Interview: Lisa Nauful, San Luis Obispo Symphony

2013 is a big year for the San Luis Obispo Symphony. With three monumental anniversaries, two new soloist, and a brand new mascot on the way, the Symphony is working hard to keep classical music fresh and alive in SLO County.

Recently, I sat down with Lisa Nauful, Assistant Executive Director & Communications Director at the San Luis Obispo Symphony. We talked about the past and future of the Symphony, their immense role in music education across the county, and she introduced me to the Symphony’s new Mascot, “POPStar.”

Thanks for joining me, Lisa. It’s great to meet you. What brought you to work here to the Symphony? Do you play in the Orchestra?

Lisa head shot

Lisa Nauful, Assistant Executive Director & Communications,
San Luis Obispo Symphony

It’s great to meet you, too!  I do play in the orchestra; I’m the Principal Bassoonist and have been for the last two seasons. I’ll be starting my third season this year. I’ve devoted my life to playing— I graduated from the Eastman School of Music.  I also have been in PR and marketing at record companies for the last 20 plus years, so when this job came up, it was an ideal fit.

Besides concerts, what role does the Symphony play in the San Luis Obispo community?

We are an organization that brings music to you, your whole life.  If you are born at French Hospital you are given a CD of the Symphony. While in elementary school, you will probably experience one of the Symphony’s many music education programs. From there and if you practice, you could be a member of the Youth Symphony and then, of course, the Symphony Orchestra.  And yes, our Symphony orchestra musicians are paid.

Could you expand on the Symphony’s role in music education?

The Symphony dedicates nearly one third of our budget, a very big portion, to music education. Currently, we have eight music education programs and serve over 16,000 children across all of San Luis Obispo County. This includes Strings in the Schools, the Music Van, Musical Petting Zoo, amongst others.

Embarrassingly, I must admit, when I think of a symphony I think of high priced tickets and fancy clothes. It’s fascinating to learn about the impact of the Symphony on the community. If the San Luis Obispo Symphony folded up tomorrow, what would happen?

It would be deflating to a large number of folks.  It would affect 16,000 students; people would be unemployed. It would be heartbreaking to the classical music lovers in the community. There would be a huge void.

SLO County is all about the arts—it is so vibrant. We are very fortunate and proud to be a prominent force in our arts community.

Mike 2013 formal photo 425

Maestro Michael Nowak

The Symphony has some big anniversaries this year, including Maestro Michael Nowak’s 30th season.  What has he brought to the Symphony in his time here?

Over the last 30 years, Michael Nowak has guided and grown this orchestra from small beginnings to where we are now – a full sized orchestra that performs a full concert season at the beautiful hall in the Cohan Center at Cal Poly. He’s brought a very high level of musicianship to our area.

Mike’s out in the [SLO] community; he’s one of us. His home and his family are here – even though he has a vibrant career in LA as a session player and a movie score conductor – Most recently, he conducted the “Life of Pi” which won an Oscar for its musical score.

Well if it’s his 30th year he must love it. 

He does; he has a very deep affection for the orchestra and he’s deeply committed to it.

The Youth Symphony is also celebrating a big anniversary this year. Would you care to expand on that? 

We are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the San Luis Obispo Youth Symphony. It was started by a man named Wachtang “Botso” Korisheli. Now in his 90′s a documentary has been made that celebrates this wonderful mentor, teacher and artist.  It will be premiered at the Maine film festival in August.

Today, Nancy Nagano conducts the Youth Symphony.  They just got back from a whirl-wind tour which included a performance at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles as well as a concert in Chicago.

With the 2013/2014 season about to start, what are you most looking forward to?

First things first, Pops by the Sea! We’re celebrating the 30th birthday of our Pops [this year’s concert features pop music from 1984, Café Music and the Cuesta Chamber Singers]. It’s our 23rd year in Avila Beach, 30th overall—started by Mike [Nowak]. We’re going to have an all-out party this year; it’s going to be a blast!

Pops will also unveil our new mascot, a starfish we’re calling POPStar. Keep an eye out for POPStar; there will be many sightings and appearances in the community.

Secondly, October 5th is opening night which will be Classics in the Cohan featuring the world renowned violinist, Anne Akiko Meyers. [For information on the entire 2013-2014 Season, click HERE]

What makes you most excited about the future of the Symphony?

We’re excited to expand our audience reach; we want everyone—the whole county—to know about our education programs, our world premier recordings, our chamber music concerts and our concerts at the Cohan Center.  We will have another tour coming up and we will continue to commission new works…it’s busy, but tremendously exciting.

We’re also bringing in more world-class performers and introducing new soloists—it’s a great time to be with the Symphony!

Stage view of a Free Dress Rehearsal.

One last question. How does someone like me get introduced into classical music? Is there low-cost access for a 20-something on a short budget?

Yes! That’s an easy one. Every concert we put on has a free dress rehearsal the afternoon of the concert. Thanks to Rabobank and other local supporters, you can come in and sit down just like you would that night—except everyone’s in jeans and t-shirts. During the free dress, Maestro Nowak introduces the pieces to the audience.  It’s like a “behind the scenes” look at the Symphony.  The orchestra plays through the program they are performing that night. It is 100% free; however, we do pass a violin case around for support of our programs.

Most people come around 12:30 and it’s busting at the seams. It’s really amazing!

CoverFINALThanks, Lisa. It’s exciting to learn about all that the Symphony does and all the good you guys do for the community.

To find out more information, or to donate to any of the Symphony’s wonderful programs, give their website a visit: 


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