is the stamping ground of the Gucci-clad, Hummer-driving shopper, the so-called anti-malls -- the Camp and the Lab -- cater to a consumer who's into vegan eats and surfing and most likely drives a Prius.

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