Music Director Rafael Payare will celebrate the return of the San Diego Symphony to its newly renovated home at the Jacobs Music Center this November with a season of astonishingly bold and inviting programing. In the four decades I have been covering this orchestra, no season has ever come close to featuring the scope and rich variety of commissioned premieres and recent compositions by young composers. Placed cheek by jowl with grand repertory works, the 2023-24 Jacobs Masterworks Series reveals a savvy integration of new and old that will showcase the orchestra’s exciting revitalized musical profile under Payare’s direction.In the San Diego Symphony’s three November programs alone, we will hear four new works, Texu Kim’s “Welcome Home!! Fanfare for Jacobs Music Center,” Billy Childs’ Saxophone Concerto, Vladimir Tarnopolsky’s “Danse Macabre,” and a yet to be titled work by Carlos Simon. Payare has mated these new works with appealing, colorful familiar works such as Mahler’s Second Symphony “Resurrection” with soprano Angela Meade and mezzo-soprano Anna Larsson, Debussy’s La mer, Richard Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.
These November concerts are part of the statewide California Festival 2023, an unprecedented collaboration by the Music Directors of the state’s three major orchestras—the San Francisco Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the San Diego Symphony—along with a host of other California musical organizations.
In its 2020 season, the San Diego Symphony performed Korean-born American composer Texu Kim’s engaging tone poem “Spin Flip,” and Kim has recently joined the musicfaculty of San Diego State University. Los Angeles native Billy Childs has received numerous Grammy Awards for both classical and jazz compositions, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic has commissioned several works from him. African-American composer Carlos Simon serves as Composer-in-Residence for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and is known for writing music that deals with social justice. His Requiem for the Enslaved was released on Decca Records in 2022. The Los Angeles Times has described Ukrainian-Jewish composer Vladimir Tarnopolsky’s music as “unabashedly pictorial and . . . surprisingly sophisticated.”
Among the new features of the Music Center’s renovation are the stage’s Choral Terrace, from which a festival chorus will perform in Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony, and the hall’s refurbished pipe organ, which will be heard in Camille Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3, his popular “Organ” Symphony, in March of 2024.
Principal Guest Conductor Edo de Waart returns in January of 2024 to conduct Elgar’s “Enigma Variations” and J. S. Bach’s Double Concerto for Oboe and Violin featuring favorite soloists from the orchestra, Concertmaster Jeff Thayer and Principal Oboe Sarah Skuster. When Chilean-Italian Paolo Bortolameolli, Associate Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducts later that month, his program features violinist Augustin Hadelich in the Sibelius Violin Concerto and contemporary Chilean composer Miguel Farías’ work “Estadillo.”
In February, Payare returns to the podium to conduct two Ravel favorites, La Valse and Le tombeau de Couperin as well as the West Coast premiere of Mexican composer Gabriela Ortiz’s Altar de bronce with trumpet virtuoso Pacho Flores, who impressed San Diego Symphony audiences in 2022 with another contemporary trumpet concerto by Paquito D’Rivera. Ortiz served as the Ojai Festival’s Resident Composer of the 2021 season. On a second February program, Payare will lead an unusual arrangement of Richard Wagner’s Ring Without Words and will present the West Coast premiere of Mason Bates’ 2012 Violin Concerto with Gil Shaham as soloist.When Ludovic Morlot conducts Mussorgsky’s evergreen Pictures at an Exhibition in March of 2024, he will also lead the orchestra’s English Horn virtuoso Andrea Overturf in Ned Rorem’s 1994 Concerto for English Horn. That month will also feature Michael Tilson Thomas’ visit to San Diego’s podium with a most unusual program: the Sibelius Sixth and Seventh Symphonies along with two of the conductor’s own compositions, Selections from Meditations on Rilke and Street Song with bass-baritone Dashon Burton.
In this week’s New Yorker magazine (February 6), music critic Alex Ross reviews a recent Michael Tilson Thomas guest appearance with the Los Angeles Philharmonic conducting Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, and Ross gives an insightful, laudatory analysis of the conductor’s role shaping the cutting edge of American symphonic programming.
In April of 2024, Dutch conductor Otto Tausk, Music Director of the Vancouver Symphony, leads the orchestra in Stravinsky’s 1945 version of his ballet The Firebird, and Tausk will also offer “365” by the young Dutch composer Joey Roukens. On April 12, 2024, Lang Lang will play the Saint-Saëns Second Piano Concerto under Tausk’s direction.
Other renowned soloists will perform with the orchestra in May of 2024: Yo-Yo Ma will play the Elgar E Minor Cello Concerto and San Diego’s favorite French virtuoso Jean-Yves Thibaudet will play the Ravel G Major Piano Concerto, each under Payare’s direction.For patrons hankering for the traditional programming of yore, Payare will end the 2023-24 Jacobs Masterworks Series with the young Swedish violinist Daniel Lozakovich playing Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto and the orchestra offering Johannes Brahms’ Second Symphony and Tragic Overture.
In addition to the Jacobs Masterworks Series, the San Diego Symphony will present the 2023-2024 Currents Series, the 2023-2024 Jazz @ The Jacobs Series, the 2023-24 Broadway @ The Jacobs Series, and the 2023-24 Family Concert Series, which I will write about in another piece.
The San Diego Symphony will play its 2023-24 Jacobs Masterworks Series concerts at the renovated Jacobs Music Center in downtown San Diego starting November 4, 2023.