Why the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra is One of the Best in the World

San Francisco Symphony

The San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra (SFSYO) is celebrating their 35th Anniversary this season and we’re excited to celebrate! This amazing group of teens and young adults (from ages 12-21) is recognized as one of the best youth orchestras in the world and we couldn’t agree more. Every time we see the SFSYO in concert, we are so amazed by their level of musicianship. If you closed your eyes, you would never know that you weren’t listening to professionals.

But crazy enough, it’s not just these talented musicians that make this youth orchestra one of the best in the world, it’s the program itself…

San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra Bassoons

The SFSYO is fully supported by the San Francisco Symphony. Every Saturday (during the school year) 100+ elite young musicians, representing communities from throughout the Bay Area, meet at the Davies Symphony Hall for rehearsal on its grand stage. To put this into perspective, it would be like a high school football team getting to practice at a major league football stadium every week. Can you imagine?

On top of that, the musicians are paired up with professional musicians from the San Francisco Symphony who coach them through the season’s repertoire! “Coaching music with the SYSYO is one of the highlights of the season for me!” says Diane Nicholeris, San Francisco Symphony violinist. “I love it so much that I’ve been doing it for over 25 years. One of my favorite things about working with these young musicians is when I see them be able to play something difficult that they didn’t think they could play before. It’s great seeing them mature in their musicality and see them grow as individuals.”

And if it couldn’t get any better – this priceless education and experience are tuition free!

Roger Xia

This past weekend, we got to sit in on their rehearsal and see everything first-hand. We even got to talk to a few musicians, including the concertmaster Roger Xia, who is only 15 years old!

“I love being in the youth orchestra,” says Roger, “because I get to be surrounded by musicians my age that connect with music in the same way I do. They challenge me and push me every weekend to play my best. And at the same time, they have become my good friends that I wouldn’t have met otherwise outside this youth orchestra.”

Christian Reif

In celebration of the program’s 35th Anniversary, this group will be performing a collection of challenging pieces (including Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring!) throughout the season and they have commissioned a new piece by Anahita Abbasi who will be coming to work with the group in person!

“When I’m choosing the season’s repertoire,” says Christian Reif, SFSFYO Conductor, “I purposefully select pieces that will challenge and inspire them. At every rehearsal and at every concert, my goal is to create an atmosphere where they can grow, learn and make connections with each other personally and musically.” And from the SFSYO’s remarkable track record, we can tell that this program and community really does enables each musician to do great things in their future.


“We’ve had so many amazing success stories that have come from this program,” says Diane Nicholeris. “We’ve had musicians go on and play in major professional orchestra all over the world (including the San Francisco Symphony!), professional chamber groups and string quartets, along with becoming music educators and college professors. We’ve also had many students go on to careers outside of music and become doctors, engineers and some have even gone on to work at SpaceX! It’s truly incredible.”

If you haven’t yet, we strongly suggest attending one of the SFSYO’s concerts, especially during their 35th Anniversary season. “I am most excited about our collaboration with the International Contemporary Ensemble that includes the commissioned new work from composer Anahita Abbasi,” says Jason Pyszkowski, SFSYO Associate Director. “Working with living composers will be an ever more vital connector to the orchestra’s relevance as an institution and in individual communities.”

San Francisco Symphony Audience

These concerts are also a great event to bring along your kids who are interested in music. You never know, seeing young musicians play on such a prestigious and professional stage could really make a lasting impact on a young musician. Scroll below to see a list of their concert dates and scheduled programs:

Sun, Nov. 19 @ 2:00 pm – Prelude No. 1, from Three American Preludes by Detlev Glanert, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 (featuring Leyla Kabuili, SFSYO Concerto Competition Winner) and Enigma Variations by Elgar

Sun. Dec. 10 @ 2:00 pmPeter and the Wolf by Prokofiev, featuring special guest and actor Zachary Quinto

Sun. March 4 @ 2:00 pmAnahita Abbasi‘s commissioned piece (in-collaboration with International Contemporary Ensemble), Fandango 24 for Six Percussionists by Burritt, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 and more. This will also be streamed LIVE on the SF Symphony’s Facebook Page at approximately 2:20 pm (PST)!

Sun. May 13 @ 2:00 pmThe Rite of Spring by Stravinsky, Ligeti’s Concert Românesc and Suite from Pelléas et Melisande by Fauré


To find out more about our favorite upcoming concerts, click here!

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Parker Coomans

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