The San Diego Chamber Orchestra was founded in 1984. Jung-Ho Pak was announced the Artistic Director and Conductor for the 2006-2007 season, bringing with him a fresh new vision for the orchestra. From 1997 through 2002, Pak conducted the San Diego Symphony, where he created programs such as the eccentric Lightbulb Series, which sometimes featured a French chef preparing food onstage while the orchestra performed.
"I brought all of my baby-boomer, California-raised, television- and movie- and Internet-
influenced generation to bear on the Lightbulb Series," he says, "plus my shamefully eclectic taste in world music and pop music and jazz and rock and all these other things I grew up with [he later admits to being a huge fan of Karen Carpenter]. I'm an omnivore. I wasn't raised in a practice room."
Pak's speech is rapid-fire and intense. After a few minutes, it becomes clear that his mission is to eliminate the barrier between performer and audience.
"Doesn't that rob a performance of some of its mystique?" I ask.
"I think orchestras are trying desperately to remove that mystique. If you look across the country and see all the million-dollar deficits that face all the major orchestras...now everyone's trying to be hip. And I mean that in a pejorative sense. Because what they're trying to do is change the appearance of the product. And what we're trying to do is change the core of the product, the core of the experience. And that [core] is the musicians themselves."
Pak is pleased with the results so far. "We are succeeding beyond my expectations, actually, to change the mind of the musician to realize that their job is not to play notes. Their job," he says, "ultimately, is to grab souls."
Times are hard for classical music. Budgets are shrinking, interest is waning, and commissions for new scores are thin to nonexistent. "There's been a lot of sitting on our laurels, so to speak, over the past 30 years. Meanwhile, we're losing audience because the people come and they say, 'That's interesting, that's nice, but you know, it's not a place that I want to come back [to].' And that's the true test, really," says Pak. "The proof in the pudding is in how often that person wants to return.
"The thing that gets me up in the morning," he says, "is, 'What can I do to make great art...and what can I do to give it relevance today?' Am I brave enough to say the answer is nothing? As an industry, can we wake up and look ourselves in the mirror and say, 'This is not working'? Are we going the way of the harpsichord and the Gregorian chant and the Model T? Is it too much to expect that the way we've been doing things for the past 150 years...is going to always live forever? Or should we expect a natural life span for this art form?"
The orchestra provides extremely high-quality concerts for a diverse San Diego County with current venues in downtown San Diego, La Jolla, and the North County (Rancho Santa Fe). The orchestra presents a variety of concerts all around the county and frequently performs for local organizations and corporations for special events. The orchestra also has an annual holiday tradition of performing Handel’s Messiah in area churches and at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido.
In early 2008, Tyler Richards Hewes, a 2002 graduate of Eastern Connecticut State University's Performing Arts program, was named executive director of the San Diego Chamber Orchestra. Prior to his appointment, Hewes was the production manager for Mainly Mozart and manager of the Mainly Mozart Orchestra Festival, both in San Diego.
In early 2009, the Orchestra's name was changed to Orchestra Nova San Diego, an ensemble which by 2013 had ceased production.