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Soka arts center sets welcoming prices

The new facility in Aliso Viejo sets opening season prices low to encourage visits. Time will tell how long it'll last.

August 06, 2011|By Mike Boehm, Los Angeles Times
  • The $73-million Soka Performing Arts Center in Aliso Viejo opens Sept. 17.
The $73-million Soka Performing Arts Center in Aliso Viejo opens Sept.… (RMA Photography, RMA Photography )

The new Soka Performing Arts Center in Aliso Viejo will debut Sept. 17, offering what appear to be by far the lowest major-venue ticket prices in the region, for its opening season of 23 shows. The 1,034-seat hall features acoustics by Yasuhisa Toyota, famed for his work on such projects as Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Jazz, classical music and world music will be the main fare at the $73-million auditorium and arts classroom complex on the Orange County campus of Soka University, a small liberal arts institution affiliated with the Tokyo-based Buddhist movement Soka Gakkai. Concerts will cost $28, $33 or $48, with no add-on handling fees and with senior discounts offered.

At Soka, concertgoers will be able to see pianist Emanuel Ax (March 18) and the Tokyo String Quartet (Feb. 9) for $33 — compared with top ticket prices of $80.50 and $70.50, respectively, for the same two artists' upcoming concerts at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego's 492-seat Sherwood Auditorium in La Jolla.

While the Pacific Symphony is offering classical series subscriptions at $81 per concert for orchestra seats in its regular venue, the 2,000-seat Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa, its concert at Soka on April 28 with violinist Karen Gomyo will cost $48.

"We are trying to keep it affordable just to get it launched," university spokeswoman Wendy Harder said. "We need to get people in to see the center, to get to know us, and to find out what our audience is. South Orange County has not had a venue like this."

The pricing gambit is possible because Soka's resources are astonishing, especially for a campus that's 10 years old and has just 450 students. Concert tickets aren't the only thing it subsidizes — the university is tuition-free for students with family incomes under $60,000; about half the members of its recent freshman classes have qualified.

Other programs include the New Zealand String Quartet (Nov. 5); Russia's St. Petersburg Symphony, with pianist Xiayin Wang (Oct. 4); the Peking Acrobats (Jan. 14); and Uncommon Time (Feb. 4), a percussion trio that blends drumming styles of Japan, India and Latin America.

Priced at $33, "Water Is Rising: Music & Dance Amid Climate Change" (Oct. 23) surveys the performance culture of tiny Pacific islands at risk of being submerged due to global warming; the tour kicks off Oct. 15 at UCLA's 1,800-seat Royce Hall, where prices are $61.90, $51.90 and $41.15, including fees.

"First Person: Seeing America," (April 21), hosted by NPR personality Neal Conan, and offering literary readings by actress Lily Knight, historic photographic projections and music from the Celtic-classical group Ensemble Galilei, also costs $33 — compared with $40-plus fees when the show played last month at Cal State Long Beach's 1,074-seat Carpenter Performing Arts Center.

A stripped-down, chamber orchestra version of the Pacific Symphony will play Beethoven and Saint-Saëns in a family concert at Soka on Feb. 16, priced at $28. The Pacific also will do the opening night honors on Sept. 17, with pianist Horacio Gutiérrez — tickets are $128 for the black-tie-optional event.

As of mid-2010, Soka's cash and investments totaled $513 million, according to its federal tax return — more than double the total for Orange County's biggest private university, the 6,000-student Chapman University in Orange, and not that far behind the $690-million investment pile that Malibu's 8,000-student Pepperdine University had as of mid-2009.

In addition, donors have stepped up for the new performance hall — all but about 50 seats have honorary nameplates on them, Harder said, bought for $10,000 each to generate nearly $10 million.

It's uncertain how long the university will continue below-market ticket pricing, she said. "I think we're in the learning curve. Our goal is to eventually have the facility break even. We don't need to make a profit and we want it to be a service to the community."

mike.boehm@latimes.com

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