Artists and Repertoire

Robert Spano, conductor
Garrick Ohlsson, piano

Brian Raphael Nabors: Onward
Witold Lutosławski: Concerto for Orchestra
Sergei Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30


The great Polish composer Witold Lutosławski was fascinated by the folk music of his native land, and these tunes inspired him during the creation of his orchestral pieces. Conductor Robert Spano leads the San Diego Symphony in Lutosławski's Concerto for Orchestra, an astonishingly impressive piece; powerful and brilliantly written. Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 represents the pinnacle of Romantic concerto writing, and the virtuosic American pianist Garrick Ohlsson takes on this dazzling concerto with fire and flair that will have you cheering.

Note: gates for the Friday and Saturday performances will open at 6pm.

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Insights from our Creative Consultant

Brian Raphael Nabors: Onward

Brian Raphael Nabors is an exciting young American composer whose work has received a great deal of attention in the last two or three years. Born in 1991, he studied first at Samford University in his home town of Birmingham, Alabama, before graduate work at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. He has since received prizes, commissions and recognition from a great number of different institutions. In this coming season alone, his orchestral music will be performed by a whole variety of orchestras including Detroit, Nashville, Fort Worth, Indianapolis and Alabama.

A delightful paragraph in his biography on his excellent website gives a good idea of how Brian Raphael Nabors sees his work, and his sources and aspirations:

A charming southern upbringing exposed Nabors to many deep-rooted musical ideals, many of which are rooted in spirituality; one of the main principles that inspires Nabors’ music. Much of his music deals with new reflections on life, nature, and the human condition. As a pianist, he is proficient in many styles and plays in several groups, functioning as a church musician, keyboardist in a R&B/Neo Soul band, and classical artist. Having a hand in several genres plays a large role in the type of sound spaces that Nabors creates. It has also broadened his creative/technical facility in realizing his compositional ideas.

The San Diego Symphony Orchestra will be performing Nabors’s short orchestral piece, Onward, which was originally commissioned and first performed in 2019 by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, conducted by their then-Music Director, Robert Spano. (Spano conducts the work on these San Diego performances.)

The composer himself provides this note:

Onward is an homage to the triumphs and growth we experience along the epic journey of life. The piece is a 10-minute soundscape to celebrate the dreams and aspirations that motivate us to become our best selves. The consistent use of perpetual motion throughout the texture of the orchestra is meant to capture the spirit of constantly traveling onward either philosophically or quite literally. I aspired to create a musical journey depicting the moments of discovery, innovation, and change that continually push us and our world into the future.

Witold Lutosławski: Concerto for Orchestra

The great Polish composer Witold Lutosławski was one of the master composers of the 20th century. And the span of his life, and the events he lived through, make interesting reading.

At the dawn of the 1900s, the composer’s father was a political activist campaigning for democracy and Poland’s freedom. At that period, the ancient Polish nation was still occupied and divided between the German and Russian Empires. During the First World War, as the German Army was advancing towards their home, the composer’s parents escaped with their three children to Moscow. Then came the Bolshevik Revolution. Lutosławski’s father was imprisoned and shot (the child was 5 years old). The rest of the family escaped back to the newly independent Republic of Poland, where the future composer grew up and received his education.

In September 1939, the Nazis invaded, and the now 26-year-old composer was drafted into the army, was captured by the enemy, escaped and found his way back to Nazi-occupied Warsaw where he earned a small living playing music in cafés. He survived. One of his brothers was not so lucky. He was taken prisoner by the Soviet Army and died in Siberia.

By the end of the war, Poland was occupied by the Russians and soon became a Communist state, controlled from Stalin’s Moscow. Lutosławski began to rebuild his life, but nearly all the music he had written before the war had been destroyed. He had to begin again, in a world where state officials were determined to control the nature and content of all the arts, including music.

Most of the music for which Lutosławski is now remembered dates from the later part of his life, from the 1960s, when he became the undisputed leader of Polish composers, performed and acclaimed all over the world, through the collapse of Communist Poland in 1989, to his death in 1994, when he was still busily travelling the world, composing and conducting his own music.

His Concerto for Orchestra is an early work in this trajectory, written after World War II, but when Poland was still politically and culturally isolated. He began it in 1950 and finished it four years later.

It’s an astonishingly impressive piece: powerful, brilliantly written for the orchestra, and  above all – clean, sinewy and classical in its outlines. There’s not a note out of place and not a note too many. Lutosławski says what he has to say and with terrific discipline keeps it at that.

At the period when he was writing this, the composer had become very interested the distinctive folk-music of several rather isolated forest communities of Mazovia, the area of Poland around the capital city Warsaw. These ancient tunes – including dances and songs – had been collected by a great scholar in the early 19th century, and for many Poles they represented a kind of essence of national identity. The melodies that especially fascinated this composer are mostly the dance-tunes, and they are very short and clipped. For Lutosławski these tunes not only enabled him to conjure up what he loved about his native land, but were perfect for symphonic development in an orchestral piece.

Lutosławski’s Concerto is divided into three movements. The first, Intrada, is a thrilling prelude. The second, Capriccio notturno ed Arioso (Nocturnal Caprice and Aria) alternate a wild whirling music (the nocturnal caprice!) with a disturbingly insistent melody. The Finale is itself divided into three miniature movements, which dissolve into one another: a Passacaglia (variations on refrain-like theme); a Toccata (very wild and virtuosic); and Corale (chorale), which is not so much a religious hymn as a kind of anthem, which grows louder and louder, like a crowd of people coming closer and closer, leading to a huge climax in the final moments.

Sergei Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30

A couple of months earlier in the season, we will have heard Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony, which he wrote at the start of a three-year period he spent living with his wife and two daughters in the German city of Dresden. His idea had been to break out of a heavy regime of international concert-giving – piano-playing and conducting – and spend more time with his family, away from political troubles in Russia and quietly able to get on with writing music.

Towards the end of this period however, financial considerations forced the composer to realize that he would have to take on a new schedule of concert-touring, and he accepted an invitation to take a major trip through the US, with solo recitals and concerto performances in many different cities, including the premiere of a new piano concerto with the New York Philharmonic.

So, this Third Piano Concerto, now one of the best-loved concertos in the whole symphonic repertoire, was begun in Germany and completed in the summer of 1909 in Rachmaninoff’s country-home in Russia, after which the composer-pianist set out on his journey across the ocean. In November of that year, Rachmaninoff gave the premiere in New York with the famous Walter Damrosch conducting. He then left New York to give concerts in other places.

At that period the directorship of the New York Philharmonic was shared by two conductors, Walter Damrosch and the great Gustav Mahler. Damrosch and Mahler did not see eye to eye, and when Mahler, who was not in New York for the Third Piano Concerto premiere, arrived and saw the score of the concerto, he asked the management to summon Rachmaninoff back to New York to give a second performance under his own direction. (In those days a Music Director could change their mind, sometimes even on the day, about what music was to be performed!)

Rachmaninoff, who was performing in Philadelphia at the time, returned to New York City to work with Mahler. What happened next, said Rachmaninoff, was one of the great musical experiences of his life. Speaking with his biographer in the 1930s, he said:

At that time Mahler was the only conductor whom I considered worthy to be classed with Artur Nikisch [the great Hungarian conductor who led the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Berlin Philharmonic]. He devoted himself to the concerto until the accompaniment, which is rather complicated, had been practiced to perfection, although he had already gone through another long rehearsal. According to Mahler, every detail of the score was important – an attitude too rare amongst conductors. Though the rehearsal was scheduled to end at 12:30, we played and played, far beyond this hour, and when Mahler announced that the first movement would be rehearsed again, I expected some protest or scene from the musicians, but I did not notice a single sign of annoyance. The orchestra played the first movement with a keen or perhaps even closer appreciation than the previous time.

What we might give to have been a fly-on-the-wall at such an encounter between two such great geniuses!

– San Diego Symphony Creative Consultant GERARD MCBURNEY

  • Jacobs Masterworks @ The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park

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Time 7:30 p.m.
Venue The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park
Ticket Price --

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Time 7:30 p.m.
Venue The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park
Ticket Price --

Buy Tickets

To prepare for Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra, it’s worth listening to the kind of folk music that he found so inspiring at that period. This recording is a delightful example.

And then go straight from that into the Frankfurt Radio Symphony playing Lutosławski’s reimagining of such music in his Concerto for Orchestra.

A truly historical recording of Rachmaninoff performing his own Third Piano Concerto. Listen for the magical stretching and compression of the different ideas, and utter freedom.

In this clip, our soloist Garrick Ohlsson gives his own masterclass in "9 Short Scenes" on the RACH 3!

The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park


The Rady Shell expanded culinary program — The Shell Provisions — offers an impressive range of local specialties from some of San Diego's finest eateries and locally sourced options ranging from casual to upscale. New state-of-the-art kitchens and dining spaces will make dining with your friends and family at The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park a memorable experience.

The Shell Provisions is brought to life by our local partners. These partners include some of San Diego's most talked-about favorites, like Chef Richard Blais, Urban Kitchen, Biga, Lola 55, Achilles Coffee, Wicked Popcorn, Kitchens for Good and Cali Cream.

(See all of your options, including our new, deliciously curated "Blais by the Bay" pre-order service, on our Dining Page!)

Please note: Food and beverages may not be brought in to The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park. In an effort to reduce waste, guests are welcome to bring one empty reusable plastic or aluminum water bottle only. Bottles can be filled at water refill stations inside the venue. Glass bottles are not permitted.