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O.C.'s Segerstrom Concert Hall Opens on an Optimistic Note

Boosters in formal attire munch and mingle, putting the project's $50-million shortfall out of mind for one night.

September 16, 2006|Christopher Goffard and Mike Boehm | Times Staff Writers

After 18 years of planning, seven years of stop-and-go fundraising and three years of construction, the $200-million Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall opened Friday night with pink champagne and the booming tenor of Placido Domingo.

At least for one night, as hall boosters munched roasted prawn hors d'oeuvres and mingled in tuxedos and evening gowns, it seemed possible to forget the $50-million fundraising shortfall still besetting the project.

"That's not part of tonight," said Roger Kirwan, co-chair of the fundraising campaign. "It's about celebrating the wonderful addition to Orange County. Tomorrow it will be back to reality, and we'll start thinking about it again."

He said he hoped the gala opening of the 2,000-seat auditorium would uncork further donations.

The hall was named for the real estate developer responsible for South Coast Plaza and his late wife. Segerstrom donated the land and $50 million.

The new auditorium will free up dates at the original 3,000-seat Segerstrom Hall across the street and is intended as a home for the Pacific Symphony.

The orchestra accompanied Domingo on Friday as he gave the world premiere of "Canciones de Lorca," by composer William Bolcom, a piece based on the work of Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca and commissioned for the occasion. Domingo and Bolcom received standing ovations.

Tickets ran as high as $3,000.

Modeled on a concert hall in Lucerne, Switzerland, the new building at the Orange County Performing Arts Center was constructed in the shape of a shoebox with metal, wood and concrete, and a minimum of sound-absorbing fabric.

Conductor Carl St.Clair said acousticians were planted throughout the hall Friday night to monitor the sound in hope of 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," he said.

Acoustician Russell Johnson said he and his colleagues planned to pay regular visits to Segerstrom hall and apply insights to other auditoriums around the world. "Tonight is a very important learning experience for us," he said, adding that it sometimes takes years to fine-tune the sound.

Along with Domingo, the concert featured an excerpt from Aaron Copland's "The Tender Land" and Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 1, "Titan."

As he waited for the concert to begin, architect Cesar Pelli said he would be on the lookout for improvements.

"I'll be everywhere, seeing what needs correcting," he said. "There always is something."

In 1979, the Segerstrom family donated 5 acres to build the Performing Arts Center, which opened seven years later with the original Segerstrom Hall.

Two years after that, the center's board decided to add a concert hall, but it took years for plans to acquire momentum. The hall was scheduled to be opened last October but was delayed nearly a year.

The expansion includes the 500-seat Samueli Theater, which opens Oct. 14 with a concert by pop singer Sheryl Crow.

Segerstrom and his current wife, Elizabeth, watched the performance from the first balcony.

"Orange County is not seen as a cultural center," Jerry Mandel, former president of the Orange County Performing Arts Center, said earlier this week.

"Now we have a world-class concert hall. New York doesn't have a hall this good. San Francisco doesn't have a hall this good."

David Emmes, co-founder of South Coast Repertory, was impressed by the acoustics. "I've never heard the orchestra sound better. I'm hearing subtleties and textures I've never heard before across the street," he said, referring to the original Segerstrom Hall.

Among the celebrities attending was actor Michael York, who lives in West Hollywood and spent Thursday night at an Orange County hotel so he wouldn't miss Domingo's performance. He said he expected the arts district to draw people from Los Angeles.

"If they can just fix the freeway," he said.

Times staff writers Scott Timberg and Chris Pasles contributed to this report.

A review of the Friday and Saturday night performances will be published Monday in The Times.

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