The San Diego Symphony Orchestra performed its first concert on December 6, 1910. In the 100-plus years since its inception, the SDSO has become one of the leading orchestras in the United States and was designated a Tier 1 Orchestra by the League of American Orchestras in 2010. It is committed to providing musical experiences of superior quality for the greater San Diego community and beyond. Through a rich mixture of innovative and educational programming designed to appeal to all ages and cultures, the Symphony makes music an integral part of the cultural and intellectual fabric of Southern California, valued by and relevant to all its residents. The Music Director of the San Diego Symphony is Rafael Payare.

The Orchestra offers wide range of concert experiences and performs more than 140 concerts each year. The SDSO's performances at the Jacobs Music Center and beyond include:

  • Jacobs Masterworks offers traditional classical repertoire and features guest artists such as Alisa Weilerstein, Lang Lang and Gil Shaham.
  • Broadway @ The Jacobs features popular guest artists such as Rufus Wainwright, Lea Salonga and Michael Feinstein.
  • Family Concerts feature family-friendly concerts and an opportunity to expose children to classical music.
  • The Fox Theatre Film Series shows classic Silent Era films and contemporary favorites. The Hall’s built-in, mighty Fox Theatre Robert Morton Theater Organ often accompanies the classics of the Silent Film Era while modern films are screened with the San Diego Symphony providing the musical soundtrack.
  • Jazz @ The Jacobs brings together the finest local and international artists of modern jazz music at the Jacobs Music Center.
  • The Chamber MusicSeries is presented at La Jolla's Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center (aka "The Conrad"), bringing together world-class performers and musicians of the Orchestra for intimate musical encounters.
  • Each summer, from Fourth of July weekend through Labor Day, the Orchestra presents an outdoor Bayside Summer Nights season at Embarcadero Marina Park South, mixing classical favorites and pop music on San Diego’s picturesque waterfront.

Historic Copley Symphony Hall inside the Jacobs Music Center is regarded as one of the finest classical music venues on the West Coast. Originally built in 1929 as The Fox Theatre, this lush movie palace style hall became the property of the SDSO in 1984. The beauty and majesty of this historic hall added to the stature and artistic growth of SDSO. In October 2013, the complex consisting of Copley Symphony Hall, the newly renovated lobbies, the backstage areas, the Grosvenor Family Musicians' Center and the Symphony administrative offices was officially named the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Music Center.

Many renowned conductors have held the position of music director of San Diego Symphony, including Earl Bernard Murray, David Atherton and Yoav Talmi. Robert Shaw was music director of the Symphony from 1953-1958. In 1983, San Diego Symphony’s then composer-in-residence, Bernard Rands, won the Pulitzer Prize, furthering the outstanding reputation of San Diego Symphony. In 1992, the Symphony commemorated the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ landing with a televised concert in Mexico’s Chichen Itza ruins. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, labor and cash flow problems led to several season stoppages and even to bankruptcy. Late in the 1990’s, however, the orchestra recovered and, with the aid of significant gifts, began playing under the leadership of the former assistant conductor, Jung Ho Pak. In 1998 the Symphony revived with a tour of the west coast with Andrea Bocelli.

On January 14, 2002, the San Diego Symphony celebrated the announcement of the single largest donation ever made to a Symphony Orchestra, totaling $120 million. This pledged gift was generously given by Joan and Irwin Jacobs, solidifying a sustained period of stability for the orchestra marked by what has now been 12 straight years of balanced budgets. At the time of the gift, The New York Times declared the San Diego Symphony was "placed firmly on the nation’s musical landscape" as a result of this news. (Click here for a thorough explanation of the Jacobs Gift as detailed in a Voice of San Diego story on the 10th Anniversary of the Gift.)

Internationally acclaimed conductor Rafael Payare will become the orchestra’s next music director with a four-year contract that begins on July 1, 2019. Payare will debut at the San Diego podium in his role as Music Director Designate in January 2019, when he kicks off the fourth annual San Diego Symphony January festival. Payare succeeds Conductor Laureate Jahja Ling, whose tenure as music director began in 2004-05 and culminated in the 2016-17 season. Beginning in the 2019-20 season, Payare will become music direcctor and will conduct the Orchestra for 10 weeks each season, including performances in the Bayside Summer Nights series at the orchestra’s summer home.

The San Diego Symphony made history on October 29, 2013 with its first appearance ever at New York's Carnegie Hall, performing with pianist Lang Lang under the baton of Jahja Ling. A subsequent China Friendship Tour took the orchestra through concert dates in Shanghai, Yantai (San Diego's "Sister City") and Bejing November 1-11, 2013.

The full authoritative history of the San Diego Symphony can be found in San Diego Symphony: From Overture to Encore by Symphony Archivist Dr. Melvin G. Goldzband. Copies of this fascinating book are on sale in the Gift Shop.