The San Diego classical music scene encompasses every genre of the artform. Chamber, orchestral, opera, and choral music are well represented. We’ve selected two large organizations, two medium-sized, and two boutique groups. They are the San Diego Symphony, San Diego Opera, the Mainly Mozart Festival, the La Jolla Music Society, Bach Collegium San Diego, and Pro Arte Voices.
These organizations produce music I consider to be in the regional, national, and even world class. These six organizations are consistently the best at what they do in San Diego County.
The San Diego Opera continues to produce opera while recovering from the trauma of 2014 when then–general director Ian Campbell tried to shutter the opera after 30 years of success.
The company is attempting to bring opera to a broader audience through a few different routes. One is the Detour Series, and another is through young singers and the Opera Exposed concerts, which utilizes venues such as the San Diego airport and public libraries.
The 2017–2018 season includes five stage productions. Two of the productions are from the Detour Series. There are three mainstage productions at the Civic Theater on Third at B Street. Of the three productions, only Puccini’s Turandot can be considered standard opera repertoire.
Time will tell if the new approach, led by general director David Bennett, is a model that the community rallies around. The future of opera in San Diego is still up in the air.
The San Diego Symphony performs in the Jacobs Music Center, a concert hall hidden within the Symphony Towers building on B Street between Seventh and eighth, downtown. The hall is named after Joan and Irwin Jacobs, who pledged over $100 million to the symphony in 2002.
In 2015, the symphony’s music director, Jahja Ling, announced that he would be stepping down after the 2016–’17 season. The symphony has yet to name a replacement. There are whispers that a successor will be named soon but mum has been the word thus far.
The new music director will inherit a healthy orchestra poised to reach new heights of artistic achievement. One thing that will continue to hold the orchestra back is the concert hall. The former Fox Movie Theater could not be a better fit for San Diego in terms of its interior architecture. However, despite improvements to the stage, the acoustics remain less than ideal.
San Diego’s Mainly Mozart Festival is celebrating its 30th anniversary this June at the Balboa Theatre (on Fourth at E Street, near Horton Plaza). The festival could be the best kept secret in all of classical music.
Each June a group of champion orchestral players gathers for five unique concerts. While it is assembled, this orchestra is the finest in the nation and the argument could be made that there is no better musical experience of its kind in the world.
The orchestra brings musicians from the Cleveland Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the L.A. Philharmonic, and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, among others.
Leading the festival for the past three years has been the up-and-coming British conductor Michael Francis. Maestro Francis has programmed a six-year journey through Mozart’s life as a composer. The festival is entering year three of the chronological exploration this June.
The Mainly Mozart organization also has a thriving youth orchestra and an extensive chamber music season that extends throughout the year.
The La Jolla Music Society has been bringing top music to San Diego for 49 years. The music society specializes in sponsoring concerts by the world’s best soloists and ensembles.
In years gone by, the society has brought the likes of the Vienna Philharmonic, the Tokyo String Quartet, and Murray Pariah to San Diego.
Each August the La Jolla Music Society presents SummerFest. This monthlong chamber music festival has been held at La Jolla’s Sherwood Auditorium but will be moving to the Conrad Prebys Music Center. “The Conrad” (as Prebys affectionately nicknamed it after donating $25 million for its construction) is scheduled to be completed in early 2019.
Bach Collegium San Diego was founded by music director Ruben Valenzuela in 2003. The group focuses on presenting an early-music experience for its audiences and has established itself as one of the leading ensembles on the West Coast.
Performance practices and the construction of instruments have continued to evolve over the past four centuries of Western Music. The Bach Collegium attempts to restore the music of the early masters back to its original state.
The Early Music Movement has its adversaries, but champions such as Maestro Venezuela point to the authentic experience of presenting the music as the composer envisioned it.
The Bach Collegium has an orchestra and chorus that perform more than a dozen concerts per year. The venues are usually specific churches that have Pro Arte Voices in their choirs. The group is a relative new-comer to San Diego. The chorale group was founded in 2013 by husband and wife Patrick and Katie Walders. Patrick is the conductor and artistic director and Katie is the executive director.
The choral group finds niches within the repertoire to program unique and compelling concerts around a central theme. For instance their next concert is entitled L.O.S.T. It was composed by UCSD professor Jason Rosenberg “in the contemporary style.”
According to the Pro Arte website, L.O.S.T. looks back to the Lamentations of Jeremiah by Thomas Tallis. Each section of Tallis’s masterpiece starts with a different letter of the Jewish alphabet. The English alphabet has four letters not found in the ancient Hebrew. Those letters are, L, O, S, and T.