San Diego Symphony to debut special 2021 digital season

 San Diego Symphony Music Director Rafael Payare
San Diego Symphony Music Director Rafael Payare will conduct the orchestra for its new monthly 2021 digital concert season. The season debuts with a “Wagner Meets Mozart” performance that will stream Jan. 29 and be filmed at Copley Symphony Hall.
(Nancee E. Lewis)

The orchestra, led by music director Rafael Payare, continues to pivot online as the coronavirus pandemic extends the shuttering of live concert events


Less than a month after canceling the remainder of its winter and spring in-person concerts for this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, the San Diego Symphony has announced the debut of its “special 2021 digital season.”

To be held on the last Friday of each month and led by the orchestra’s music director, Rafael Payare, the online season will kick off Jan. 29 with a “Wagner Meet Mozart” concert. It will be followed Feb. 26 by “Elegy and Serenades,” which pairs works by Mozart and Tchaikovsky with Carlos Simon’s “An Elegy: A Cry From the Grave.” Simon, an Atlanta-based composer, wrote “Grave” in tribute to such slain Black Americans as Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner.

The March, April and May digital season performances will be announced at a later date. All the concerts are being filmed at Copley Symphony Hall and the orchestra is adhering to the same strict health protocols it used for several late fall and early winter online concerts in 2020. These include having members of its brass section perform some pieces in the venue’s sprawling balcony section, where they can more safely distance from each other.

“We experimented and introduced our audience to our streamed concerts. Now, turning the page into the new year, we want to formalize it with this new streamed concert series,” San Diego Symphony CEO Martha Gilmer said. “Doing these digital concerts on the last Friday of the month seemed like a good idea, so that people can put it on their calendars and become part of our digital family.”

The orchestra’s 2020 season came to an abrupt halt in mid-March, when the pandemic prompted the shuttering of live events nationwide. The symphony pivoted to online programing from the Copley Symphony Hall stage in late November, with the free streaming of a concert billed as “Together Apart: Strings, Wind & Brass” by a scaled-down version of the orchestra. As a prelude, the symphony had filmed “A Return to Music,” an intimate streamed chamber-music performance, led by Payare, from The Conrad in La Jolla in October.

It was followed by a streamed Dec. 18 holiday concert at Copley Symphony Hall, “Noel Noel.” It was also free and drew 10,000 viewers on Facebook and 9,752 on YouTube, with people watching and listening from as far away as Spain, Japan, Russia and Brazil. Then came the now-111-year-old symphony’s first-ever New Year’s Eve concert at Copley Symphony Hall, which was streamed and had a ticket price of $25 and drew an online audience of 1,800.

Tickets for the symphony’s upcoming 2021 digital season are available for a minimum donation of $20 per streamed concert and will be available on Jan. 21. All-access passes, good for each of the monthly Friday concerts and for bonus programing, cost $100 each and are also available (starting today) at Ticket and passholders can access the online concerts they paid for through the end of this year.

Whether the symphony’s paid online attendance for its 2021 digital season can turn a small profit is impossible to predict. Nevertheless, Gilmer stressed: “While it won’t replace the ticket revenue we would have had for our live concerts, there is a great value. When you join in online, you have a sense of belonging until we can have regular (in-person) programming again.

“We still have a long way to go and we are still completely dependent on our generous ‘orchestra family’ and friends that sustain us at this time through their contributions. We’ve had a tremendous outpouring of concern so far and are really grateful that people appreciate how important it is for a great city like San Diego to have its own orchestra.

“And, as (health) conditions improve, I am guardedly optimistic we’ll be able to evolve this series and have more players on stage with the helpful acceleration of the COVID vaccine, before we can safely return to in-person concerts with audiences. Assuming most people get vaccinated by, I would hope, May, we would really have a shot at a mid-summer opening for out outdoor concerts at our new bayside venue, The Shell.”

— Geroge Varga is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune