Seoul Arts Center (SAC) is Korea's first and foremost complex center exclusively dedicated to cultural and artistic themes.
The Center is a showcase for the cultural sophistication of a Korean society that is proud of its brilliant cultural tradition. The complex, which consists of five buildings, - Opera House, Music Hall, Art Gallery, Calligraphy Hall and Arts Library - is the first to be constructed all on one site, and now may indisputably be said to be the quintessential representation of Korea culture and art scene.
Each of those five buildings was built to suit the unique characteristics of its respective genre. SAC designated four architecture companies through an international search, and after fair and rigid competition architect Kim Seokcheol was selected as the main architect to design the Center. After approximately nine years of construction, this cluster of structures finally unveiled itself as a hub of the nation's cultural and art circles and in no time emerged as a venue that can compare against the world's renowned art centers. Since the first proposal of its construction in 1982 and the first ground breaking in 1984, the Music Hall and Calligraphy Hall were completed in 1988, followed by the Art Gallery and Arts Library in 1990 and eventually by the Opera House in 1993 on 238,018m2 of land, costing a total of about 2 billion US dollars. Bringing nine years of strenuous construction to an end, the full complex was finally opened to the public.
As of 1995, under the leadership of fourth president Lee Jongdeok and first artistic director Cho Seongjin, SAC could polish itself as a full-fledged art complex.
The Center has been noted for its faithful devotion to experimental initiatives and original performances & exhibitions, and is loved and applauded by a myriad of art lovers and culture maniacs who have visited the site. Designed and constructed to maximize the features of the exclusive subject of each building, SAC holds the traditional architectural beauty and is considered an optimal space, both artistically and technically, for various types of cultural and art events.
The Opera House, characterized by a traditional top-hat-shaped roof and a lower section which resembles a human sitting with his legs crossed, is the compact embodiment of the entire Center. The first and only Opera House in Asia, a seven-story building with one floor under and six above the ground is composed of Opera Theater for operas, Towol Theater for plays, Jayu Theater for more experimental productions and backstage. Praised for its absorbent power and intimacy between the stage and the audience, the Opera Theater houses about 2,300 seats. It has a main stage sprawling over 660m2 of floor space, three completely partitioned stages, two supplementary stages and a three-level orchestra pit with capacity of 100 people. Its deep, narrow stage creates a spectacle presenting a full perspective.
It also adjusted the sound reverberation time to 1.2-1.5 seconds for better harmony of clearer human voice and richer instrumental sound in the opera performance.
The Most advanced stage systems and an orchestra pit that can seat 18 musicians of enable the Towol Theater to host no less various performances than Opera Theater. It can seat 700 people and is effective in rendering dramatic effects by using varied mechanisms of the stage.
The More liberal and experimental Jayu Theater is most reluctant to draw a line between the stage and the auditorium; depending on director's intention, the auditorium can change from 250 seats to 600 seats. Thanks to the cutting edge technology employed for the Theater, 10 stage lifts enable a vertical rise of the stage 90 cm high from the floor, which furthermore makes a variety of Theater experiments more likely in this place.
Supporting these three Theaters from behind is the backstage. It boasts the nation's largest production area, with 42 dressing rooms, a practice room each for opera, ballet, play, chorus, dance and acting and a greenroom. Especially the practice rooms for opera-due to its real stage size-can accommodate dress rehearsals.
The Music Hall, in itself a gigantic instrument, is the nation's first exclusive music hall in the shape of a traditional fan with thatched-roof-style top. It assured people of its architectural charm again by winning the grand prize in a noted architecture design competition. Sound is the source of life for a music hall, and not unmatched by its structural beauty is the sound SAC's Music Hall delivers to the audience, which is said to be the best of all.
One of the Center's two exclusive music halls is the Concert Hall, which is designed as an arena-style stage able to seat 2,600 people.
It made great strides in delivering the exquisite instrumental sound untainted and was successful in producing the perfect sound leaving no corners of the Hall a dead angle. Its sound reverberation level of two seconds is another testimony to its excellence in sound production, wihch can rival the world's leading concert halls.
When one of the world's greatest cellists Rostropovich visited the Hall to perform, he observed that "It is rare to find a music hall that has good sound conditions worldwide. I've played in many nice places, but I'd like to choose this one as one of the best. I felt that the sound was crystal clear when I played in there. Under this condition the audience can notice right away if the play is good or bad. In other words, this kind of place will be pleasant and agreeable to good musicians but will scare the bad ones." And world famous lyric soprano Gundula Janowitz joked after her performance in the Hall that "You can even hear a mouse laugh."
The Recital Hall is primarily for smaller scale performances such as solo and chamber music. Therefore, clear delivery of words rather than a dampening of sound reverberation was taken more into account during the designing. Along with all these performing venues there is a strong backstage willing to take on the best and largest stages. It has a rehearsal room of active stage size, 25 dressing rooms, 15 studios for personal practice, an instrument storage room and a greenroom.
Art Gallery, an exclusive art exhibition hall, sprawls over 15434.1m2 of floor space with one story under and four stories above the ground. This comprehensive art gallery plays a host to all kinds of formative art with a focus on modern fine arts. Five exhibition halls, each differing in size and characteristics, make up the Gallery. Individual halls can be flexibly adjusted according to the nature of the show with the help of mobile screens, display cases and other useful aids. The Gallery also functions as an education center with separate rooms and equipment exclusively available for lectures and hands-on practice. Here people can try their artistic creativity.
The world's first and only exclusive Calligraphy Hall is already known to other Chinese character-using countries like China and Japan as a new object of admiration, and is gradually emerging as the center of the calligraphic culture. Ten small exhibition halls situated on the second and third floors and the Gallery One in the shape of a corridor occupy 1742.4m2 of floor space. The walls are 3.5 meters in height and central walls of the halls on the second and third floors are as high as 8 meters, suitable for large works and special shows. Education facilities include four practice rooms, one lecture hall and one seminar room.
Most of the art centers are located near downtown while SAC is a little remote from the central part of the city, neatly placing itself under Mt. Woomyun.
Outdoor Areas were formed to take advantage of this locality, which otherwise would have been a geographical handicap to create an artless harmony with nature. Outdoor Area is basically a huge park, disguising itself as sculpture park and plazas and provides a resting place where one can relish nature. The Areas is used for performances, exhibitions, movies and other modes of art. Another achievement of SAC is the full opening of the lobby to the public, so people can walk in the buildings and use the shops at any time or just rest inside as well as outside of the buildings. This helped to promote the image of SAC as the cultural venue for all citizens.
Arts Library is a culture and art information center, which collects, sorts and archives all the materials related to cultural and artistic activities, and provides the user with information in the most appropriate form. In addition, it is the link that connects all the places within the Center. It is opened to everyone. For amateur art lovers, it is a place where they can improve their understanding of art, and for professionals, it is a source of creative inspiration.
In its five exclusive venues and Outdoor Areas, SAC has held more than 1,500 performances and exhibitions a year and played host to a number of famous individual and group artists. Some of the famous names who have visited the Opera House are Paris Bastille Opera, American Ballet Theater, English National Ballet Company, Joffrey Ballet Company and Shared Experience Company. Cellist virtuoso Rostropovich, violinist Gidon Kremmer, New York Philharmonic, Oslo Philharmonic, London Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Montreal Symphony, Bastille Orchestra led by maestro Chung Myeonghun, Moscow Philharmonic, Leningrad Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Bartok String Quartet, Berlin Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic Cellist Ensemble, Czech Philharmonic performed at the Music Hall. And individual players include cellist Mischa Maisky, Yo-Yo Ma, Ofra Harnoy, violinist Midori, Itzhak Perlman, Sarah Chang, pianist Lazar Berman, Baek Geonu and soprano Barbara Hendricks. Among the great conductors who swished their baton on the SAC's stage are Zubin Mehta, Licardo Muti, Lorin Maazel, Charles Dutoit and Wolfgang Sawalisch.
With its high-profile performances and exhibitions, SAC has established itself as an undisputed kernel of the nation's and culture and art scene. This year(1997) it celebrates its 10th anniversary. SAC is not a non-profit national organization fully dependent on government subsidy. It is a legal foundation partly funded by the government in pursuit of profit. The number of audience is to exceed 10,000,000 this year. SAC is planning many big events in celebration of its 10th the anniversary: Wagner Festival that will invite Germany's Baireut Orchestra and its first players, Korea Orchestra Festival, and Seoul International Music Festival. Also BBC Orchestra led by Andrew Davis will be invited in a tribute to the 100 years of formal diplomatic ties between Korea and England. New York City Ballet Company, Maguy Marin Dance Company, Moscow Symphony, Israel Philharmonic led by maestro Zubin Mehta, cellist Mischa Maisky, Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Chung Gyeonghwa, Gidon Kremmer, classical vocalist Barbara Hendricks, and Shin Yeongok are all going to visit or return to this year's SAC stage.
AS the 10th birthday of the Center This year will be a turning point for SAC for a new take-off for the future as the world's first class culture and art institution. As part of that effort, it declared "SAC Vision 2007." In doing so, we devised a long-term development strategy and renewed our determination. SAC is already playing a substantial role in the Association of Asia-Pacific Performing Arts Centers (AAPPAC), which was founded last year. The president of SAC has been designated to take the chair for the next term, and the first general meeting of the Association will be hosted by SAC in September this year. As it formed the sisterhood relationship with the Sydney Opera House in Australia back in 1993, the Seoul Arts Center will continue to expand its exchange with other culture and art centers around the world and arise as the foremost leader in the global culture and art arena.