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The Valley Performing Arts Center at Cal State Northridge and Soka Performing Arts Center at Soka University in Aliso Viejo are two very different animals with different agendas, but the two fledgling venues on college campuses have at least one thing in common.
With their first full seasons under their belts, more or less, executives in charge of the 1,700-seat Valley center, part of a gigantic state university, and the 1,034-seat house at a Soka, a small liberal arts school in south Orange County, say their freshman grades were solid enough to inspire greater ambitions for sophomore year.
The Soka center presented 31 performances in its 2011-12 season, with an average attendance of 344, said General Manager David Palmer. At the Valley center, where Barbara Cook will close the season on June 30 (a show postponed from May 19 for medical reasons) the average draw will top 900 for 29 performances, said executive director Robert Bucker, who is dean of the university’s Mike Curb College of Arts, Media and Communication.
The differences in average attendance partly reflect the venues’ different booking approaches. The Valley center features a steady diet of star headliners — next season’s attractions include Sonny Rollins, Anne-Sophie Mutter, the Mark Morris Dance Group, Raul Esparza, Judy Collins, Branford Marsalis, Chick Corea with Gary Burton, and Merle Haggard with Kris Kristofferson.
Soka’s programming sprinkles some big names into a mix that thus far has steered clear of Broadway and pop music (unless you want to count Celtic folk heroes the Chieftains, who rivaled the Peking Acrobats as the inaugural season’s biggest draws, as a pop crossover). Both venues scale back the house for some events, such as chamber music and, at Soka, a jazz series built primarily around regional groups.
Bucker said the box-office gross for the Valley center’s first full complete season (after a 15-show opening half-season in the winter and spring of 2011) will top $1.5 million, slightly exceeding the budgeted target. He said Cook’s performance has a chance to be the season’s eighth sell-out. Donations, rental income (including fees for film and television shoots) and a subsidy from the university contribute to the Valley center’s overall budget of $3 million — which in addition to the performance series includes overhead for the new building’s educational wing, which houses rehearsal halls, classrooms and studios for the campus radio station.
The Valley center’s 2012-13 season will grow 14% to 33 shows in the main auditorium, known as the Great Hall; like the inaugural season, it also includes two plays in an older campus venue, the 500-seat Plaza del Sol Performance Hall. The Acting Company, which staged “Julius Caesar” and “The Comedy of Errors” in the 2011-12 season, will be back with “Of Mice and Men,” and the Aquila Theatre performs “Cyrano de Bergerac.”
Soka is expanding its season to 39 performances — an increase of more than 25% — not counting recitals by cellistYo-Yo Maand pianist Louis Lortie presented by the Philharmonic Society of Orange County.
Palmer said that Soka is stepping up activity to give prospective audiences plenty of chances to find their way to the campus, which has fewer than 500 students and opened just 11 years ago. “It’ll be another season of filtering out what really works and what doesn’t,” he said, with Hawaiian music and a bigger selection of touring orchestras entering the mix. After that, he expects to scale the schedule back to about 30 shows per season. At the Valley center, Bucker says he’s building gradually toward a goal of about 40 shows a year.
Soka University, which is affiliated with the Soka Gakkai Buddhist movement and enjoys a huge endowment, subsidized prices during the opening season, with tickets ranging from $28 to $48 with no add-on fees, including $33 bargains for the best seats for such major figures as pianist Emanuel Ax and the Tokyo String Quartet. But the “inaugural gift to the community” was a one-time thing, Palmer said, and the top price will rise to $68 for the coming season. Single tickets for Valley center shows will range from $25 to $115 when they go on sale Tuesday.
Both venues are bullish on classical music. The 2012-13 season in Northridge will feature 11 classical concerts, up from seven in 2011-12, while Soka is programming three touring orchestras after offering the St. Petersburg Symphony in its first season. Both venues will host the Warsaw Philharmonic and the Vancouver Symphony — the only scheduled overlap in their programming. Also coming to Soka is the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, while the Valley center brings in the BBC Concert Orchestra and the China National Symphony, as well as a concert by the Colburn Orchestra, made up of conservatory students from the Colburn School in downtown L.A.
Soka again will present three concerts by the Pacific Symphony, but Palmer said the approach has been tweaked a bit. Each show will be a Sunday matinee, focusing solely on the music of Mozart. The idea, he said, is to give the concerts a bit of a different spin from the orchestra’s main season at the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa.