Rafael Payare conducts The Rady Shell’s Inaugural Gala and Opening Concert in San Diego

Aug 6, 2021

The orchestra’s new venue represents a gift to its native city and the communities who live there. Set on the San Diego waterfront, with the capacity to host outdoor audiences of up to 10,000, The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park is a wonder not only of architectural design but also of breathtaking acoustic engineering. The onstage Meyer Constellation system uses proprietary digital technology to enable performers to hear and respond to one another as well as they would in a top-tier indoor concert hall, while the L-Acoustics system projects sound to the audience from six meticulously angled towers. Payare explains:

“The Rady Shell looks fantastic – and it’s by the San Diego Bay – but what’s really special about it is the sound. Up on stage, it has the amazing Constellation system, so the musicians can all hear each other as well as in an indoor hall. And not just any indoor hall, but a really world-class concert hall! It makes a huge difference, because it means the musicmaking, the textures, the colors and the risks we take are completely limitless. You can go into absolute interpretive detail, which can be challenging for outdoor venues, but not at The Rady Shell. And for the audience, The Rady Shell has L-Acoustics’ fantastic surround sound, so everyone can hear exactly what’s happening on stage. It’s a whole different level of listening experience.”

To date, only very small audiences of first responders, frontline workers, subscribers and community members have had this listening experience, at a series of free test events given by the conductor and orchestra while they await The Rady Shell’s official opening. That changes at the Inaugural Gala and Opening Concert on August 6, for which, to give a wider audience its first taste of the venue’s sonic capabilities, Payare has put together a multifaceted program. Hosted by Vivian Scott Chew, this opens with the world premiere of Soundcheck in C major, a new San Diego Symphony commission from composer and DJ Mason Bates, whose honors include a Grammy and Musical America’s Composer of the Year. It was with Bates’s Alternative Energies that the conductor opened the first concerts of his San Diego tenure, but their current collaboration marks the first time he has been involved in Bates’s compositional process. Like many of the composer’s works, Soundcheck in C major is scored for orchestra and electronics, and, as Payare recounts, it was written for and directly inspired by The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park. The conductor says:

“Mason is actually going to use the whole spectrum of The Rady Shell’s sound. When he came to test it, you could see his mind was a little bit blown by all the acoustic possibilities! He was very excited about them.”

To illustrate The Rady Shell’s versatility, Payare’s Opening Night program represents something of a classical showcase, featuring string, piano and vocal soloists and works ranging from the strictly classical to those infused with the influences of jazz, Broadway and Latin America. Under the conductor’s leadership, his wife, MacArthur Fellow Alisa Weilerstein, joins the orchestra for Saint-Saëns’s First Cello Concerto; Gramophone Award-winning French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet is the soloist in Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue; and Grammy-winning bass-baritone Ryan Speedo Green sings operatic arias by Mozart, Rossini and Gounod as well as a favorite Rodgers & Hammerstein showtune. To complete the program, Payare leads accounts of Fuga con pajarillo, by his compatriot Aldemaro Romero, and Stravinsky’s transcendent, exquisitely orchestrated Firebird Suite, with which the conductor and orchestra draw their festive evening to a close.

Photo: J Henry Fair