Rendering of the renovated Copley Symphony Hall
Rendering of the renovated Copley Symphony Hall | Courtesy of San Diego Symphony and HGA

The San Diego Symphony (SDSO) is in overhaul mode. The orchestra played its first performances at its new outdoor venue, the Rady Shell at Jacobs Park on the city’s Embarcadero, less than a year ago. Now, the group has announced plans to renovate its indoor home, downtown’s Jacobs Music Center.

The SDSO has been in the building, which opened in 1929 as a Fox Movie Theatre and was known (until 2013) as Copley Symphony Hall, since 1984. The $125-million revitalization project — a collaboration between architecture firm HGA, sound experts Akustiks, and theater planners Schuler Shook — will be the second such undertaking in the space’s history under the orchestra’s management. Reopening is set for late 2023.

That means the SDSO will be on the move until then. The group is presenting its winter and spring 2022 concerts where it can, including the Rady Shell, the California Center for the Arts in Escondido, The Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center in La Jolla, and six other venues across the greater San Diego area.

What will have changed at Jacobs Music Center when the orchestra returns? Updates to the main performance space (still called Copley Symphony Hall) will include a permanent shell, risers on the stage, and an acoustic canopy — think the clear panels hanging in San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall. A raised choral terrace will go around the stage, which the Symphony can use for big works with singers and orchestra, and which can seat audience members when there’s no chorus.

Other updates throughout the Hall and the Center will enhance audience and performer experience — redesigned seating on the main level, improved lighting and sound and video systems, and new ancillary and rehearsal spaces.

The goal is a more functional setup that still honors the theater’s history. Symphony CEO Marth A. Gilmer notes that the project “will preserve and celebrate the extraordinary legacy and architecture of our beloved home, while adding critical new infrastructure.”

Concertmaster Jeff Thayer thinks of the redesign in performer’s terms, saying, “This new ‘instrument’ will allow the musicians to grow collectively as an ensemble and pursue even great artistic success.”

It will certainly be a big leap forward for the ensemble under Rafael Payare. The Symphony’s music director since 2019, Payare concludes, “The momentum of this orchestra is infectious and will be increased even more when we return to an exquisitely renovated Jacobs Music Center.”

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