During the latter half of the eighteenth century, while Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was composing and performing all over Western Europe, on the other side of the world in California, something was happening. Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa was founded in 1772 by Father Junipero Serra, linking a small Chumash village to El Camino Real and the rest of the California Missions.
200 years later, in 1971, a group of visionary people started a music festival in the pastoral community now known as San Luis Obispo. The Festival honored Mozart and all the musical genius and inspiration that his name embodies. This effort was led by Cal Poly Professor and bassist Clifton Swanson.
The first festival began modestly with three performances over a weekend, featuring music by Bach, Brahms, Stravinsky, and of course Mozart. The price of admission to a concert was $2.50 ($1.50 for students). Over the years, the festival grew rapidly to six, nine, and then eleven concerts. By the mid-1980s, the San Luis Obispo Mozart Festival had grown to 20 concerts each summer, including orchestral, chamber, and choral music led by John Russell. In 1981, the Festival played a special role in history with a concert given by Dmitri and Maxim Shostakovich with cellist Mstilav Rostropovich, after their successful defection from the Soviet Union.
Clifton Swanson served as Music Director until 2005. During the decades of his tenure as Music Director, the Festival hosted luminaries such as Edgar Meyer, the Kronos Quartet, Turtle Island String Quartet and many stars of the classical music world, including Richard Goode, Hilary Hahn, Jeffrey Kahane, and many others. In 2005, Swanson passed the baton to conductor and virtuoso violinist Scott Yoo.
Over its nearly five decades, the Festival has offered an ever-expanding range of programming, including early music, jazz, contemporary music, opera, world music, and new commissions and world premieres. These concerts have taken place in a variety of venues, including the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa.
In 2007, the Festival launched a year-round presence with its popular WinterMezzo Chamber Music Series. In 2008, the Festival adopted the brand “Festival Mozaic” to more accurately depict the full spectrum of music performed at the festival and to differentiate itself from the dozens of other Mozart Festivals around the world. In 2009, Scott Yoo debuted the Notable Encounter Series, which is designed to teach 21st century audiences about classical music as an art form. Since the Notable Encounter series' launch, these programs have become the foundation for all Festival programming and were the inspiration for Scott Yoo's PBS television program, Now Hear This.
In 2019, our 49th season, the Festival continued its artistic evolution, bringing the world’s best musical influences to San Luis Obispo County through performances and informative educational music experiences. The Festival draws visitors from around the state, country and the world to its events each year to enjoy the bounty of our region and our warm hospitality. As we enter our 50th year, we could not be more excited about what the future holds for Festival Mozaic.
Through performances in San Luis Obispo County's many diverse venues, and by providing multiple points of entry into the world of classical music, Festival Mozaic deepens the experience for its participants. Our programs provide access to the art form through professional performances by outstanding visiting artists, outreach, education, dialogue, and content creation.
Festival Mozaic is a vital community asset that provides a premier destination music experience unique to San Luis Obispo County, appealing to a wide-ranging demographic by enriching and transforming the way people hear and interact with classical music.
At Festival Mozaic, we, the board, staff, and volunteers, pledge to:
Each summer and throughout the year in the heart of California’s Central Coast, Festival Mozaic brings together music lovers to enjoy premier concerts and related events in a festive and stimulating atmosphere. The Festival was founded in 1971 to honor the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, whose influence lives on in the mosaic of classical music, composers, and performers. More than just a series of concerts, the Festival is an immersive experience, where the music is elevated by the backdrop of beautiful San Luis Obispo County. The Festival’s venues are intrinsic to the identity of the Festival, and the scenic beauty and lifestyle of the Central Coast is celebrated along with the art form of classical music.