The San Diego Symphony is the oldest symphony in California. It was named a Tier 1 orchestra by the League of American Orchestras in 2010. Its historic home will soon become what the audience might call a Tier 1 venue.
The historic Fox Theater was transformed into the home of the San Diego Symphony in the mid-'80s. Since then, it has been the San Diego Symphony's headquarters.
Two years ago, the Symphony moved to the $85 million Rady Shell at Jacobs Park. Come November, they will return to their main home, Copley Symphony Hall. And if $85 million was a lot of money, the renovations at Symphony Hall are being done to the tune of $125 million.
“The end result is going to be wonderful, both visually and acoustically," said Travis Wininger, Vice President of Operations for the San Diego Symphony. KPBS spoke to him as loud construction proceeded.
"(We brought) the rear wall of the hall in by about eight rows. We had a really deep balcony overhang, and acoustically those seats ... way in the back, under that balcony level, weren’t that great," he said.
Each row of seats that remains under the balcony will be adjusted to improve line of sight.
Another change improves aesthetics and sound.
"(We removed) a valance, a wall that used to cut off the top of the proscenium, and we were able to do some structural moves and remove that," Wininger said. "That’s gonna give a lot more acoustic breathing room. We decided to build a permanent orchestra shell that will surround the stage that allows us ... to have a choral terrace level."
As its name suggests, the choral terrace will allow large choirs to sing with the orchestra. And when no chorus is involved, it will be open for audience seating.
Of course, all the ornate plasterwork is being refreshed and cleaned, and then there are those changes that won’t be seen but will make a big difference, like the building’s heating and air conditioning systems.
“We’ve suspended all those (AC and heating) units from the parking structure above us so that none of the vibration or the noise will transfer into the space," Wininger said.
A renovated symphony hall and a spectacular outdoor venue with the Rady Shell — it's understandable how that would make the San Diego Symphony a very attractive orchestra for the world’s top musicians. It’s a question KPBS asks Director of Artistic Planning A.J. Benson in a much quieter meeting room.
“I think San Diego has a number of elements that are attractive to musicians; the fact that we are performing in two different venues, we have great soloists and collaborators that we work with. The executive leadership has really been a huge force propelling the orchestra forward," Benson said.
Benson mentioned the Irwin and Joan Jacobs gift, $120 million that was given in 2002.
That, he said, has resulted in a financially sound organization, especially when combined with other large gifts and significant support from the community in general.
Now, Benson and Symphony leadership look to the future.
“We want to have people feel like it’s comfortable, it’s safe, it’s welcoming, it’s warm in this new acoustic — in this environment. I think there is a real element of top shelf, incredible music-making, great artistry happening at everyone’s doorstep ... you don’t have to go to L.A., you don’t have to go to New York City, there’s a lot happening right here," he said.
And soon, happening in a concert hall that will take its place among the finest in the world.