Mainly Mozart & San Diego

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On July 11th, 2020, the United States was still in the thick of the COVID pandemic. Arts organizations had been shuttered for months and artists across the country had lost both their means of expression and source of income. Yet, it was on that day that San Diego would begin to earn its reputation as an oasis for arts-starved audiences and artists, with access to live performance and live music in a manner unprecedented in the rest of the United States.


On that day, Mainly Mozart became the country’s first major arts organization to perform live music in front of live audiences since the pandemic began. As was first reported by Newsweek and then by the Wall Street Journal, the evening was a socially distanced drive-in concert performed at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, with an octet made up of principal players from the Los Angeles Philharmonic and San Diego Symphony. Tickets were offered free of charge: Mainly Mozart’s gift to arts-starved San Diegans.

The enthusiasm and demand were tangible. From stage, San Diego Symphony concertmaster Jeff Thayer shared with GB Magazine what an emotional moment it was for him; “I cannot tell you how much it means to all of us to be on this stage. For four months we have been unable to perform, to do what we have spent our lives doing.” Through the generosity of its donors, what was planned as a one-off concert became a nearly thirty-concert series of drive-in concerts that stretched through April 2021.

The San Diego Opera would soon follow suit with its own drive-in series, and would go on to perform California’s first live opera post-COVID. San Diego Opera’s General Director David Bennett shared, “The innovation and creativity demonstrated in Mainly Mozart’s drive-in concerts have served as an inspiration to me, as a fellow arts leader. Mainly Mozart has shown that with careful planning we can come together as a community, safely, to enjoy live performances during this challenging time.”

One year later, in June 2021, Mainly Mozart was back to performing in person, sans cars. Audiences responded in a huge way. Mainly Mozart’s average attendance grew nearly 600% and its online following grew 1700% compared to pre-pandemic figures.

A San Diego institution for more than 30 years, Mainly Mozart is best known for its annual All-Star Orchestra Festival. Every June, concertmasters and principal players from the world’s top orchestras – including the New York Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, Chicago Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic, and dozens more – all gather together to perform under the baton of Music Director Michael Francis.

This summer, the Mainly Mozart All-Star Orchestra will split performances between two venues: the Del Mar Surf Cup Sports Park on June 15, 17 and 18, and UC San Diego’s new Epstein Family Amphitheater on June 22 and 24.

For those interested in becoming involved with Mainly Mozart or learning more, please visit


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Esteban Villanueva