Prior to 1975, the orchestra program at St. Olaf College consisted of the St. Olaf College Orchestra. A second orchestra was started in 1975 to accommodate the college's growing numbers of younger string players. Thus the St. Olaf Chamber Orchestra began as a 12-member string ensemble.
The late Professor Emerita Beatrix Lien founded the group and led it during its first two years. Associate Professor Dr. Andrea Een served as conductor from 1977-1994. During this period the size of the string ensemble grew, and eventually winds and percussion were added to the ensemble. In 1996, when it became a full-sized symphony orchestra, the name was changed from The St. Olaf Chamber Orchestra to The St. Olaf Philharmonia. From 1994-2006 the 87-member Philharmonia was conducted by Dr. Jo Ann Polley. J. Robert Hanson conducted the 2006-2007 season followd by Steven Amundson conducting the 2007-2009 seasons. At present, The 90 member St. Olaf Philharmonia is conducted by Martin Hodel.
The Philharmonia performs music from all periods, including repertoire for string orchestra, chamber orchestra and symphony orchestra. Rehearsing twice weekly, membership consists of first-year through senior students. Virtually every academic major offered on campus is pursued by one or more students in this musical organization. The concert season consists of a fall concert, a chapel service, and a spring concert with a weekend tour.