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San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra

Interior of Davies Symphony Hall, home to the San Francisco Symphony and the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra

The San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra (SFSYO) is the youth orchestra of the San Francisco Symphony and a key element of the symphony's community outreach and education programs. First organized in 1981, SFSYO has built a reputation as one of the finest youth orchestras in the world. The SFSYO performs an annual concert series, tours internationally, and has made several recordings.[1] The orchestra rehearses in Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall under Wattis Foundation Music Director Daniel Stewart, and celebrated its 35th anniversary season in 2017-2018. The San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra returned from its 11th international tour in 2019.


The SFSYO was first organized in 1981 by Edo de Waart, then music director of the San Francisco Symphony, and Jahja Ling, who became the SFSYO's first music director. Pianist and arts patron Agnes Albert (1908–2002) was also instrumental in its founding. The orchestra's inaugural concert came on January 17, 1982 with a performance of works by Brahms, Dvořák and Haydn, conducted by Ling. In 1986, the SFSYO went on the first of their eleven international tours to date and won the "Vienna Cup" at the Youth and Music Festival and competition in Vienna.[2] Throughout its history, the SFSYO has performed and recorded in some of the world's principal concert halls including the Elbphilharmonie, Royal Concertgebouw, Wiener Musikverein, Berliner Philharmonie, Mariinsky Theatre, Smetana Hall, and the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées.

Under German-born conductor Christian Reif, the SFSYO returned from their 11th international tour. The 17-day European summer tour consisted of six venues in Denmark, Germany, Austria, and Hungary, beginning with the Odense Konzerthaus, Tivolis Koncertsal, Elbphilharmonie, Berliner Philharmonie, Musikverein, and ending with the Budapest Summer Festival. Tour repertoire consisted of Symphony 1 in D Major: 'Titan' by Gustav Mahler, The Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto - with soloists Nicola Benedetti and Karen Gomyo, American Prelude No. 1 by Detlev Glanert. Encores included Slavonic Dance n° 2 in E minor, Op. 72 by Antonín Dvořák, Furioso Polka and Éljen a Magyar! by Johann Strauss II, as well as ending with singing the choral arrangement of Ubi caritas by Maurice Duruflé. Christian Reif joined the San Francisco Symphony as Resident Conductor and Wattis Foundation Music Director of the SFSYO in the 2016-17 season. Reif lead the orchestra in its 35th Anniversary Concert and Celebration on May 13, 2018, which included Stravinsky's Le Sacre du printemps, Fauré's Pelléas et Mélisande, and Ligeti's Concert Românesc.

Notable performances throughout the SFSYO's history include its 25th anniversary concert in May 2007 with a performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus and soloists from San Francisco Opera; [1] the 1996 performance of John Cage's Renga and Apartment House 1776 with four surviving members of The Grateful Dead joining the orchestra; the 2005 performance of Mahler's Symphony No. 1 (conductor Edwin Outwater's farewell concert as the orchestra's 5th Music Director); and the 2008 performance of Dvořák's New World Symphony in memory of the SFSYO's benefactor Agnes Albert.[3][4][5] In 2009, the orchestra also hosted and participated in the region's first Bay Area Youth Orchestra Festival at Davies Symphony Hall, which was again hosted at the hall in 2011, 2012, 2014, 2016, and 2018.

In September 2009, Donato Cabrera was named the 7th Music Director of the SFSYO and continued the orchestra's concert tradition of combining music by contemporary composers with that of the standard classical repertoire. During his tenure, the orchestra performed contemporary works by Christopher Rouse (Infernal Machine), John Adams (The Chairman Dances), and Gabriela Lena Frank (Latin American Dances for Orchestra).[6] In 2012, the SFSYO won a 2011-12 ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming of American Music on foreign tours.[citation needed] Later that year the orchestra released a recording of their performance of Mahler's Symphony No. 1 live at the Berliner Philharmonie. In 2015, the SFSYO was awarded the Best Orchestral Performance Award in the Bay Area for the 2014/2015 season by the San Francisco Classical Voice for their performance of Mahler's Symphony No. 5.[citation needed] In addition to its performance at Davies Symphony Hall, the SFSYO also performed Mahler's Symphony No. 5 at the Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da Udine, Berliner Philharmonie, Royal Concertgebouw, and Smetana Hall during their 2014/2015 season.


The SFSYO consists of approximately 100 musicians ages of 12-21 from the San Francisco Bay Area. They are chosen by audition and must be under the age of 20 by the time of their first rehearsal. Over the years, many of the orchestra's 1500 alumni have gone on to careers as professional musicians, including composer and pianist Anthony Cheung, winner of the First Prize at the 6th International Henri Dutilleux Competition and the Charles Ives Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters;[7] violinist Juliana Athayde, Concertmaster of the Rochester Philharmonic; Noah Bendix-Balgley, First Concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic; Nicholas Schwartz, Double Bassist of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra; Philip Munds, Principal French Horn of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra; Nathan Chan, Cellist of the Seattle Symphony; Christina Smith, Principal Flute of the Atlanta Symphony; Teddy Abrams, Music Director of the Louisville Orchestra; and Tim Genis, Principal Timpanist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.[8]


The SFSYO rehearses in Davies Symphony Hall weekly, the home of the San Francisco Symphony, whose members provide tuition-free instrumental coaching. The SFSYO performs multiple times per year in Davies Symphony Hall. Although the orchestra has its own music director, guest conductors such as Simon Rattle, Gustavo Dudamel, Herbert Blomstedt, John Adams (composer), Kurt Masur, Marek Janowski and the SFS's Music Director, Michael Tilson Thomas, also work with the young players on occasion. The orchestra performs an annual concert series in Davies Symphony Hall and each year gives Christmas performances of Peter and the Wolf with guest narrators who have included Richard Dreyfuss[9], Linda Ronstadt, Leonard Nimoy, Florence Henderson, Robin Williams, Rita Moreno, Sharon Stone, and Danny Glover.[10][11]

Tobias Picker whose orchestral work And Suddenly It's Evening was given its world premiere by the SFSYO in 1995

The SFSYO tours every few years; most frequently to Europe in the summer of 2019.

The SFSYO's tenth international tour was in the 2014-15 season, during which the orchestra performed in Milan, Udine, Ingolstadt, Berlin, Amsterdam, and Prague.

The SFSYO's 2017-2018 season includes a performance of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 featuring SFSYO Concerto Competition Winner Leyla Kabuli in November 2017, and the 35th Anniversary Concert and Celebration in May 2018.

Commissions and premieresEdit

The orchestra has a tradition of commissioning and premiering new works.[11] Works commissioned by the SFSYO have included:

Other works which have been premiered by the orchestra include:

Music directorsEdit


  1. ^ a b Kosman, Joshua (15 May 2007). "Youth Orchestra to cap 25 years with big blast from Beethoven", San Francisco Chronicle
  2. ^ Associated Press (21 July 1986). Orchestra Wins Cup". Los Angeles Times
  3. ^ Ross, Alex (19 June 1996). "A Parade of the Maverick Modernists, Joined by the Dead". New York Times
  4. ^ Kosman, Joshua (17 May 2005). "Youth orchestra does departing director proud". San Francisco Chronicle
  5. ^ Kosman, Joshua (20 May 2008). "Youth Orchestra flies high". San Francisco Chronicle
  6. ^ Kosman, Joshua (23 March 2010). "Music review: S.F. Symphony Youth Orchestra". San Francisco Chronicle
  7. ^ Harvard University Department of Music. (2003). "Cheung '04 Wins Award" Archived 2013-07-21 at the Wayback Machine, Newsletter, Vol. 3, No. 2, Summer, 2003. See also WQXR-FM, Anthony Cheung.
  8. ^ San Francisco Symphony. Youth Orchestra Profiles
  9. ^
  10. ^ Martinfield, Seán (29 November 2009). "Peter, the Wolf, the Ax, a 5th and Holiday Pipes". The San Francisco Sentinel
  11. ^ a b San Francisco Symphony. Youth Orchestra: Past Concerts 1982-2010
  12. ^ Kosman, Joshua (6 March 2009). "Preben Antonsen, 17, to show orchestral piece". San Francisco Chronicle.
  13. ^ Section sourced from San Francisco Symphony. Timeline of Youth Orchestra Landmarks

Tour ReviewsEdit

External linksEdit

See alsoEdit