San Diego gets Hollywood Bowl response, just in time

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SAN DIEGO – The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park, a white sail floating from an open-air concert hall along San Diego Bay, was designed as this city’s answer to the Hollywood Bowl: a summer scene from 85 million dollars for the San Diego Symphony, a project of such architectural and acoustic distinction that it would distinguish San Diego on any national cultural map.

But now his arrival – it opened with a sold-out gala on Friday night – has turned out to be welcome for one more reason. With the discontinuous unfolding of the Covid pandemic, the symphony, which is finally playing again in front of a full audience, plans to extend its stay in its new summer home at least until November. He won’t be returning to his usual location, downtown Copley Symphony Hall, for some time.

“It was planned before Covid, but became prescient with the timing,” said Martha A. Gilmer, general manager of the symphony. “We just decided that we’re going to stay outside and do the fall concerts outside.”

And that’s what he did on Friday, ushering in this new chapter of the state’s oldest symphony with an explosion of orchestral music and a pinch of electronics that swelled its six towers with light and sound and a crowd. of 3,500 people on the opening night. The opening fanfare was commissioned from the composer Mason bates, and it signaled – loudly and dramatically – the musical and sonic ambitions of the San Diego Symphony and the city’s desire to emerge from the pandemic.

It had all the attributes of a big event, a welcome contrast after 15 years in which the symphony’s outdoor offerings relied on temporary stages and portable toilets. The new space was heralded with fireworks and a six-course dinner with champagne for donors. The evening began with a suitably dramatic flair, as the projected image of the orchestra’s musical director, Rafael Payare, instantly recognizable by this crowd, filled a high canvas almost to the top of the 57-foot-high stage. . After a few moments of rising tension, the canvas fell to reveal Payare and the orchestra, ready to play. This drew the first of many standing ovations.

“From the way Disney Hall has solidified the mission and importance of the LA Phil and the cultural life of LA, I think this new venue will do the same for an orchestra that is truly on the rise,” said Steven Schick , professor of music at the University of California, San Diego, and musical director of La Jolla Symphony and Chorus. “These things are happening with new sites.”

There were more costumes than masks – but not by many either – as people arrived to celebrate this new addition to the San Diego waterfront. It was a dramatic setting: the San Diego skyline framed the scene on the right, while the masts of the sailboats glided past the audience on the left, some anchoring to enjoy the spectacle.

At the Hollywood Bowl, Gustavo Dudamel, musical director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, sometimes has to deal with the roar of passing helicopters. Here, Payare’s competition was the put-put-putting of boat engines, the blast of an air horn, and the occasional “All Right” shout from a party boat.

Bates’ opening marching band, “Soundcheck in C Major” – with the composer, 44, sitting in the percussion section, playing an Akai drum machine and two MacBook Pros – was cinematic and uplifting. It was written with that sound system in mind, Bates said in an interview, and written to evoke Wagner, Pink Floyd, and Techno beats (he’s both a DJ and a songwriter). The whirlwind of electronic sounds it generated flew through the audience, ricocheting among the towers of sound and light.

There would be more familiar dishes before the evening was over: Mozart, Gershwin, Stravinsky. Alisa weilerstein, renowned cellist married to Payare, was the soloist of Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor, pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet was the soloist of “Rhapsody in Blue”, and Ryan Speedo Green, a bass baritone who is a rising star in the opera world, sang several tunes. Gladys Knight (without the Pips) took the stage on Sunday evening. But the choice of a new inaugural issue was a statement from the San Diego Symphony under Payare, which was named in 2019.

“It shows the San Diego Symphony is thinking about the future,” Bates said. “They could have opened it with any number of openings, the Candide Overture. But the San Diego Symphony wanted to show off the capabilities of their space and also make a statement about new art and new work. “

Construction of the Rady Shell began in September 2019 and was scheduled to open the following summer. This date was of course delayed by the pandemic, which made Friday night particularly welcome after 16 difficult months for cultivation in San Diego. “It’s been wiped out, and I’m not exaggerating – especially the performing arts,” said Jonathon Glus, executive director of the city’s Arts and Culture Commission. “Many organizations are still almost open. I think it will be another two or three years before we really see the fallout. “

While there were 3,500 people there on Friday night, some seated on the red folding seats and others sprawled out on the synthetic turf, it has a capacity of up to 10,000 seats. And the seats can be removed: it will be a public park when the symphony is not there.

From the start, the combination of the new space and the new musical director was aimed at distinguishing San Diego in a state with a list of strong cultural offerings, from San Francisco to Los Angeles. This city’s classic music scene has long existed under the cultural shadow of Los Angeles and Dudamel, and it was a challenge when Gilmer took over as CEO in 2014.

“There were people who thought they had to get on a train or the 5 to go to LA and listen to music at a high level,” Gilmer said, referring to the freeway that connects downtown here. city ​​of Los Angeles. ” This has changed. Or we hope that has changed.

Payare, like Dudamel, is a product of El Sistema, Venezuela’s famous music training system. He has performed solo horn under Dudamel with the Simón Bolívar Orchestra and was a member of the Dudamel Fellowship for Conductors at the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Dudamel was in the audience on Friday.

Payare, 41, said the new site opens up new opportunities. “It will be a change not only for classical music, but for the guest artists who will be passing through California,” he said.

“The views, they are fantastic,” he said. “The sound is phenomenal. As an artist, this is what you want.

San Diego has always been a popular tourist destination, but visitors are more likely to come here for the beach, the weather, and the Comic-Con than to see the Symphony. But in recent years, a number of philanthropists have intervened to strengthen the city’s cultural offer and increase its notoriety.

The San Diego Opera House nearly closed in 2014, after 49 years of operation, but it was revived by a coalition of opera fans, unions and community leaders who raised funds to transform and maintain it. desire. The region has one of the most important regional theaters in the country, the Old Globe. In 2002, the financially struggling Symphony was rescued with a record $ 100 million endowment donation from Irwin Jacobs, the co-founder of Qualcomm, and his wife, Joan. And in 2019 the Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center opened as the new headquarters of the La Jolla Music Society.

The main donation to this project – $ 15 million – came from Ernest and Evelyn Rady, two of the San Diego’s Hottest Philanthropists. Rady is a billionaire who built his fortune in insurance and real estate.

“We’ve always thought about making it a cultural destination as well as a beach and weather destination,” said Jacobs, who, along with his wife, donated $ 11 million towards the construction of the site. “There are a lot of them here. We’re not broadcasting this story as well as we should. “


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