History and Mission
San Diego Symphony Orchestra – Changing Lives Through Music
The San Diego Symphony, through unquestionable commitment to the highest levels of artistic achievement, seeks to elevate human potential by providing a shared sense of pride and belonging to something bigger than any of us can achieve alone. We offer audiences the wonder of live music and transformative learning experiences that develop an understanding and passion for the arts. To ensure we are an enduring force in the region we commit to fiscal responsibility. We serve and shape the culture of the region, by being for all and with all, the musical heart of San Diego.
Strive: Always the Best
Learn: Creative, Expressive, Curious
Reach: Music for Everyone
Ignite: Spark Passion
The San Diego Symphony Orchestra performed its first concert on December 6, 1910. In the 100-plus years since its inception, the SDSO has become one of the leading orchestras in the United States and was designated a Tier 1 Orchestra by the League of American Orchestras in 2010. It is committed to providing musical experiences of superior quality for the greater San Diego community and beyond. Through a rich mixture of innovative and educational programming designed to appeal to all ages and cultures, the Symphony makes music an integral part of the cultural and intellectual fabric of Southern California, valued by and relevant to all its residents. The Music Director of the San Diego Symphony is Rafael Payare. The Principal Guest Conductor is Edo de Waart, and Jahja Ling serves as Conductor Laureate.
The Orchestra offers a wide range of concert experiences and performs more than 140 concerts each year. The SDSO’s performances at the Jacobs Music Center and beyond include:
- Jacobs Masterworks offers traditional classical repertoire and features guest artists such as Joshua Bell, Lang Lang and Gil Shaham.
- Broadway @ The Jacobs focuses on Broadway hits and the Great American Songbook; it features popular guest artists such as Michael Feinstein, Lea Salonga and Patti Lupone.
- Family Concerts feature family-friendly concerts and an opportunity to expose children to classical music.
- The Fox Theatre Film Series shows classic Silent Era films and contemporary favorites. The Hall’s built-in, mighty Fox Theatre Robert Morton Theater Organ often accompanies the classics of the Silent Film Era while modern films are screened with the San Diego Symphony providing the musical soundtrack.
- Jazz @ The Jacobs brings together the finest local and international artists of modern jazz music at the Jacobs Music Center.
- The Chamber Music Series is presented at La Jolla’s Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center (“The Conrad”), bringing together world-class performers and musicians of the Orchestra for intimate musical encounters.
- Each summer the Orchestra presents an outdoor season of concerts at The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park, mixing classical favorites and pop music on San Diego’s picturesque waterfront.
Historic Copley Symphony Hall inside the Jacobs Music Center is regarded as one of the finest classical music venues on the West Coast. Originally built in 1929 as The Fox Theatre, this lush movie palace style hall became the property of the SDSO in 1984. The beauty and majesty of this historic hall added to the stature and artistic growth of SDSO. In October 2013, the complex consisting of Copley Symphony Hall, the newly renovated lobbies, the backstage areas, the Grosvenor Family Musicians’ Center and the Symphony administrative offices was officially named the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Music Center. On February 23, 2022, a major renovation project for the Jacobs Music Center and Copley Symphony Hall was announced, scheduled for completion in Fall 2023.
On January 14, 2002, the San Diego Symphony Orchestra celebrated the announcement of the single largest donation ever made to a Symphony Orchestra, totaling $120 million. This pledged gift was generously given by Joan and Irwin Jacobs, solidifying a sustained period of stability for the orchestra marked by what has now been over 15 straight years of balanced budgets. At the time of the gift, The New York Times declared the San Diego Symphony Orchestra was “placed firmly on the nation’s musical landscape” as a result of this news. (Click here for a thorough explanation of the Jacobs Gift as detailed in a Voice of San Diego story on the 10th Anniversary of the Gift.)
The Conductor Laureate
The San Diego Symphony’s Conductor Laureate is Jahja Ling. Mr. Ling was universally praised for his work as music director of San Diego Symphony Orchestra from post-bankruptcy state into one of the top tier major orchestra during his 13-year tenure from 2004 to 2017. He appointed more than 70 new musicians from all over the world to form this remarkable ensemble, and together they collaborated with some of the world’s greatest soloists. In October of 2013 Mr. Ling led the Orchestra in a sold-out concert for their first appearance at Carnegie Hall (with pianist Lang Lang as guest soloist), followed by the Orchestra’s first international tour to China where they appeared in five concerts in Beijing, Shanghai and Yantai. Together they recorded works for Telarc Records and Naxos, and eight other CDs on the Orchestra’s own label. Mr. Ling is the first Conductor Laureate in the Orchestra’s history.
The Music Director
San Diego Symphony’s newest music director is Rafael Payare, who will began his leadership role in July of 2019. Mr. Payare’s profound musicianship, technical brilliance and charismatic presence on the podium has elevated him as one of the most sought after young conductors, working regularly with the world’s leading orchestras. Since being awarded first prize at the prestigious Malko Conducting Competition in 2012, Payare has been celebrated as one of the most exciting conductors of his generation. The 2014-15 season saw his acclaimed debut with Vienna Philharmonia at the Musikverein, and invitations to the London Symphony Orchestra and the Munich Philharmonic. This was followed by his debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival. In September 2014, he was announced as Chief Conductor of the Ulster Orchestra in Northern Ireland and their partnership is now recognized as one of the most dynamic in the United Kingdom. Mr. Payare is a graduate of the celebrated El Sistema in Venezuela. He began his formal conducting studies in 2004 with renowned conductor, José Antonio Abreu. Mr. Payare has conducted all the major orchestras in Venezuela, including the Simón Bolivar Orchestra. Having also served as principal horn of the Simón Bolivar Orchestra, Mr. Payare took part in many prestigious tours and recordings with conductors including Guiseppe Sinopoli, Claudio Abbado, Sir Simon Rattle and Lorin Maazel.
With impressive experience working with some of the world’s most elite orchestras, Mr. Payare is considered one of the classical music world’s most charismatic and acclaimed conductors. We have no doubt that Mr. Payare’s commitment to artistic excellence will bring the SDSO to ever-higher levels of achievement and renown and we are very much looking forward to this musical partnership.
The San Diego Symphony Orchestra made history on October 29, 2013 with its first appearance ever at New York’s Carnegie Hall, performing a sold-out concert with pianist Lang Lang under the baton of Jahja Ling. A subsequent China Friendship Tour took the orchestra through concert dates in Shanghai, Yantai (San Diego’s “Sister City”) and Beijing November 1-11.
The full authoritative history of the San Diego Symphony Orchestra through the early 21st century can be found in San Diego Symphony: From Overture to Encore by Symphony Archivist Dr. Melvin G. Goldzband.