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San Diego Symphony launches major renovation of Jacobs Music Center
Centerline section render of Copley Hall renovation. Courtesy San Diego Symphony and HGA.

SAN DIEGO, CA.- Martha A. Gilmer, CEO of the San Diego Symphony, today announced a major project to restore and renovate its historic home, the Jacobs Music Center, as a long-term commitment to the vitality of downtown San Diego and an investment in the artistic ambitions of the orchestra. The project, with an estimated cost of $125 million, will honor the history of the Jacobs Music Center’s historic building, which opened in 1929 as a legendary Fox Theater, while greatly enhancing the musical and performance experience for artists and audiences alike.

The revitalization of Jacobs Music Center, designed by architect HGA in collaboration with acoustician Akustiks, and theater planners Schuler Shook, will include the transformation of Copley Symphony Hall at Jacobs Music Center, 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 superior acoustics for both performers and audiences. The project will also include the modernization and expansion of support spaces for musicians and the enhancement of audience amenities throughout Jacobs Music Center.


Key elements of the renovation include:

● Elevating the acoustics for the musicians and the audience on par with peer concert halls through a custom-designed permanent orchestra enclosure, new orchestra risers tailored to the new stage, and a tunable acoustic canopy that’s a collaboration of theatrical, acoustic, and architectural design

● Expanding the flexibility of the stage, including the addition of a raised permanent choral terrace around the stage. This addition will allow the Symphony to perform a greater variety of large works with chorus throughout the season and will also provide audiences with unique seating opportunities when not being used by the chorus.

● Enhancing the audience experience with new seats, improved ADA access, better sightlines, reconfigured seats with additional aisles, and a completely reshaped main seating level. This seating design will allow the hall to be configured in new and flexible ways, supporting a greater range and scale of varying musical works and ensemble sizes.

● Adding acoustical “tuning chambers” and “variable acoustic” devices throughout the hall, allowing for the venue to be adjustable to accommodate music ranging from small chamber ensembles to full orchestra with soloists and chorus to amplified performances.

● Upgrading the concert-going experience with enhanced stage lighting, an improved sound system, and an integrated video display system.

● Replacing and relocating the current HVAC system with state of the art technology, created three key benefits: 1. it increased the amount of air and filtration and fresh air within the hall 2. it decreased the amount of ambient noise from mechanical systems within the performance space, and 3. the reconfiguration opened up vital performance support spaces. These updates were completed as part of the initial phase of the renovation.

● Establishing new dedicated ancillary spaces, enabling the Symphony to provide intimate music for more students and families in Learning and Community Engagement programs.

● Providing the musicians with new small ensemble rehearsal rooms, an expanded music library, dressing rooms, visiting artist spaces, an artist reception room, and climate-controlled instrument storage.

● Adding a new safe and accessible artists’ and staff entrance on 8th Avenue.

Martha A. Gilmer said, “After half a dozen years of careful study and planning, we knew this was the moment to take on this important venture. This vital project will preserve and celebrate the extraordinary legacy and architecture of our beloved home, while adding critical new infrastructure and features and enhanced acoustics, which will do so much to serve our musicians, our audiences, and the entire community of San Diego.” Gilmer continued “The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park was the first important step because not only is it a fabulous venue, but it has allowed us to shift more of our performances from Jacobs Music Center during construction. We look forward with great excitement to opening a renewed and improved Jacobs Music Center in late 2023.”

Rafael Payare, Music Director of the San Diego Symphony, said, “For over two years, I have been part of planning the renovation of Jacobs Music Center. When I first saw the ideas brought forth, I was beyond excited. We have already seen the impact of The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park on our musicians, our audiences, and the people of San Diego. To have the opportunity to improve the beautiful hall we call home, and to improve the musical communication on stage with the musicians, as well as to create a more intimate connection with our audiences, is a fantastic dream. The momentum of this orchestra is infectious and will be increased even more when we return to an exquisitely renovated Jacobs Music Center.”

Concertmaster Jeff Thayer said, “If someone had told me when I started as Concertmaster for the San Diego Symphony that we would eventually have not one, but two new concert venues in the near future, I would never have believed it. This is an amazing accomplishment for any Symphony association.” Thayer continued “the renovation of the Jacobs Music Center and Copley Symphony Hall will allow this orchestra to continue the steep artistic ascent that I’ve witnessed during my time here. This new “instrument” will allow the musicians to grow collectively as an ensemble and pursue even greater artistic success. I am very proud of what is happening at the San Diego Symphony and I applaud all those behind these great achievements.”

Harold W. Fuson, Jr., Chair of the Board of Directors of the San Diego Symphony, said, “The creation of The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park has already given the San Diego Symphony one of the world’s great permanent outdoor concert venues. Now, we will have an indoor venue that matches the distinction of the Rady Shell, while restoring a magnificent historic treasure, the former Fox Theater. We have a number of commitments in place, and we are confident in our ability to secure the funds to make this happen.”

Todd Gloria, Mayor of San Diego, said, “San Diegans embrace the arts as part of our thriving culture of creativity and innovation. The revitalization of Jacobs Music Center will be an exquisite home for the San Diego Symphony, making it a must-see destination for visitors and further bolstering Downtown as an arts destination within the city. I applaud the San Diego Symphony Orchestra Association for their continued investment in the vibrancy of our city.”

Construction work for the principal phase of renovation begins in early 2022.

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