History & Timeline

The Philadelphia Youth Orchestra is the Tri-State region’s premier youth orchestra organization for gifted, young, classical musicians and one of the oldest and most highly regarded youth orchestra organizations in the United States. For over 74 years, the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra organization has been providing professional-caliber musical experiences to young instrumentalists, thrilling discriminating audiences in the Greater Philadelphia region and across the globe.

The organization has five programs: Philadelphia Youth Orchestra (PYO), Philadelphia Young Artists Orchestra (PYAO), Bravo Brass, Philadelphia Region Youth String Music (PRYSM), and Tune Up Philly, an after-school program modeled after Venezuela’s El Sistema.

Ranging in age from 6 to 21 years, the musicians of the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra organization are selected by competitive audition and come from a seventy-plus-mile radius of Philadelphia encompassing nearly 20 counties within Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. Through advanced orchestra repertoire, students are challenged to perform at professional levels, to strive for advanced musicianship and to achieve superior technical, musical, and personal application.

Former PYO musicians currently hold chairs in most of the top twenty professional orchestras in the United States, with 15 PYO alumni currently serving in The Philadelphia Orchestra. Recent alumni credit the PYO organization in helping them gain admittance to some of the best universities, colleges, and conservatories in the United States.

Philadelphia Youth Orchestra

The Philadelphia Youth Orchestra, the organization’s flagship ensemble, is credited as one of the best in the nation with more than 100 highly skilled, young classical musicians. Unmatched repertoire and concerts in Verizon Hall at The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts make this ensemble incomparable. Fourteen international concert tours since 1981 have offered hundreds of talented young musicians the opportunity to perform in many of the world’s great concert halls, where their performances have often been judged comparable to those of professional orchestras. PYO was established in 1939 and is led by PYO organization President and Music Director, Maestro Louis Scaglione.

Philadelphia Young Artists Orchestra

The Philadelphia Young Artists Orchestra is PYO’s companion orchestra, offering symphonic experience and orchestral training to younger classical music students, linking repertoire and theory, and providing the context to learning the standard orchestral repertoire. For nearly 20 years, PYAO has raised money through performances to support organizations from throughout the region, including Reach Out and Read at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the Youth Work Foundation of The Union League of Philadelphia. PYAO was established in 1996 under a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts. PYAO is conducted by Rosalind Erwin.

Bravo Brass

Bravo Brass is a youth brass ensemble that was created in 1997 to provide advanced musical education and performance opportunities to talented high-school brass students in the Tri-State region. It is the only ensemble of its kind in the area and one of few in the country. Bravo Brass offers repertoire that challenges advanced brass students to improve their individual and ensemble playing skills. The Bravo Brass teaching faculty, led by Maestro Paul Bryan, Dean of Faculty and Students at the Curtis Institute of Music, provides valuable musical training through side-by-side rehearsals.


PRYSM (Philadelphia Region Youth String Music) is a string music education program created in 2007 to offer a unique introduction and preparation for string students to acquire and build skills. PRYSM and PRYSM Young Artists provide string ensemble and sectional master class instruction for intermediate and beginning students. Graduates of PRYSM have matriculated successfully into other PYO organization ensembles. Co-founded by the late William dePasquale, Co-Concertmaster of The Philadelphia Orchestra, PRYSM is directed by Co-founding Director, Gloria dePasquale, current cellist for and member of the board of directors of The Philadelphia Orchestra.

Tune Up Philly

As the first Philadelphia area El Sistema program founded in 2010, Tune Up Philly’s mission is to nurture children in challenging social and economic conditions by keeping them engaged in success through weekday out-of-school hours music instruction. Tune Up Philly believes that music education is a powerful vehicle for children to master skills that will enable them to acquire valuable tools for cooperative learning, teamwork, academic success and self-esteem. Now in its fourth year, Tune Up Philly has expanded to six program sites and collaborates with local charter, independent, and public schools, with Head Start Programs, in addition to partnering with organizations such as Village of Arts and Humanities, LISC, El Taller Puertorriqueño, and EducationWorks. Tune Up Philly is directed by Paul Smith and several professional teaching artists serving as faculty.

PYO Organization Leadership

The 2014/2015 Season is Maestro Louis Scaglione’s 18th anniversary with the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra organization. He was appointed the PYO organization’s Music Director in 2005, joined the artistic staff in 1997 as Conductor of the PYAO and was appointed Associate Conductor of PYO in 1999. In addition to his work as a member of the artistic staff, Maestro Scaglione was appointed President of the PYO organization in 2004, having served as the program’s Executive Director for three years.

Extraordinary artistic leadership is a hallmark of the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra organization. Adolph Sorian (1940–1941), J.W.F. Leman (1941–1952), William R. Smith (1952–1954), and Joseph Primavera (1954–2005) served as Music Directors, with Maestro Primavera having had the extraordinary distinction of being the longest-serving active conductor of any orchestra in the world.

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