Mainly Mozart goes big with 2021 Festival of Orchestras drive-in concerts, plans for Orange County expansion

Musicians at one of Mainly Mozart's first 2020 drive-in concerts
Musicians at one of Mainly Mozart’s first 2020 drive-in concerts, before the concerts were moved to the Del Mar Fairgrounds’ main parking lot. Mainly Mozart will hold its 2021 Festival of Orchestras in the main parking lot between February and June, and hopes to expand to the concerts to Orange County.
(Courtesy photo)

The concerts, which will showcase top national orchestra musicians, will be held in February, April and June at the Del Mar Fairgrounds and could be expanded to Orange County if the coronavirus pandemic eases


Mainly Mozart is gearing up for a big return to the Del Mar Fairgrounds, where it staged a series of groundbreaking 2020 drive-in concerts after the coronavirus pandemic shuttered indoor and outdoor concert venues across the country and around the world.

The 2020 drive-in concerts were the first such performances in the nation by an established classical-music presenter and paved the way for San Diego Opera’s subsequent drive-in performances of “La bohème” with members of the San Diego Symphony and La Jolla Music Society’s upcoming four Del Mar drive-in concerts in February by jazz great Wynton Marsalis.

Founded 33 years ago, Mainly Mozart will kick off its even more ambitious 2021 Festival of Orchestras in February with four drive-in performances. The all-star festival will continue with drive-in concerts in April and June, when it hopes to shift to a car-free outdoor venue, health regulations permitting, and expand significantly adding performances in Orange County.

June is the month when, between 2008 and 2019, the Mainly Mozart Festival Orchestra held court for multiple concerts in San Diego’s currently dark Balboa Theatre. The pandemic prompted last year’s move outdoors in Del Mar. The addition of February and April concerts marks a further growth for the intrepid nonprofit arts organization.

According to Mainly Mozart CEO and co-founder Nancy Laturno, the capacity for the February and April drive-in concerts will be 300 cars for each performance.

“June has a lot more question marks — who knows what the format will be then?” Laturno said. “What we do know is the concerts in June will be held on an outdoor stage, structured around the COVID-19 protocols of that time, and that people will either be socially distanced in cars or seated outdoors. There is zero chance we will go to an indoor venue in June.”

The February performances will showcase musicians from the Los Angeles Philharmonic and San Francisco Symphony. Most of those concerts will be conducted by violinist David Chan, the concertmaster of New York’s Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. The April concerts, for which Chan will again conduct, will pair members of New York’s Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and the Washington, D.C.-based National Symphony.

Festival of Orchestras tickets are now on sale at and prices and the schedule appear below. If all goes as planned, the April and June concerts will take place in Orange County as well as here. Original plans called for the February, April and June performances to be be held in San Diego and Orange counties. But the resurgent pandemic made it impossible to confirm the Orange County portion in time for the February concerts.

“In April, if it is allowed, we will have a hybrid of both drive-in and socially distanced outdoor seating,” said Laturno, who acknowledged the multiple challenges of planning and mounting a festival during a pandemic.

“To say that the (final details) for the concerts in June are still unknown is unthinkable. But, right now, everything is unthinkable,” she noted. “I have been in classical music and performing arts for my entire career, so I’m used to being adaptable. But I never imagined any environment like the one we are now in. There is no way to prepare yourself for this, except to run as fast as you can while being prepared to run in the opposite direction at a second’s notice.”

Mainly Mozart’s Festival of Orchestras

Tuesday, Feb. 9: Stravinsky’s “The Soldier’s Tale”

Thursday, Feb. 11: Bach & Mozart

Saturday, Feb. 13: Mozart, Tchaikovsky & “The Barber of Seville”

Sunday, Feb. 14: “The Four Winds of Mozart”

Tuesday, April 15: “String Favorites”

Friday, April 16: “Dazzling Winds”

Saturday, April 17: “Concerto Evening”

Sunday, April 18: All-Mozart concert

Thursday, June 10-Saturday, June 26: Mainly Mozart All-Star Festival Orchestra performances of works by Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn (exact dates will be announced pending final confirmation of venue and seating format)

Weekday performances are at 7 p.m.; weekend performances are at 6 p.m. Concerts will feature members of the San Francisco Symphony and Los Angeles Philharmonic, directed by David Chan, in February; members of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and National Symphony, conducted by Chan, in April; and the Mainly Mozart All-Star Festival Orchestra, conducted by Michael Francis, in June . Concerts last 75 minutes each, with no intermission.

Where: Del Mar Fairgrounds main parking lot, 2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd., Del Mar

Single tickets: $49 per vehicle for Section B parking; $100 per vehicle for Section A parking, for February and April concerts; and to-be-determined for the June concerts.

Series tickets: $350 for Section A parking and $175 for Section B parking for February and April concerts; $450 for Section A parking and $220 for Section B parking for June concerts. VIP tickets, available only to members of Mainly Mozart’s Club Amadeus, range from $500 to $1,500 and include from three to 12 tickets per membership.


— George Varga is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune