The Central Oregon Symphony is a community-based orchestra, the success of which is grounded in the tremendous generosity of its members who volunteer their time and talent for the love of orchestral music. The ensemble was formed in 1967 as a part of the expanding Central Oregon Community College Fine Arts Department. The first conductor of the COS was Tom Heron, who served in that position for two years. Edward Kammerer led the ensemble the following season, and in 1970 Jerry Yahna was appointed to the post.
The continued growth of the COS prompted the hiring of Charles Hens as concertmaster and orchestra manager in 1976. During the 1980-81 season Hens was appointed as the conductor of the orchestra while Jerry Yahna was on sabbatical leave. Charles Heiden was appointed to the concertmaster position during this season, and when Yahna resigned as conductor of the COS in January of 1982, Heiden was appointed to this position. Heiden served as conductor until his retirement in 1994.
The next two years were a time of great change for the COS. During the 1994-95 season, four guest conductors were invited to lead the orchestra: Kenneth Steiger, Art Shaw, Keith Anderson, and Pamela Goad. Searching for stability, Charles Hens was again called upon to lead the orchestra during the 1995-96 season. Hens appointed Bob Armer to the orchestra manager position and they, along with the help of the relatively new Central Oregon Symphony Association, devised a plan that dramatically increased concert attendance. Mr. Armer was subsequently named as the Executive Director of COSA. A nation-wide search was held to fill the conductorship of the COS, and in the fall of 1996, Michael Gesme began his tenure with the orchestra.
From modest beginnings the orchestra has grown to become a major player in the local fine arts scene. The orchestra first performed in the cafetorium of Pilot Butte Middle School and numerous other regional venues as COCC did not yet have a performing arts space. After the completion of the Pinckney Center for the Arts in 1983, the orchestra concerts were moved to the college campus. By the mid 1990's, the orchestra and its audience had outgrown that space and concerts were transferred to the Mountain View High School Auditorium. Because of the tremendous groundswell of community support for the COS, this facility soon became inadequate for seating all interested patrons.
For the 1997-98 season the concerts were again moved to a new location, this time to the 1400 seat Bend High School Auditorium. The audience base continued to grow, and within three years, all available seats were taken for both the Saturday and Sunday performance series. In the spring of 2000, the orchestra musicians voted 56-0 in favor of adding a third performance to each concert weekend, providing the opportunity for even more individuals to attend. The attendance for 2015-2016 was just under 8,300 patrons.