National Youth Orchestra of Canada/Orchestre national des jeunes du Canada | The Canadian Encyclopedia


National Youth Orchestra of Canada/Orchestre national des jeunes du Canada

The National Youth Orchestra of Canada (NYO)/L'Orchestre national des jeunes du Canada. Seasonal school established in 1960 to provide Canada's most gifted young instrumentalists with an intensive and controlled experience of orchestral playing.

National Youth Orchestra of Canada/Orchestre national des jeunes du Canada

The National Youth Orchestra of Canada (NYO)/L'Orchestre national des jeunes du Canada. Seasonal school established in 1960 to provide Canada's most gifted young instrumentalists with an intensive and controlled experience of orchestral playing. It has been financed by grants from the Canada Council, three levels of government, and private and corporate donors.

The NYO had its roots in ideas put forward by Walter Susskind, who in 1956 had carried to Canada the success story of a youth training orchestra in Great Britain. These ideas had their first realization in a pilot venture 1-14 Aug 1960, an orchestra workshop organized by James C. McIntosh (b Belleville, Ont 4 Sep 1931, d Vancouver 9 Mar 2009) and co-directed by Susskind and Harman Haakman at Stratford, Ont. In late 1959, a group of citizens (invited by McIntosh to serve as the NYO financial advisory committee) had held meetings in Toronto. Robert Binnie, Jack Bernstein, Bailey Bird, John William Herold, Mrs F. Van V. Snell, Philip Torno, and Ayala Zacks planned and initiated a financial campaign. The summer 1960 workshop was promoted Canada-wide as a civic symphony, band workshop and launching platform for the NYO. Eighty-one students successfully auditioned for the first NYO training session. Founding faculty members for the first workshop were George Bornoff of the US (strings); George Yardley of the BBC (horns and percussion); and Ezra Schabas (woodwinds). Of the 81 successful applicants, 11 began careers with professional orchestras throughout Canada and abroad.

After the founding session, the financial advisory committee resolved immediately to establish and support an annual training session on the model designed by conductors Haakman and Susskind and founder James McIntosh.

The 1959 draft charter was approved and the NYO Association was chartered in late 1960 as a non-profit organization. The second training session (in Toronto during Christmas week 1960) was followed by the NYO's concert 31 Dec 1960 at Massey Hall in a program consisting of Weber's Euryanthe overture, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, Mozart's Flute Concerto in D with Robert Aitken as soloist, John Weinzweig's 'Our Canada' Suite, and the prelude to Act I of Wagner's Die Meistersinger. Victor Feldbrill and Wilfrid Pelletier shared the podium. Another two-week summer session at Stratford and a one-week Christmas session in Montreal followed in 1961.

NYO Sessions and Goals

The NYO has since held annual sessions of between six and seven weeks. For example, these were held in Toronto 1962-7, 1969-72, 1975, and 1995; Quebec City 1968 and 1976; Vancouver 1973-4 and 1978; the University of New Brunswick 1985; Kingston 1977-90 and 1996-9; Guelph 1991; and Montreal 2006. Sometimes a session has begun in one city and finished in another. The orchestra has normally consisted of about 100 players, chosen through annual nationwide auditions, but participation occasionally dipped as low as 83 (and to 65 in 1995). Members have participated in full orchestra and sectional rehearsals, and chamber ensembles, and have received private coaching. Originally members were between the ages of 14 and 25; the upper age limit has since varied between 26 and 28.

No tours had been contemplated during the founding session in Stratford. Conductors Haakman and Susskind had hoped the NYO might have a permanent home as an adjunct to the Stratford Festival. Maintaining a vastly expanded network for Canada-wide auditions and focusing on orchestra-building remained their prime objective. By 1975, NYO directors began a search for a permanent facility for the NYO training sessions. The quest for a permanent home prevailed for years.

Following the Stratford session, emphasis in the early years was placed on the preparation of works for a two-week concert tour. In the 1970s and into the 1980s, however, there was a return to placing increasing importance on training and repertoire.

Faculty, Conductors, Canadian Compositions

Faculty members have been drawn from Canada, the US, and elsewhere. Conductors (often two per season) have included Feldbrill 1960-2, 1964, 1969, and 1975; Pelletier 1960 and 1961; Haakman 1960 and 1975; Susskind 1960, 1961, 1963, and 1966; John Avison 1964; Franz-Paul Decker 1965 and 1968; Brian Priestman 1967 and 1970; Georg Tintner 1971, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1979, 1982, 1986, and 1989; Rudolf Schwarz 1972 and 1980; Kazuyoshi Akiyama 1973, 1978, 1984, 2000, 2002 and 2004; Marius Constant 1976, 1979, 1981, and 1983; Uri Mayer 1978; Anton Coppola 1980; John Lubbock 1980 and 1981; Otto-Werner Mueller 1982 and 1983; Ole Schmidt 1985, 1989, and 1990; Simon Streatfeild 1985, 1988, 1996, 2001 and 2003; Denis Vaughan 1986; Gilles Auger 1987; Gabriel Chmura 1987 and 1988; Daniel Lipton 1991; Mario Bernardi 1999; and Jacques Lacombe 2005 and 2006.

Guest soloists have appeared in some concerts or have rehearsed with the NYO, and Canadian composers have often assisted in preparing their own works. Many Canadian works have been studied and performed,and several have been commissioned for the NYO: Harry Freedman'sTangents (1967), Serge Garant'sOffrande II (1970), Robert Aitken's Shadows - Part I: Nekuia (1971), and R. Murray Schafer'sNorth/White (1973). Under Haakman's direction, the NYO recorded (RCI 431) the 1975 commission, Norman Symonds'Big Lonely. Other commissions have included Alex Pauk's Folding Unfolding (1979), Michael Horwood's Splinters (1981), Keith Bissell's Miraculous Turnip (1982), John Wyre's First Flower (1984), Marjan Mozetich's Symphony No. 1: A Romantic Rhapsody (1983), and Schafer's Dream Rainbow Dream Thunder (1986). John Rea'sVanishing Points (1983) and John Burke's Alchemies (1983) were commissioned for the Esprit Orchestra while it was performing with the assistance of the NYO.

The NYO has presented concerts in every major city in Canada and several in the US. On a 1966 European tour, it appeared in Croydon in England; in Dieppe, Lyons, and Vichy in France; and in Berlin. It also performed at the Edinburgh Festival. More than a decade of negotiations between founding NYO members, executives from Japan, and the BC government culminated in student exchange programs between Canada and Japan. The 1996 NYO performance in Tokyo gained world-wide attention. Delegates of The World Youth Orchestra Concert Festival called the NYO "The best youth orchestra in the world." The NYO returned to Japan in 2002 and again won international acclaim.


Writing in the Toronto Globe and Mail, 4 Aug 1969, John Kraglund said of the orchestra that 'no matter how high one's expectations, this youthful ensemble somehow manages to surpass them.' Evidence of the NYO's success was the need in 1969 and 1971 to form a supplementary chamber orchestra to accommodate promising young musicians not accepted into the NYO and in 1971 and 1973 to provide pre-season sessions for string players and wind players respectively. This part of the program was discontinued in 1987.

In 1985 the orchestra was named ensemble of the year by the Canadian Music Council.

Notable NYO Alumni
Besides winning critical and public acclaim, the NYO has contributed to the development of a generation of Canadian musicians. Among notable alumni are the Armin family, James Campbell, Robert Cram, Gordon Cherry, Steven Dann, Ermanno Florio, Stewart Grant, Neal Gripp, Timothy Hutchins, Erica Goodman, Malcolm Lowe, Timothy Maloney, Joel Quarrington, Suzanne Shulman, and Gwen Thompson. Many have gone on to hold respected professional positions in Canadian and abroad. By 2005 more than 2,200 of Canada's finest young musicians had received NYO training. It is estimated that 35 per cent of NYO musicians have become employed as instrumentalists in professional orchestras world-wide. The sound stages of the world continue to be enriched by decades of NYO alumni.

Four TV features on the NYO have been seen nationally: 'The Short, Sweet Summer' produced in 1963 by Norman Campbell for the CBC, 'Youth and Music' filmed in 1968 in Quebec City by the CBC, 'The Sound of August' produced in 1971 by Glenn Sarty for the CBC, and a performance of Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade conducted by Haakman, produced in 1975 and telecast several times by TV Ontario. Many of the NYO's concerts have been taped and broadcast on CBC radio.

NYO managers have included James McIntosh summer 1960; Ezra Schabas winter 1960-2 and 1965, assisted by Ben Steinberg and John Adaskin during 1962; Jay Armin 1963; Eugene Kash 1964; Bruce Corder 1966; J.W. Elton, assisted by John McDougall, 1967; and John McDougall 1968-70, assisted by Richard Ford during 1969. John Brown (who became John Pellerin in 1984) was the full-time manager/director of the orchestra 1970-87, replaced during a sabbatical by Rex Trotter 1983-5. He was succeeded by Hubert C. Meyer, general manager in 1987.

Further Reading

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