Orchestra Spotlight: Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra

When thinking of Pittsburgh, PA, what comes to mind for you? Bridges? Steel? Amazing food? Nestled into the rich cultural patchwork of the city is a jewel of an organization that we feel should be on your radar — the storied Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra. Founded in 1945, the PYSO has enjoyed an excellent working relationship with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra since 1954. PYSO operates an an autonomous non-profit organization, but makes its home at Heinz Hall and benefits from the coaching guidance of PSO musicians and the Musical Directorship of Earl Lee, Associate Conductor with the PSO. 

The PYSO is a top tier youth orchestra program that draws talented players from the wider region; in fact, some students travel up to one and half hours to participate in weekly rehearsals at Heinz Hall! Orchestral membership varies in number from season to season, with a typical range of 80-105 members. Students are invited by way of competitive auditions. A typical performance season includes 2-3 free concerts at Heinz Hall and participation in 2-3 run-out concert series in the Pittsburgh area. Holding free concerts aligns with the PYSO’s efforts to introduce classical music to new and young audiences, and PYSO recognizes that many attendees may be experiencing classical music and/or Heinz Hall for the first time. 

Students of PYSO have the unique opportunity of participating in international concert tours scheduled every three years. Past performance circuits have included visits to Hungary, the Czech Republic, Austria, Germany, Italy, Spain, and China. In June of 2020, the PYSO will tour the Baltics and Scandinavia. In 2005, the PYSO was the first American Orchestra, as well as first Youth Orchestra, to perform at the Smetana Music Festival in Litomysl, located in the Czech Republic. 

All current PYSO members have the opportunity to participate in a Concerto Competition held annually at the start of the year. Winners are featured in the springtime concert; this May, high school senior Sophie Lauver will perform Keiko Abe’s Prism Rhapsody for marimba soloist with orchestra. Students interested in conducting can participate in an annual workshop/competition, which culminates in the opportunity conduct the PYSO under the guidance of a professional conductor. This year Earl Lee will adjudicate alongside Leonard Slatkin, who will also rehearse the orchestra. In the past, PYSO has provided unique opportunities for students with interest and talent in composition. In 2017, alumna Hannah Ishizaki (currently a composition student at Juilliard) was commissioned to write a piece for the PYSO to take on their 2017 tour. Ms. Ishizaki’s piece “City of Bridges” was premiered by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra prior to being performed by the PYSO on its international tour and in the Spring 2017 Heinz Hall concert. 

In addition to regular seasonal activity, the PYSO collaborates with the Three Rivers Young Persons Orchestra and the Duquesne University City Music Center in a program titled YC2, short for Youth Chamber Connection. Students from all three programs are assembled into chamber music groups which rehearse and receive coaching weekly. Student ensembles perform outreach programs in a variety of settings. Last year, 81 musicians in 19 ensembles gave 99 performances at over 60 events. An estimated 9,135 live audience members attended concerts, as well as an estimated 35,000+ listeners over radio and television broadcasts. The   YCprogram  has developed a summer partnership with the Chautauqua Institute in western NY state that provides students a weeklong retreat to focus on chamber music alongside orchestral playing. 

PYSO recognizes the integral role chamber music plays in developing a young player’s musicianship, and participants in the  YCare able to generate more performance opportunities and represent the PYSO in public performance. 

The PYSO maintains a healthy connection to its community of alumni, and in 2017 a blog area of the website was developed and dedicated to tracking news and accomplishments of members of PYSO past and present. PYSO reaches out to alumni regularly for information, has alumni representation on its Board, maintains a facebook page, and produces events for alumni to gather and strengthen relationships. 

For more information on the PYSO please check out the following!

·         PYSO News Blog

·         PYSO Facebook page

·         PYSO Alumni Facebook page

·         PYSO Video Gallery