Edit ModuleShow Tags

Inside the Icon: San Diego Symphony Orchestra

San Diego's oldest music institution rings in 2019 with a new music director and history spanning 109 years


Published:

 

Finding a Home

With just enough musicians to pull off Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1, SDSO held its first concert on December 6, 1910, in the US Grant ballroom under the musical direction of Richard Schliewen. The ensemble—fashioned out of Coronado’s Tent City Band and other eager musicians—performed at various venues before staking a claim at the Civic Theatre in 1965. Twenty years later, SDSO permanently moved into The Fox Theatre movie palace, renaming it Copley Symphony Hall in honor of Helen Copley’s $2 million donation toward the property purchase. After a near liquidation in 1998, SDSO received $120 million from Joan and Irwin Jacobs in 2002—the largest private donation to any American symphony organization. A decade later, the orchestra showed its thanks by renaming the building the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Music Center.

 

A Smokin’ Performance

It wasn’t all encores and roses in SDSO’s initial years. After the original group went on hiatus in 1920, San Diego High School’s director of music, Nino Marcelli, began conducting a group of 90 students and alumni, and eventually received the blessing of SDSO’s previous music director, Buren Schryock, to take up the San Diego Symphony Orchestra name. Feuds with a composer and quarrels with board members years later led Marcelli to leave the podium in 1937 during a performance of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture at the Balboa Park Bowl. Without his consent, soldiers had been hired to carry smoke pots through the audience for special effects and set off howitzers for the song’s finale. Amid audience coughs, Marcelli walked off stage and never returned.

 

Starry Nights

While the 1812 Overture remains SDSO’s most played piece, the group has continued to update its repertoire to stay with the times—including with unconventional formats and special effects, like films set to live musical accompaniment (the Fox Theatre Film Series) and fireworks (Bayside Summer Nights). But these account for only a few of the 30-plus outdoor shows per year, in addition to 80 indoor performances and time spent as the pit orchestra for the San Diego Opera. Consider its highest grossing performance, a 2017 show with Tony Bennett, or a Star Wars concert that drew 6,000 attendees and cast members from The Force Awakens to the Embarcadero.

 

Sitting Pretty

How does $72,141, with full benefits, life (and instrument) insurance, and five weeks’ vacation sound? That’s San Diego Symphony Orchestra’s starting offer to its musicians. There are currently 82 of them on its roster, ranging in age from 20s to 70s. Auditions are held on a case-by-case basis—the 22-seat violin section sees the most turnover—and typically draw around 150 candidates to our city from as far as China, Croatia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Bulgaria, and, if you count incoming music director Rafael Payare, now Venezuela. He makes his San Diego debut as the 13th main man at the podium (no women conductors yet) during SDSO’s Hearing the Future festival this month.

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

More »Related Stories

Shop like a Tastemaker with the Founder of Cesarina Ristorante

Niccolò Angius sells us on simplicity and shares 14 of his favorite things

An East County Farm Animal Rescue Offers Sweet Sanctuary

Farm Animal Refuge is giving abused, neglected farm animals a second chance

From the Archives: San Diego Interior Design in 1949

A look back on a few of the oddball abodes that popped up in San Diego
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. Vote Now for San Diego's Best Restaurants 2019
    From pho to fries, you can choose San Diego's best eats and drinks in 99 categories
  2. San Diego's Best Restaurants 2019
    Nearly 7,500 of our hungriest readers voted in our annual poll—and the results are served
  3. First Look: Il Dandy
    Michelin-starred Italian chefs open a stunner in Bankers Hill
  4. Restaurants Are Dying; Here’s the Solution
    It’s simple math, but the state of California refuses to allow it
  5. 21 Ultimate Road Trip Itineraries from San Diego
    These getaways will take you through California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and Mexico
  6. Best of North County 2019
    Our annual roundup of what's up-and-coming and full-on buzzy above the 56
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Promotions

Enter San Diego’s Cutest Pet Contest

Your furry family member could win a pet prize package and be featured in San Diego Magazine

Puesto's Next Top Taco

Submit your best taco recipe for the chance to win a grand prize
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module
Edit Module

Connect With Us:

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Sponsored

Plan a San Diego Staycation with Hilton

Avoid the airport and enjoy local activities from kayaking to visiting Balboa Park

Athena’s Pinnacle Awards Showcases Leaders in Diversity and Inclusion

Here are the winners from the event on May 7
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags