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San Diego to get $125 million for its Symphony Hall

Imagine sitting behind the orchestra facing the conductor

A choral terrace means more performances of large-scale choral music.
A choral terrace means more performances of large-scale choral music.

Martha Gilmer, CEO of the San Diego Symphony, has announced a major project to restore and renovate its historic home, the Jacobs Music Center.

The project, with an estimated cost of $125 million, will honor the history of the Jacobs Music Center’s building, which opened in 1929 as a legendary Fox Theater, while enhancing the musical and performance experience for artists and audiences.

The revitalization of Jacobs Music Center will include the transformation of Copley Symphony Hall, including the reconfiguration of the stage; the addition of a choral terrace behind the orchestra, which will allow for performances of large orchestral programs featuring chorus or as a new audience seating option; new finishes and seating; state-of-the-art lighting, sound, and video equipment; and better acoustics for performers and audiences. The project will include the modernization and expansion of support spaces for musicians and the enhancement of audience amenities throughout Jacobs Music Center.

There’s a lot to unpack here and a few items do stand out. New finishes and seating is huge. The seats at The Jacobs Music Center aren’t uncomfortable, yet neither are they comfortable. I recall taking my seat at Segerstrom Hall, in Orange County, and realizing that it was comfortable.

I had no idea it was possible to be comfortable at a symphonic concert until that point. I can hope the new seating at The Jacobs Music Center is as accommodating.

The addition of a choral terrace is a big deal. For starters, it should mean more performances of large-scale choral music. More exciting than that is the opportunity to sit behind the orchestra facing the conductor. This would be my seating preference every time it was available.

Superior acoustics are always welcome in a symphonic venue. If the acoustics of a hall are good, it makes a huge difference. Hearing the Royal Concertgebouw on tour is one thing, hearing them in the Concertgebouw Hall is something different. The hall is part of the performance.

The acoustics at The Jacobs Music Center are fine, but they are not special.

The devices which will be primarily responsible for improving the acoustics are a custom-designed permanent orchestra enclosure and a tunable acoustic canopy that’s a collaboration of theatrical, acoustic, and architectural design. We must keep in mind that the proscenium at The Jacobs Music Center was designed for a movie theater and not an orchestra. The idea of a turnable acoustic canopy is fascinating. Science...

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A choral terrace means more performances of large-scale choral music.
A choral terrace means more performances of large-scale choral music.

Martha Gilmer, CEO of the San Diego Symphony, has announced a major project to restore and renovate its historic home, the Jacobs Music Center.

The project, with an estimated cost of $125 million, will honor the history of the Jacobs Music Center’s building, which opened in 1929 as a legendary Fox Theater, while enhancing the musical and performance experience for artists and audiences.

The revitalization of Jacobs Music Center will include the transformation of Copley Symphony Hall, including the reconfiguration of the stage; the addition of a choral terrace behind the orchestra, which will allow for performances of large orchestral programs featuring chorus or as a new audience seating option; new finishes and seating; state-of-the-art lighting, sound, and video equipment; and better acoustics for performers and audiences. The project will include the modernization and expansion of support spaces for musicians and the enhancement of audience amenities throughout Jacobs Music Center.

There’s a lot to unpack here and a few items do stand out. New finishes and seating is huge. The seats at The Jacobs Music Center aren’t uncomfortable, yet neither are they comfortable. I recall taking my seat at Segerstrom Hall, in Orange County, and realizing that it was comfortable.

I had no idea it was possible to be comfortable at a symphonic concert until that point. I can hope the new seating at The Jacobs Music Center is as accommodating.

The addition of a choral terrace is a big deal. For starters, it should mean more performances of large-scale choral music. More exciting than that is the opportunity to sit behind the orchestra facing the conductor. This would be my seating preference every time it was available.

Superior acoustics are always welcome in a symphonic venue. If the acoustics of a hall are good, it makes a huge difference. Hearing the Royal Concertgebouw on tour is one thing, hearing them in the Concertgebouw Hall is something different. The hall is part of the performance.

The acoustics at The Jacobs Music Center are fine, but they are not special.

The devices which will be primarily responsible for improving the acoustics are a custom-designed permanent orchestra enclosure and a tunable acoustic canopy that’s a collaboration of theatrical, acoustic, and architectural design. We must keep in mind that the proscenium at The Jacobs Music Center was designed for a movie theater and not an orchestra. The idea of a turnable acoustic canopy is fascinating. Science...

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Comments
5

Garrett, In September you were reporting about this rework of the facility, but at the time complained about the lack of details. You said something about how such an effort should have been explained "sooner rather than later." Well, it is later now, and there are details to report. And it seems as if you are optimistic about the outcome.

Back when the old movie house was converted into Copley Symphony Hall, plenty was spent, or so we were told, to make it suitable as a music venue. This all suggests that it lacked much of the features and acoustics that it should have had all along. Will the big expenditure make it that much better and more accommodating? Or will the funds end up in the pockets of well-connected contractors who deliver too little for the cost? Time will tell. Keep us posted.

March 4, 2022

Visually and acoustically, the best place to sit in the entire hall is the pricey "Grand Tier" which is the first few rows of the balcony where there is no overhang. Let's hope this big renovation brings a better listening experience to more people at a lower cost. It is unfortunate the place will be closed for such along time. I think re-opening is slated for late 2025. Too bad they couldn't have taken advantage of the pandemic hiatus to do their reconstruction.

March 4, 2022

Actually there was nothing like a pandemic hiatus for for remodeling and construction. To the contrary, while the lumber mills shut down, many folks decided that it would be a good time to fix up the house. (The fact that many were stuck at home and forced to look at the dreary homestead pushed that along, and the lack of travel options left them with money in the pocket was also a factor) The result was a huge runup in prices for construction materials and a labor shortage.

$125 million, even in today's "sticker shock" era of pricing, is a huge sum for refurbishing something like the symphony hall. It had better be good, and it must create a world-class facility. Based on too many local efforts that have fallen flat I'm highly skeptical that the "juice", i.e. the results, will be worth the the "squeeze", i.e. the cost. An entire new orchestral hall could be built for that price and would not carry the baggage of the former venue.

March 4, 2022

Terrible idea, Visduh. You must be a rich person to propose building an entirely new symphony hall in San Diego. Even if it were financially possible -- a dubious notion -- by the time it ever reopened, the audience of silver-haired classical music aficionados would have long gone to their reward. Let's cut to the chase as best we can at our advanced age and get symphonic music onstage indoors for the appreciative audience that's still living and driving carbon-fueled cars downtown and paying an arm and a leg to park in a premium-priced ACE lot.

March 7, 2022

Our priorities in San Diego are so terribly wrong. There is NO good reason or point in spending $125 million for another Symphony Hall renovation. I can't think of one construction project that is LESS needed than this nonsense. This needs to be cancelled immediately. Residents are struggling to pay high rents, and now for gas. We still have a homeless problem. Roads and water mains are still in need of repair. Here's a better idea: Let the symphony play at the underused Balboa and Spreckels theatres.

March 7, 2022

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