SLO County classical music event, the Mozaic Festival, turns 50

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Mozaic Festival Music Director Scott Yoo in concert.

San Luis Obispo County’s first classical music festival began 50 years ago under another name, Mozart Festival.

It was a modest start with three concerts over three days.

Now known as the Mozaic Festival, the event has grown into a multi-site celebration of world-class music.

The coronavirus pandemic has derailed most live events, including the Mozaic Festival, in 2020, but live music returns to local stages this summer.

This year’s Mozaic Festival takes place July 24-31 at venues such as DANA Adobe & Cultural Center in Nipomo, Serra Chapel in Shandon and SLO Brew Rock and the Performing Arts Center in San Luis Obispo. Some events are already sold out.

Although festival organizers are offering a limited list of concerts and dinners this year due to COVID-19, a landmark celebration will take place next year.

When the Mozart Festival began in 1971, founder Clifton “Clif” Swanson wanted the festival to have high musical standards but also to be accessible.

Classical music performances were the cornerstone of the festival, and as the annual event matured, this helped spark the desire to build a performing arts center in San Luis Obispo.

In addition to concerts in official concert halls, the festival offers free fringe events at less traditional venues such as Mission Plaza in downtown San Luis Obispo.

Academic lectures were offered for those who wanted to get behind the music.

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John Pillow and Lindsey Wilcox arrive as Mozart and wife Constanze for the opening of the Mozart Festival at Mission Plaza on July 18, 2003. Joe Johnston [email protected]

From time to time, the festival’s namesake, Austrian classical composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, showed up to promote the summer season.

Journalist Coleen Bondy wrote of such a visit on July 18, 1996:

“Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his wife Constanze, dressed in lots of lace and gold thread ornaments, sat sipping German beers on the balcony of the Rhythm Cafe on Thursday afternoon.”

“’I don’t speak English,’ Mozart brazenly replies to a journalist bold enough to approach him.

“Okay, so it wasn’t really Mozart and his wife, but a pair of impostors in a hurry to go on duty to promote the 26th annual Mozart Festival.”

Scott Yoo became the music director of the festival in November 2004, when Swanson stepped down after leading the event for 35 years.

The event changed its name to Festival Mozaic in 2008 to reflect its eclectic range of performances ranging from jazz and folk to baroque music. After a brief community debate, the festival resumed bringing world-class music to the region.

For more information on the Mozaic Festival, call 805-781-3009 or visit www.festivalmozaic.org.

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David Middlecamp is a third generation photojournalist and Cal Poly graduate who has covered the Central Coast region since the 1980s. A career that began developing and printing black and white films now includes a pilot’s license from drone certified by the FAA. He also writes the historical column “Photos of the safe”.


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Willie J. Johnson

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