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History and Mission

An Introduction

En Español

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. Recently the San Diego Symphony Orchestra celebrated our 100th anniversary, the first California orchestra to reach this milestone. (Note: though the Articles of Incorporation for the San Diego Symphony Orchestra were completed March 28, 1928, the history of the Symphony as a performing entity begins in 1910.)

The Orchestra offers wide range of concert experiences and performs over 140 concerts each year. The SDSO's indoor performances include the Jacobs Masterworks series with music director Jahja Ling, offering traditional classical repertoire and featuring such guest artists as Horacio Gutierrez, Joshua Bell, Lang Lang and Gil Shaham; the City Lights series, featuring principal pops conductor Bill Conti and popular guest artists such as Jennifer Holliday, Michael Feinstein, Peter Cetera, Bill Conti, Kenny G and Brian Stokes Mitchell; the Family Festival, featuring family-friendly concerts; and the Fox Theatre Film Series,in which the Jacobs Music Center's in-built, might Fox Theatre Organ accompanies the greatest hits of the Silent Film Era projected above by our  period carbon-arc projectors. There is also a Chamber Music Series presented at the Auditorium at TSRI that brings together world-class performers and musicians of the Orchestra for intimate musical encounters.

Each summer, from July through September, the Orchestra presents an outdoor Summer Pops season at Embarcadero Marina Park South, mixing classical favorites and pop music in a festive, outdoor atmosphere on San Diego’s picturesque waterfront, all under the baton of Matthew Garbutt, principal Summer Pops conductor. Recent Summer Pops guest artists have included Boz Scaggs, Vanessa Williams, Nathan Pacheco, Michael Bolton, Amy Grant, En Vogue, Neil Sedaka, Wilson Phillips, Roberta Flack, Dave Koz, Wynonna and Burt Bacharach.

Our Home

Historic Copley Symphony Hall inside the Jacobs Music Center, home of the San Diego Symphony, is regarded as one of the finest classical music venues on the West Coast. Originally built in 1929 as The Fox Theatre, a premiere movie house, this lush movie palace style hall became the property of the San Diego Symphony Orchestra Association in 1984. The beauty and majesty of this historic hall has added to the stature and artistic growth of San Diego Symphony Orchestra. On October 11, 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.

Late 20th Century History

Many renowned conductors have held the position of music director of San Diego Symphony Orchestra, including Earl Bernard Murray, David Atherton and Yoav Talmi. Robert Shaw was music director of the Symphony from 1953-1958. In 1983, Orchestra’s then composer-in-residence, Bernard Rands, won the Pulitzer Prize, furthering the outstanding reputation of SDSO. In 1992, the Orchestra commemorated the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ landing with a televised concert in Mexico’s Chichen Itza ruins. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, labor and cash flow problems led to several season stoppages and even to bankruptcy. Late in the 1990’s, however, the orchestra recovered and, with the aid of significant gifts, began playing under the leadership of the former assistant conductor, Jung Ho Pak. In 1998 the San Diego Symphony Orchestra revived with a tour of the west coast with Andrea Bocelli.

The Gift

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 Music Director

After a world-wide search, conductor Jahja Ling of the Cleveland Orchestra and Cleveland Orchestra Blossom Festival became the current music director of the San Diego Symphony Orchestra beginning in the 2004-05 season. Maestro. Ling will be celebrating his fourteenth and final season with the SDSO in 2016-17.

The Tour

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 Book

The full authoritative history of the San Diego Symphony Orchestra can be found in San Diego Symphony: From Overture to Encore by Symphony Archivist Dr. Melvin G. Goldzband. 


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