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A Journey of Triumph

The Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra Marks 50 Years
June 27, 2024

“Welcome to the culmination of a half-century of talent development and community-building for thousands of young artists,” wrote Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra Conductor Simon Rivard in the program book for the April 27 concert, Titan: A Celebration of the TSYO’s 50th Anniversary! “By putting together, year after year, a group of highly talented youth and providing them, free of charge, with an array of musical opportunities…the TSO has cultivated what I believe to be the most ambitious program for young musicians in Canada.” In his preview of the performance for the Toronto Star, Joshua Chong agreed, saying that, “Over the past five decades, the TSYO has firmly established itself as one of the country’s most important orchestras for young musicians, offering a space for them to hone their craft alongside professional musicians.”

Learn more about this storied history directly from two of the youth orchestra’s own members—TSYO Clarinet Sarah Darragh and TSYO Percussion Amiel Ang:

A Journey of Triumph | Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra Celebrates 50 Years


A Concert of Titanic Proportions

A great abundance of burgeoning talent was on full display at Titan, which began with a nod to the youth orchestra’s past—Shostakovich’s Festive Overture, a piece that was also performed at the very first TSYO concert in 1974, led by founder Victor Feldbrill, who was the TSO’s Resident Conductor at the time. In the intervening years, the ensemble has flourished, boasting more than 2,000 alumni, many of whom have gone on to establish highly successful careers in music and other vocations. 

This will come as no surprise to anyone who witnessed phenomenal young artist Cian Bryson perform the solo part in the work at the centre of Titan—Kalevi Aho’s virtuosic Bassoon Concerto. “He is, quite frankly, a generational talent with a huge career ahead of him,” wrote Rivard. Of course, anchoring the concert, and inspiring its title, was Mahler’s monumental First Symphony, an emotional musical journey that closes with a stirringly heroic climax.

A Season 50 Years in the Making

The entire 2023/24 season was a similarly triumphant journey for the TSYO’s musicians. In addition to Titan, they performed two regular-season concerts that gave them the invaluable opportunity to learn and play pieces by a wide variety of creators: November’s Fate: The Firebird + Tchaikovsky’s Fourth included the titular works as well as 20th-century Polish composer Grażyna Bacewicz’s lively and propulsive Overture. And February’s Britannia featured creations from across the pond by composers both contemporary (Hannah Kendall and James MacMillan) and long revered (Holst and Elgar).

The youth orchestra’s side-by-side performance in May with the TSO and Music Director Gustavo Gimeno was likewise epic. While the grand collaboration is a highly anticipated annual event, this milestone year marked the first time the two ensembles had ever performed a symphony together in its entirety. That symphony was again Tchaikovsky’s “fateful” Fourth.

We all have a similar interest in music, and it is a harmonious environment. It feels like one big family and has become my second home.

TSYO Principal Double Bass Marcus Chan
The TSO and TSYO playing Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 side-by-side, May 10, 2024

Crossing Borders & Building Ties

As a very special coda to an already unforgettable season, the TSYO and the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra (COYO) took part in an exchange that saw them perform joint concerts at two stunning yet very different venues: Roy Thomson Hall and Ohio’s Blossom Music Center—the outdoor amphitheatre that plays summer home to The Cleveland Orchestra. “For me, a former Clevelander and Chief Artistic and Operations Officer with The Cleveland Orchestra,” said Beck Family CEO Mark Williams, this is the merging of two worlds I adore.”

The concert program was designed to showcase the talents of the two youth orchestras, with both playing independently in the first half and then coming together in the second for a colossal performance of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth, co-led by TSO RBC Resident Conductor Trevor Wilson (movement I) and COYO Music Director Daniel Reith (movements II through IV). In an interview with Reith on The New Classical FM’s Sunday Night at the TSO, host Kathleen Kajioka—herself a proud TSYO alumna—asked him why this particular work was chosen for the joint performance. “We wanted to have a piece that would bring to the young musicians a great joy and fascination,” he replied, “and…also unforgettable memories in their later lives.”

Learn more about the TSYO’s exchange with COYO here.

TSYO and Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra members at the Blossom Music Center.

Offstage Inspiration

While in Toronto, the TSYO and COYO also had the opportunity to take part in a master class with renowned Canadian violinist and 2023/24 Spotlight Artist James Ehnes—which was just one of the many enriching offstage opportunities provided throughout the year as well. The most intensive of these was the annual Camp Weekend, held in the fall at YMCA Cedar Glen Outdoor Centre in Schomberg. Over the course of three days, the musicians participated in individual, sectional, and full-orchestra rehearsals, as well as fun team-building activities.

Additionally, the annual Concerto Competition was held, with participants performing in front of a jury of TSYO faculty members and TSO musicians for the chance to win a solo appearance with either orchestra. And a series of free professional-development workshops, called Tuned for Tomorrow, was introduced this year. The 90-minute sessions were held after select TSYO rehearsals and intended to cultivate well-rounded artists who understand the intricacies of the music profession. Topics included everything from “Financial Planning for Musicians” to “Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in the Arts”.

It’s so important to have a training ground like this because great musicians don’t just come out of nowhere…. The TSYO showed me what was possible and inspired me to strive toward that level.

Kathleen Kajioka, TSYO Alumna & Host of Sunday Night at the TSO

Looking Forward

With the youth orchestra’s unparalleled 50th season now complete and anticipation beginning to build for 2024/25, Simon Rivard officially passes the baton to the new TSYO Conductor, Trevor Wilson, who will also continue in his role as TSO RBC Resident Conductor. “Taking over as the TSYO’s conductor next season is an opportunity I’m extremely grateful for,” says Wilson. “What I’m really hoping to do is leave the young musicians with a sense that they’ve achieved something really special.” 

Fate isn’t done with the TSYO. Instead, it will be knocking at the door next season as the ensemble performs Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony along with works by a wide variety of composers—from Borodin to Brahms, and John Williams to Vaughan Williams—with the superb artistry that can only come from 50 years of practice.

Watch, Listen & Read More!


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Sunday Night at the TSO Interviews (Audio)

Noteworthy Q&As with TSYO Members Past & Present