The "Cal Poly Little Symphony" (1960s)

During the mid-1960s, an orchestra was formed by Music Department faculty member Emanuel Heifetz with the title “Cal Poly Little Symphony.” Comprised of a combination of Cal Poly students, community performers, and violin students of Mr. Heifetz, the orchestra played a wide repertoire of works, taking advantage of the strong points of the ensemble.

Clifton Swanson joined the music faculty in the Fall of 1967 and was asked to assume responsibility for the orchestra due to Mr. Heifetz’s health problems. Comprised of 17 members, the Little Symphony performed its first public concert under Clifton Swanson in November. The program was Mozart’s Symphony No.1 and his Horn Concerto No. 3 with Jane Swanson, soloist. Held during the 11 o’clock University Hour, the concert lasted 24 minutes!

Cal Poly Chamber Orchestra (late 1960's - 1979)

Cal Poly Chamber Orchestra in 1972Clif Swanson with the Cal Poly Chamber Orchestra in 1972

Within two years the orchestra changed its name to the Cal Poly Chamber Orchestra and grew to approximately 35 musicians. It rapidly established an excellent reputation and featured fine soloists including cellists Gabor Rejto and Jeffrey Solow, guitarist Laurindo Almeida, flutist Louise DiTullio, and violinist David Abel.

Through the ensuing years the Cal Poly Chamber Orchestra played an important role in departmental performances. Many students were featured as soloists with the orchestra, and alumni look back fondly on performances of various piano and harpsichord concerti in collaboration with Ron Ratcliffe through the years. Also memorable were the annual tours of California missions in conjunction with the University Singers conducted by John Russell.

Combined with the SLO Symphony (1979 - 1992)

When the San Luis Obispo Symphony began holding its regular rehearsals at Cal Poly in 1979, Mr. Swanson combined the two orchestras in order to give students opportunities to perform larger works. The Cal Poly Chamber Orchestra was an informal title given to the performing ensemble through the years.

Cal Poly Chamber Orchestra once more (1992 - 2004)

In the spring of 1992, students expressed the interest that an orchestra be reestablished to more fully serve students who might not have time or be available to the San Luis Obispo Symphony. In response to this request, Dr. Frederick Lau assumed the role of conductor and restored the orchestra to full activity for almost ten years.

In 2000, Clifton Swanson returned as conductor of the Chamber Orchestra which continued to grow in size, enabling it to perform a broader and more challenging repertoire.

Cal Poly Symphony (2004 - present)

In 2004, David Arrivée joined the music faculty and became the orchestra's new director. Building on changes put in motion by Clif Swanson, the orchestra has since embarked on a new stage of growth.

First, the orchestra officially changed its name to the Cal Poly Symphony to reflect the nature of its repertoire and long-range goals. Since that time, the group has grown to a full symphony orchestra of approximately 90 players and has performed exemplary repertoire for full orchestra (see our Past Seasons).  

The Symphony has gone on tours across California, playing for high schools and enjoying the culture of such centers as San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.  In 2012, the orchestra embarked on its first tour out of the state, performing as the showcase ensemble of the Washington DC International Music Festival in the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and in 2016, the orchestra completed its first international tour, to Central Europe.  See our Tours page for more information.

During the 2020-2021 season, the Symphony adapted to the Covid pandemic by rehearsing in separate groups (strings inside, winds outside, players at home) and producing video concerts.  Check out our YouTube channel to see the results of this massive re-tooling effort.

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