The San Luis Obispo Symphony was first established as the Morro Bay Community Orchestra - a small group of 11 musicians loosely organized by Morro Bay Presbyterian Church organist Esther Hoisington.
The group continues to grow and moves to San Luis Obispo, becoming part of the adult education program. The group changes its name to the San Luis Obispo Community Orchestra, under the baton of Lucian Morrison, a long-time music teacher in San Luis Obispo schools.
A group of prominent local arts advocates, led by Mrs. Alice Parks Nelson, initiates the incorporation of the San Luis Obispo County Symphony Association to provide an opportunity for talented young artists from the area to perform with a quality community orchestra. A competition, known as The Alice Nelson Music Scholarship Competition, will feature each year's winners as a guest soloist. (Anniversary years are celebrated from the date of incorporation - 1961.)
On June 7, 1962, John Visser of Arroyo Grande soloed in the opening movement of Mendelssohn's G minor Piano Concerto as the first winner of the Monday Club Music Scholarship Award. The orchestra is conducted by Loren Powell.
Cuesta College becomes the sponsor of the SLO County Symphony and Dr. Earle Blakeslee, head of the Fine Arts Division becomes its conductor. During Dr. Blakeslee's tenure, performances are moved to the newly renovated Cuesta Auditorium. The SLO County Youth Symphony is also formed this year, led by Morro Bay music teacher Dr. Wachtang "Botso" Korisheli.
The first "Symphony for Youth" children's concert is performed, inaugurating a tradition of Symphony programs for children.
Dr. Blakeslee steps down as conductor, and is followed briefly by Daniel Kepl before Clifton Swanson is hired as Music Director. Dr. Swanson is also a founder of the San Luis Obispo Mozart Festival. During his thirteen years of leadership the orchestra enjoys substantial artistic growth.
The Symphony celebrates 25 years on the Central Coast and the Music Director, Michael Nowak, is hired. Nowak served as the Symphony's Music Director for 31 years. His final performance with the orchestra was Classics at the Cohan on May 2, 2015. A violist and conductor, Michael brought tremendous enthusiasm for contemporary American music to the Symphony.
The Symphony initiates a series of music symposia and an extensive Music Education Program that now serves more than 16,000 children and adults every year.
The Symphony commissions and records a CD of Dr. Craig Russell's Concierto Romantico with Spanish classical guitarist Jose Maria Gallardo del Rey.
No Ties Allowed! Symphony Dress Rehearsals is established. Individuals and families are welcome to attend dress rehearsals on Saturday's at 11 a.m. as part of Symphony's Music Education Outreach. Children 14 years and younger are free.
The Symphony enters its third sold-out season at the Performing Arts Center and adds a fifth Classics concert to its already impressive musical season.
Bridging the Centuries is the theme for the 39th Symphony Season and Dr. Craig Russell is commissioned once again, this time to compose a Rhapsody for Horn and Orchestra. Written specifically with horn player Richard Todd in mind, a concert and a recording are planned for the Spring of 2000.
The San Luis Obispo Symphony celebrates its 40th Anniversary Season! Beginning with a gala opening night at the Performing Arts Center and culminating with a performance at New York's Carnegie Hall in April, 2001.
The Symphony performs at Carnegie Hall presenting two works by composer Craig Russell and featuring Jose Maria Gallardo del Rey, Guitar soloist and Richard Todd, French Horn soloist. The hall is full and the performance earns two standing ovations!
The 41st Anniversary Season opens on October 13, 2001. Highlights for this season include a performance by acclaimed German bass baritone Thomas Quasthoff on March 17th.
The Symphony expands its season schedule to include a series of Chamber concerts at the new Clark Center for the Performing Arts in Arroyo Grande. Under the artistic direction of 2001 Grammy award winner Kathleen Lenski, Sundays in the Clark premiered November 24 with Vivaldi's The Four Seasons.
Composer Craig Russell's Rhapsody for Horn and Orchestra, a San Luis Obispo Symphony CD released in 2000 and premiered at Carnegie Hall in 2001, is re-released on the Naxos Record label. The album is now available at record stores everywhere and at amazon.com.
A series of photographs are taken of Symphony Principal Players by local photographer Karen McLain. The photos show the players in outdoor settings around San Luis Obispo County. An exhibit of these photographs is held throughout October and November at the Performing Arts Center in San Luis Obispo.
The Symphony celebrates 20 years with a season of "Music & Memories."
Tour 2006 takes the Symphony to New South Wales, Australia for a performance at the Sydney Opera House in June!
An extensive new Music Education program is launched. Everyday Etudes "brings classical music to the classroom and the classroom to the concert hall" in local elementary schools. "Apex for Kids" brings another Children's Concert to the Symphony season in the fall. The Symphony also merges with the SLO County Youth Symphony creating a complete continuum of music education programs from pre-school through high school graduation!
Performances at Hearst Castle and Walt Disney Concert Hall highlight 2008. At Hearst Castle, the Symphony performs as "the band" for an exclusive showing of a Marion Davies silent film. And at Walt Disney Concert Hall, the music of Craig Russell receives three standing ovations!
A Classics Season features great artist as Anne Akiko Meyers. "I'm with the Band!" the San Luis Obispo Symphony Volunteer Association is launched.
Pops Rocks when the Damon Castillo Band performs at Pops by the Sea to kick-off the 49th Symphony Season. Cellist Lynn Harrell performs Elgar's Cello Concerto at the Performing Arts Center and longtime Executive Director Sandi Sigurdson steps down from her post after fifteen years at the helm.
The 50th Anniversary Season begins with new Executive Director Brian Hermanson and an ambitious schedule of 50 events for 50 years! Favorites artists such as Zuill Bailey, Anne Akiko Meyers, Jose Maria Gallardo del Rey and Shunske Sato return to light up the stage at the Christopher Cohan Center. Two world premiere compositions are commissioned by the Maestro: Glosas by Jose Maria Gallardo del Rey receives its premiere in March and Celebrations, written to be performed by both the Youth Symphony and the Symphony, receives its premiere in May. Rounding out this landmark season is a sold-out New Year's Eve concert with soprano Maria Jette and Beethoven's immortal Ninth Symphony to end the season on May 7 and 8th.
After serving for eight years on the Board of Directors, Jim Black steps up as Executive Director when Brian Hermanson returns to the East Coast. The Apex for Kids Family Concert makes its return to the Symphony schedule featuring Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and the Symphony returns to the North County, performing the music of Bach at the newly renovated Mission San Miguel.
Change comes to the San Luis Obispo Symphony in 2016 as it begins planning a search for a new music director. Five final candidates are selected from 134 applicants. All candidates bring international conducting experience and lead prominant orchestras. Final candidates are Andrew Sewell, Music Director Wisconisin Chamber Orchestra; Jose-Luis Novo, Music Director Annapolis Symphony Orchestra; Nan Washburn, Music Director Michigan Philharmonic; David Handel, Principal Guest Conductor of the Moscow City Symphony - Russian Philharmonicand Rei Hotoda, Associate Conductor, Dallas Symphony Orchestra.