As he begins his sixth season as music director and conductor of the San Diego Symphony, Jahja Ling couldn't be happier. The orchestra is performing gloriously, it's financially sound, and it has a large and devoted audience, he said.
"My first season we closed with Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony and people were impressed, but I told them just you wait, you haven't heard anything yet."
Ling is not the only one who's impressed with the orchestra's progress. This year, the League of American Orchestras promoted the symphony to Group One ranking, a designation it shares with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony and the New York Philharmonic.
"That the orchestra is among the country's elite is something the community can be proud of," he said.
Its 2009-10 season opens the weekend of Oct. 2 at Symphony Hall and features one of the most challenging works in the chamber repertoire - Arnold Schoenberg's "Concerto for String Quartet." Based on Handel's work of the same title, it retains the lyricism, vivacity and tenderness of the original and adds none of Schoenberg's atonalism. "It is more Handel than Schoenberg," Ling said. "People should not be afraid of it."
The Takacs Quartet, who will also appear at this year's Gala on Oct. 3 at Qualcomm Auditorium, will perform the piece. Ling will join them for Schumann's "Piano Quintet." The orchestra will perform the Chamber version of Kodaly's "Dances of Galanta." A party featuring a dessert buffet, cocktails, games of chance and dancing will follow.
Ling is not the only world-class pianist performing with the symphony this season. Grammy Award winners Yefim Bronfman and Garrick Ohlsson will also appear. "Both are seasoned pianists who know the music well," Ling said. "Each has a special way of communicating with the orchestra and building a bond with it."
Bronfman will perform all five of Beethoven's Piano Concertos in late April. Ling is excited not only about the series, but the prospects of hearing the concertos played by Bronfman. "He is simply one of the best," Ling said.
Ohlsson is known for his amazing keyboard stretch. While still a student at Julliard, he won the International Chopin competition in Warsaw, the first American to do so. He remains one of the finest interpreters of the composer's music and will perform his "Second Piano Concerto" the weekend of Feb. 12.
This season's other not-to-miss concert Ling says is Mahler's "Das Lied von der Erde" with tenor Anthony Dean Griffey and soprano Jane Irwin the weekend of Nov. 20.
"It is one of the most beautiful compositions I have ever heard," he said. "It makes a profound emotional impact on the audience."
The season also will feature Mozart's "Requiem Mass" sung by the San Diego Master Chorale the weekend of Oct. 30. Legendary violinist Itzhak Perlman will give a recital on Jan. 24. Julie Budd will perform the songs of Streisand on Nov. 6 and 7. Kenneth Cole will play the Gershwin songbook on March 5 and 6. Marvin Hamlisch will conduct. He will return on April 9 and 10 with New York Voices, one of Gotham's best vocal jazz quartets.