Symphony FAQ



San Diego Symphony performed its first concert on December 6, 1910 in the Grand Ballroom of the then-new U.S. Grant Hotel. Now, the San Diego Symphony has grown into one of the top orchestras in the country both artistically and financially. With a current budget of $20 million, the San Diego Symphony is now placed in the Tier 1 category as ranked by the League of American Orchestras.

The San Diego Symphony owes a deep debt of gratitude to Joan and Irwin Jacobs for their extraordinary generosity, kindness and friendship. Their support and vision has overwhelmingly contributed to making the San Diego Symphony a leading force in San Diego’s arts and cultural community and a source of continuing civic pride for all San Diegans.

How many musicians are there in the San Diego Symphony?

There are 82 full-time, contracted San Diego Symphony musicians. However, depending on the particular piece of music being performed, you may see more musicians on stage. These musicians are also auditioned and hired on a case-by-case basis. You may also see fewer musicians if the particular piece of music calls for less than the full complement.

How are the musicians selected?

Musicians are selected through a rigorous audition process which is comprised of an orchestra committee and the music director. Open positions are rare. When an audition is held, it is common to have 100 to 150 musicians competing for the open position.

Where have the musicians received their training?

Many San Diego Symphony musicians come from all over the United States, and some even from different countries in the world. Many of our musicians have studied at the top universities and music schools in the United States including The Juilliard School, Eastman School of Music and Curtis Institute of Music.

Are the musicians able to pursue other interests?

In addition to rehearsals and performances, all of our musicians are required to perform a number of educational outreach services per year. In addition, many of our musicians serve as faculty members at local colleges and universities including University of California San Diego, San Diego State University and Point Loma Nazarene College. A number of musicians also have their own students and teach private lessons. In addition, several musicians have outside musical endeavors such as Art of Elán, Strings by the Sea, Luscious Noise and Camera Lucida and perform at other San Diego concert venues.

Where else do San Diego Symphony musicians perform?

San Diego Symphony serves as the pit orchestra for all San Diego Opera productions throughout its international season at the Civic Theatre. Among other arts organizations, San Diego Symphony musicians also appear with La Jolla Music Society/SummerFest, Orchestra Nova and Mainly Mozart performing at the Balboa Theatre, Conrad Prebys Music Center at UCSD and the Sherwood Auditorium in La Jolla.




What is the age range of the musicians?

The age of the musicians ranges from mid-20s to late-70s.

How many different types of concerts does the San Diego Symphony perform?

San Diego Symphony performs from October through May, downtown at Copley Symphony Hall and offers the following music series: Jacobs Masterworks (classical), City Lights (pops), International Passport Series (music and dance), Classical Edge, Chamber Music Series, Family Festival and Young People’s Concerts. From late June through early September, the San Diego Symphony performs the Summer Pops at its outdoor venue on the waterfront downtown, Embarcadero Marina Park South. San Diego Symphony performs more than 100 concerts a year.

Who is the San Diego Symphony’s music director?

San Diego Symphony’s most recent music director is Jahja Ling, who is responsible for the artistic planning of the Symphony’s classical series. Mr. Ling celebrated his thirteenth and final season as music director of the San Diego Symphony in 2017. Born in Jakarta, Indonesia of Chinese descent, Mr. Ling is an American citizen. He received his master’s degree at The Juilliard School. He studied orchestral conducting at the Yale School of Music where he received his doctor of musical arts degree. Mr. Ling has conducted major symphony orchestras throughout North America, Europe and Asia. Previously, Mr. Ling served as resident conductor of The Cleveland Orchestra for 17 years and as its Blossom Festival director for six seasons. Mr. Ling resides in Bonita, California with his wife, concert pianist, Jessie Chang, and their two daughters, Priscilla and Stephanie. 

Who is the associate conductor?

The San Diego Symphony’s associate conductor is Sameer Patel, who conducts Family Festival concerts, Berton Young People’s Concerts and Kinder Koncerts as well as occasional Jacobs Masterworks concerts. Here is his bio!

Does the San Diego Symphony have a board of directors?

Yes, the Symphony currently has 44 members on its board of directors, which is comprised of various community and business leaders. These include members of San Diego’s legal and financial community along with small business owners, principals from large business, local entrepreneurs and philanthropic supporters.

How many people does the San Diego Symphony employ?

In addition to the 80 full-time musicians, there are 38 members of the administrative staff, which includes administration, artistic, development, education, facilities, finance, human resources, information systems, marketing and public relations and production. The cost of putting on a concert also includes salaries and fees for the music director, guest artists, stage crew, house management and maintenance.




Where does the San Diego Symphony perform?

San Diego Symphony performs at the Jacobs Music Center in downtown San Diego. The Center is located at Seventh Avenue and B Street within the Symphony Towers office complex. Concerts take place inside Copley Symphony Hall. San Diego Symphony also performs its Summer Pops Series at its outdoor venue on San Diego’s waterfront: Embarcadero Marina Park South, located behind the San Diego Convention Center, adjacent to the Marriott Hotel Marina.

How many seats does Symphony Hall have?

The Hall has 2,231 seats including handicapped seating both on the main floor and upper level. Seating is divided into various section including orchestra, Grand Tier, mezzanine and balcony. The Hall also includes a patron elevator to reach the upper lobby.

Has the Jacobs Music Center always been the home of the San Diego Symphony?

No, Symphony Hall was built in 1929 as a movie palace and was known as The Fox Theatre, a well-known San Diego landmark. In its early days, “The Fox” also featured added stage shows, and then it eventually became a venue for touring Broadway shows until 1984. Subsequently, the Fox Theatre was renamed Copley Symphony Hall as a result of a donation by the late Helen Copley, whose family owned the morning newspaper, The San Diego Union and the Evening Tribune, now U-T San Diego. The entire complex is now known as the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Music Center.

Since the Hall was built as a movie palace, how has it been adapted into a concert hall?

Since 1984-85 when the Fox Theatre became Copley Symphony Hall through 1999, the venue has been continually refurbished. This includes installing a shell to surround the orchestra, stage risers, an adjustable ceiling and a stage floor made of Brazilian cherry wood, all adding to the quality of the sound. Most recently in 2008-09, a state-of-the-art digital sound and lighting system was installed further enhancing the experience of attending a symphony concert. All of these improvements were installed by the acoustical experts, Akustiks. In addition, these improvements add to the Hall’s marketability as a rental venue. The entire venue has been named the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Music Center as of October 2013.

Does the San Diego Symphony own the Jacobs Music Center?

In the mid-1990s, the Symphony’s ownership of Copley Symphony Hall was in jeopardy. Mr. Lawrence B. (Larry) Robinson stepped forward to acquire and preserve the Hall for the Symphony’s future. In early 2010, Mr. Robinson transferred the title and deed to the San Diego Symphony, which now owns the hall outright. Copley Symphony Hall remains the name of the performance chamber, but the entire complex of Symphony offices, lobbies, backstage and performance hall is now known as the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Music Center.

Have there been any other improvements made to the Hall?

Two years ago, longtime San Diegans and Symphony supporters, the Grosvenor Family, made a significant donation to renovate the antiquated musicians’ lounge, which is located directly under the stage. The result is the state-of-the-art Grosvenor Family Musicians Center, which includes a new musicians’ lounge, dressing rooms, locker rooms and soundproof practice rooms where musicians can rehearse privately. Joan and Irwin Jacobs are responsible for the Jacobs Administrative Center, an architectural gem above Symphony Hall that houses the Symphony’s administrative offices. The Jacobs’ are also responsible for the Hall’s balcony handrails and upper and lower lobby refurbishments. Copley Symphony Hall is ADA-compliant.

Before the Jacobs Music Center, where did the San Diego Symphony perform?

The San Diego Symphony performed in a variety of venues including the Grand Ballroom of the US Grant Hotel where the Symphony gave its very first performance on December 6, 1910. Other venues have included the Spreckels Theatre, San Diego High School Russ Auditorium, Hoover High School Auditorium, Ford Bowl in Balboa Park and the Civic Theatre. Summer Pops venues include San Diego State University Amphitheatre, Hospitality Point at Mission Bay, Navy Pier and the current summer site, Embarcadero Marina Park South.




When did the San Diego Symphony receive the gift from Joan and Irwin Jacobs?

The gift was given in January 2002.

What was the amount of the gift and how is it allocated?

The amount of the gift was $120 million; however, the San Diego Symphony did not receive this amount in its entirety when the gift was given. The gift is allocated as follows:

1) The first $50 million is given to the Symphony’s endowment fund—not the operating fund—in increments of $5 million each year for 10 years.

2) The next $50 million of the gift is a bequest that will be received into the endowment fund after the Jacobs’ pass away.

3) The last $20 million is given to the Symphony’s operating fund in increments of $2 million each year for 10 years, commencing in 2003.

Does the Symphony have access to the endowment fund for its annual operating fund?

The San Diego Symphony Foundation manages the endowment for the San Diego Symphony. In this capacity, the Foundation’s board of directors determines the amount of financial support that the endowment can provide to the Symphony annually. The yearly disbursement from the endowment funds is based upon the performance of the portfolio’s investments.

How much are the ticket prices to attend a Symphony concert?

The Symphony offers a variety of ticket prices to serve a wide range of audiences. For our Young People’s Concerts and student rush tickets, the prices are $5-$10. Family Concerts range from $10 to $25. Jazz @ The Jacobs concerts range from $24 to $76. Fox Theatre Film Series concerts and City Lights concerts range from $20 to $76. Single tickets for Chamber Series concerts begin at $35. Bayside Summer Nights concerts at Embarcadero Marina Park South can be anywhere from $18 to $100, depending on the section and day. All single ticket pricing is subject to change throughout the season, an excellent reason to subscribe and lock in your prices!

Do ticket prices cover the cost of the Symphony’s expenses?

No, they do not. The Symphony must rely on both tickets sales and donated income from individuals, corporations, government entities and foundations and for-profit companies in order to operate. Ticket prices and other operating revenue only cover approximately $0.38 on the dollar while $0.62 on the dollar must be received in donations. Therefore, it is essential that the Symphony reach out to the community and continue its ongoing annual fundraising campaigns that include both individual and corporate support.

How much is the base annual salary of a musician?

The base or starting annual salary of a musician in 2014 is approximately $64,000. Many musicians earn more than that amount based on their experience, length of service and position in their respective sections, be it principal or section player.

What is the San Diego Symphony’s annual budget?

The current budget is approximately $22 million placing the San Diego Symphony in the Group I category along with the top orchestras in the country as ranked by the League of American Orchestras. Through its artistry, leadership and reputation, the San Diego Symphony is able to attract the finest guest artists performing with symphony orchestras today.