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Megan Swan talks about San Diego Symphony’s Bayside Summer Nights

The San Diego Symphony Bayside Summer Nights concerts series 2017, formerly known as the Summer Pops, is an impressive variety in their line up; from classical, movie scores, Broadway musicals, to nostalgic 80’s pop it covers a lot of musical genres to appeal to everyone.   This broad appeal shows the versatility and range for the orchestra and the audiences alike, with soundtracks from movies like “Harry Potter” and “E.T.” shows that popular culture and the orchestra can be a wonderful combination.

Bayside Summer nights

Megan Swan, the symphony’s Associate Director of Artistic Planning, has a lot on her plate when planning a season.  She works and collaborates with marketing, management, and others on everything from designing the full summer artistic arc, as well as the logistics of putting on the show and making sure the artists have a place to stay.  It’s a massive undertaking to make sure that Bayside Summer Nights has something for everyone.  In a chat with Megan I got to ask her about how she plans programs as varied as this season, the rise of pop culture in more classic forms, and the admiration she has for everyone who plays in the orchestra.

How does one go about planning something like a summer orchestra season?

It starts with keeping our core traditions in our programming that has just become iconic to the orchestra and iconic to programs being presented out at the Bayside Summer nights like “Star Spangled Pops” to kick off the season, celebrating America and really celebrating our military families, that’s a core.  Making sure we are doing our end of season  “1812 Tchaikovsky Spectacular”performances, our Broadway night is a huge tradition that we are looking to continue and to become more creative with, and our “Hooray for Hollywood” and getting the films out there and really embark on creating more relevance and broad appeal while still sticking to our traditional programming. It’s a lot of talking with people, puzzle pieces and creative and artistic puzzle solving.

Another thing is: what does our orchestra need?  We have a world class orchestra; an absolutely phenomenal orchestra in this city.  It is important for us in planning it that we are making sure that we are stimulating them artistically too. 

Who can these artists collaborate with artistically that there is going to be growth and stimulation happening throughout the season happening for them as well?  We’re trying to connect the energy that happens in the audience to really happen on stage; where it is a collaboration ad we are saying something.  Every performance is different and we really want that felt all the way around.

Pop Culture is a genre that has seen steady growth in the classical word, including in the summer orchestra series.  How do you find the fit of pop culture in a classical setting?

We are really celebrating all the different art forms that go into pop culture, when often time’s only one type is celebrated.  It still stays true to why we do it now is, we are celebrating the music that happens with this.  It’s not just music that someone sits down at a keyboard and pops out really quick, so it can kind of match the visuals.  It’s the visuals, whether it is video games or movies, which inspire the composers to think completely outside of the box and create something that not only supports the visuals but starts to evolve with it.  For the video games it is amazing that these composers that are writing music for video games are the real deal, they are really musicians who are using music for what it is: it moves you, it changes the mood, it effects your mindset and so I think we still look at it as a chance to bring light to and celebrate every little piece of the art form, especially the musical and compositional aspects of it.

There are two things that can pull you back to a memory in your life it is smells and music. When you are presented with music in a powerful way, like when there’s an entire orchestra in front of you playing the song that pulls you back to the mod, or the time, or the place that is powerful.   When there are these move is that are important to us or are a reflection of a time in our life, to have that come at you with such power, it’s a really moving experience.  We know that and that’s where we are coming at it from.

As a musician (Megan plays the trumpet), working with musicians, what is it that you wish people would know more or realized about the orchestra?

I don’t know that this is unknown, but what I find so incredibly interesting, and I think it is really powerful to know that every single person sitting on that stage has dedicated their life not just to their instrument and practicing, more hours than you can count just to be proficient on a professional level but that’s not why they’re there.

If you have a group of sometimes up to 100 people on the stage who have each dedicated their life to making art; that every time they sit down they are putting a piece of their soul out there.  It doesn’t matter what the piece of music is.

Because trust me, there is no one who wants to spend their life locked in a practice room, that’s not the draw.  This is something that everyone on stage has a calling to do.  Especially this orchestra, I can say this firmly; they show up every single time.  So in the audience you are getting all of these people who have this individual point of view who decide that every day we are going to come together and make art together.  If you listen to it room that point of view then there are a whole bunch of additional colors and magic to the performance.

Bayside Summer Nights has concerts throughout the summer!  To see their concert calendar go to

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