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San Diego Symphony Bids Farewell To Maestro Jahja Ling

Ebone Monet

San Diego Symphony’s longtime director Jahja Ling will step down after 13 seasons on Sunday. His tenure was the longest one by a music director in the symphony’s 106-year history. Under his leadership, the symphony received its first invitation to perform at Carnegie Hall and it had embarked on an international tour.

Jahja Ling was appointed music director in 2003 and he officially took over leadership during the 2004-05 season. In early May, KPBS was invited to sit in on a rehearsal of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 3. Afterwards, we spoke to him about his career and plans for the future.

San Diego Symphony Bids Farewell To Maestro Jahja Ling
San Diego Symphony Bids Farewell To Maestro Jahja Ling
Maestro Jahja Ling conducts his final performance with the San Diego Symphony this weekend, following 13 seasons as music director.

Q: You have a huge influence on the sound of the San Diego Symphony. How would you describe it?


A: I think the sound concept is in my head first, because when I came here, I’ve been trained from my childhood until my college and then my graduate study and then my experience working with the major orchestra, especially the Cleveland Orchestra, for so many years. I try to get the best of both worlds, European and American, and that kind of sound that I create.

Q: You began leading the San Diego Symphony during a rebuilding period. What about what you've done makes you proud?

A: We were very, very proud about this achievement: the first time ever San Diego Symphony, in over 100 years of history, played in Carnegie Hall.

When we played in Carnegie Hall, when we played in tour of China, any other places, locally people recognize this is no longer an orchestra that just came from bankruptcy. This has become one of the top major orchestras with a distinct sound and capability, so the city of San Diego should be very proud.

Q: What has been your biggest challenge?


A: In San Diego, we need to still develop audience because maybe after the bankruptcy some audiences feel like, oh you know, they got disappointed. They laugh. They go to some other venue. It’s probably easier for them to travel to LA or to go to Orange County. But now, to cultivate the audience, especially younger people, because I feel that sometimes we do not do enough to expose young people to classical music.

Q: What characteristics does your replacement need to have?

A: They (the symphony) want to make sure when they perform they achieve the highest level of excellence and integrity. The new conductor, when they come here, if they want to have the respect of the orchestra, because respect has to be earned, they have to have the same feeling of serving the music.

Q: Can tell us about your new role as San Diego Symphony Conductor Laureate?

A: Whenever I am needed I always will offer my service, but I would like to make sure the orchestra will move on with the new director with great success and I’ll be the cheerleader of that time.

I just hope that the tradition that we have built for the last many years, not only my 13 years, but even before that. That it will continue and that the orchestra will excel and become the pride of the community. Like (Sir James) Galway said, the treasure. The precious treasure that people will feel this is our own and we are proud of it.

Jahja Ling's Finale with San Diego Symphony

  • Sunday, May 28
  • 2:00 p.m.
  • Copley Symphony Hall, 750 B St., San Diego
  • Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 83
  • Sibelius Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 43