Youth Orchestra Spotlight: Philadelphia Youth Orchestra

The Philadelphia Youth Orchestra at Verizon Hall, home of The Philadelphia Orchestra

Celebrated as one of the strongest youth orchestra programs in America, the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra is approaching its 80th season as a cornerstone of opportunity for young musicians of the tri-state area. The Philadelphia Youth Orchestra, or PYO, is renowned for its standards of excellence in musicianship and performance. Young musicians come together from over 20 surrounding counties, some traveling up to 70 miles, for weekly rehearsals (always free and open to the public – Saturday mornings at St. Patrick’s Church Hall in Rittenhouse Square!) The entirety of the PYO program includes three full orchestras, an introductory string ensemble, a brass ensemble, and the spirited Tune Up Philly division – an El-Sistema inspired program and the first of its kind for the Philadelphia area.

Now in the middle of its 79th season, the quality of the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra was forged in consistent quality leadership. At the helm from 1954 until 2005, Maestro Joseph Primavera left an indelible stamp of excellence on the organization and fostered countless generations of young musicians during his tenure. In fact, Maestro Primavera holds the unique distinction of longest tenured active conductor in the world for the work he did with PYO. The proof is in the pudding: PYO boasts such notable alumni musical superstars as Sara Chang, Christian McBride, and Eric Owens. There are over 10 PYO alumni playing in the esteemed Philadelphia Orchestra, with many other alumni having moved on to active roles of leadership in the musical scene of Philadelphia. Chances are if you know an excellent musician from the Philadelphia area, they’ve been a part of the PYO program!

PYO is currently led by Music Director, President, and CEO Maestro Louis Scaglione. Maestro Scaglione’s work with PYO dates back over 20 years, and in 2005 Maestro Primavera chose Scaglione as his successor. Under the professional and celebrated leadership of Maestro Scaglione, the PYO organization has added several divisions, continued to tour internationally, and has maintained its gravity in attracting and developing the most talented young musicians in the area. We here at the Philadelphia International Music Festival are fortunate to have a wonderful working relationship with Maestro Scaglione; you will find him conducting our top orchestra at the PIMF July Summer Festival!

As Music Director, Maestro Scaglione oversees an organization that includes seven large ensembles. PYO’s flagship youth orchestra is supported by two development orchestras: the Young Artists Orchestra and the Young Musician’s Orchestra. These ensembles give students time to develop familiarity with orchestral playing and the skills needed to excel within the organization. String players have the opportunity to participate in the PRYSM (Philadelphia Region Youth String Music) program – a string ensemble which also offers students instruction in a masterclass format during sectionals. A PRYSM-Young Artists ensemble, co-founded by Gloria dePasquale of the Philadelphia Orchestra, is also offered to provide an educational experience in ensemble playing to younger students. PYO is also home to one of only three year-round student brass ensemble programs in our country. The Bravo Brass program offers students an invaluable opportunity to dive into unique repertoire and work with an exceptional brass faculty led by Director Paul Bryan, who also serves as Dean of Faculty and Students at the nearby Curtis Institute of Music.

Members of the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra brass section at Verizon Hall

The musical diet of a PYO member is rigorous, with repertoire some professional ensembles might shy away from. A brief glance at repertoire from last year includes Tchaik 4, Heldenleben, La Mer, Brahms 3, and Petrushka. On February 17th, PYO will perform at the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall with soloist David Kim. The program includes the Bruch Scottish Fantasy and Symphony No. 3, “The Organ Symphony,” of Camille Saint-Saëns. The PYO organization provides a multitude of extended educational opportunities for promising young musicians, including a college and conservatory audition prep seminar, an advanced orchestral training program, and a young composers competition, including a cash prize, performance opportunity, and extended training/lessons for winning composers. 

In an effort to connect with more students coming from challenging economic and social backgrounds, PYO also developed the Tune Up Philly program. TUP is focused on providing opportunities for musical development, and by extension personal development, for students coming from underserved communities and demographics. TUP partners with community members to build healthy connections and facilitates performance opportunities for students both in their communities and in high-profile Philadelphia area venues alike. 

David Kim, Concertmaster of The Philadelphia Orchestra,
performing with the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra in Verizon Hall

As a mission statement, PYO “uses extraordinary music education through the pursuit of musical excellence to inspire a strong sense of character, discipline, commitment, and community for [its] diverse student population.” With upwards of 6 performance opportunities a year, young musicians are privy to a trove of orchestral repertoire and challenged to prepare to a professional standard. Students get to perform at Verizon Hall, participate in masterclasses with visiting professionals, access mentorship and other guidance resources, and best of all, form bonds with each other. 

Be sure to check out the calendar for PYO events here, and for more information about auditioning for the PYO program, check out information here.