The Friends of the SPCO began planning for a chamber music competition for pre-college students in 2010. We formed a partnership with the SPCO staff and musicians and established an Advisory Board of prominent music supporters and experts in instrumental music.

The first competition was held in 2012 in the SPCO Center. Members of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra judged the DVD and Final rounds. Just three ensembles played in the first Finals/Winners recital.

Over the years we have added new elements. In 2013 we formed partnerships with MNSOTA (Minnesota String & Orchestra Teachers Association) and MacPhail Center for Music, and also we offered different levels of competition and introduced a Semifinal round.

In 2014 we adopted online application and had our first wind ensemble applications. The competition expanded its staff and budget to work on publicity and social media. And in 2016, we moved to a new venue—Sundin Hall at St. Paul’s Hamline University.

In 2018 we added a non-classical category called Creative. A jazz quintet performed in the Finalists recital. The competition was opened up to states surrounding Minnesota: Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota.

In 2019 we eliminated the Semifinal round and lowered our application fee to $50 for all ensembles. There was a record number of applications. And we created a Judges' Discretionary award. and an Audience Choice (non-monetary) award.