Sunsets and Vivaldi

At Festival Mozaic, I get the chance to experience three beautiful concerts at three even more beautiful San Luis Obispo County locales

SHANDON — The folks at Festival Mozaic know a thing or two about good timing. As the last rays of the sun scrape over an adjacent ridge, the professional chamber orchestra before me begins the final movement of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.” Music spills out the open doors of the small and spectacular Serra Chapel, a Mission-style building situated high atop one of the rolling hills a few miles outside Paso Robles, and into the tiled courtyard where I’m sitting. By the time the music has ended and the 500 or so people squeezed into the space have risen to applaud, the sky has darkened to black, the stars emerged and the broiling temperature has dipped to goose-pimple cool.

Hilltop serenade: The audience at Festival Mozaic before the July 22 concert at Serra Chapel in Shandon begins. Photos / The Munro Review

It’s a glorious way to conclude a concert of classical music.

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On the Central Coast, Festival Mozaic blends music and gorgeous locales

San Luis Obispo County provides the backdrop for a notable festival focusing on orchestral and chamber music

For nearly 50 years, Festival Mozaic has been one of the jewels of San Luis Obispo County’s cultural scene. Over a period of nearly two weeks, world-class musicians and enthusiastic audiences intersect in a series of chamber and orchestral concerts held in notable venues, from the venerable downtown San Luis Obispo mission to a ritzy private chapel in far-flung Shandon.

Shandon concert: The private Serra Chapel is the setting for one of Festival Mozaic’s most anticipated events. Photo / Festival Mozaic

I’ve always wanted to attend, and this year I’m going to check it off my To-Do Cultural List. The festival kicks off today (Wednesday, July 19) and runs through July 30. I’ll be there for the first weekend, on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are still available for most of the events on the schedule.

In the meantime, I talked by phone with music director Scott Yoo, who has been with the festival since 2005. (He brings impeccable musical credentials; in February 2016 he was named artistic director of the Mexico City Philharmonic.) With his help, here are Five Things to Know About Festival Mozaic:


There’s a lot in a name: Founded in 1971, it used to be known as the San Luis Obispo Mozart Festival. The name change to Festival Mozaic came in 2008. In terms of programming you can expect a healthy dose of Mozart, but there’s so much more, including early music, period instrument concerts, jazz, contemporary music, opera, chamber music, solo recitals and world music. Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Charles Ives and Olivier Messiaen are all composers you’ll encounter.

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In the heart of gold country

On the road: At the Angels Camp Museum, you get a taste of the tough life of a gold miner

ANGELS CAMP — There are lots of reasons I’m glad I wasn’t living in the late 19th century: indoor plumbing, high-index prescription glasses, the New York Times on my phone.

But on this sunny Sunday afternoon in Gold Rush country, thanks to the first-rate Angels Camp Museum, I’m particularly thankful that I wasn’t around to work in a gold mine. It sounds like being a gold miner was a pretty awful job.

Photograph of a bottle
Soda collection: a vintage bottle on display at the Angels Camp Museum. Photos / Donald Munro

Driving through Angels Camp (120 miles from Fresno), with its Spaghetti Western historic buildings and nostalgically named Bret Harte High School, it’s easy to overlook the gritty and dangerous reason people started living here in the first place. You’d never know that underneath the smoothly paved Highway 49 running through town, whose placid surface would likely astonish old-time carriage passengers used to bouncing along bumpy dirt roads, a vertical shaft plunging 1,000 feet into the ground still exists.

Miners would slowly ride in cages down that shaft, stopping at various tunnels and caverns burrowed deep beneath the surface. Some set off explosives. Others hacked out great quantities of rock. The unluckiest (and most poorly paid) toiled underground crushing that rock, separating out the part they knew wouldn’t contain gold, then shoveling it back into tunnels so it wouldn’t have to be hauled to the surface.

As I stand in the museum’s surprisingly large building devoted to mining and ranching, crammed with vintage equipment and a mechanical scale-model depiction of a local stamp mill, I consider for a moment my own perceptions of Gold Rush-era life.

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