Grand Opening of an OC Landmark

The Orange County Performing Arts Center celebrated the beginning of its 20th anniversary season with the debut of a striking $200 million, 2,000-seat concert hall in Costa Mesa, designed by Cesar Pelli.
The OCPAC’s new season, which began on Sept. 15, will feature jazz, Broadway, dance and more. Before the year is out, Sheryl Crow, Woody Allen and his New Orleans jazz band, ‘Riverdance’ and ‘Sweet Charity’ will all have played.
The new Segerstrom Hall is intended to be both an architectural and acoustical masterpiece highlighting Orange County as an internationally significant cultural center.
According to the OCPAC Web site, the stylish limestone, steel and glass structure ‘will usher in a new era for arts and culture in Orange County and Southern California.’
The architectural boldness of the hall is worthy of a visit in itself, despite mixed reviews, but the new Orange County landmark aims to reach a level of aural excellence to match the Disney Hall in downtown Los Angeles as well.
The hall’s acoustics were designed by world-renowned acoustician Russell Johnson of Artec. Built to last, the hall has become the home of the Orange County Pacific Symphony, the Philharmonic Society of Orange County and the Pacific Chorale.
The hall’s occupancy limitation of 2,000 listeners helps maximize the effectiveness of the sound. Acousticians hold that symphonic music sounds fullest in a somewhat narrow, rectangular building with high ceilings and room for no more than 2,000 people.
The intricacies of Johnson’s work will likely be appreciated more by listeners’ ears than their eyes. Heavy velour curtains can be moved to cover varying amounts of the ceiling. When the curtains cover most of the walls, the sound waves don’t reverberate as easily. This setting is most ideal for a jazz or rock concert so that heavy drums do not overpower the musical balance.
Large concrete doors can be opened to a variety of settings to accentuate the unique acoustics of various musical genres and make a small ensemble sound as full as a large group of musicians.
Perhaps the best evidence for Johnson’s acoustic and technological thoroughness is the air conditioning system for the hall. Instead of one large system, small air conditioning units are located under every seat in order to present as little auditory disturbance as possible.
‘We spend an inordinate amount of time … keeping unwanted noise out of the concert hall,’ Johnson said in an interview with ‘The Los Angeles Times.’ ‘It could be a helicopter, a drinking fountain, an ice-making machine, turbulence in the ducts, an audience shuffling their feet. There’s almost no end to potential noise sources.’
Johnson’s acoustic work on the concert hall did not end when the venue debuted to the public on Sept. 15. Rather, tuning acoustics can be a process requiring a few months or even years.
A short drive from campus, in a matter of minutes, UC Irvine students can assess the visual value of the hall that strives to improve Orange County’s international cultural presence.