History of the Youth Symphony of Southern Oregon

Founded by music teachers and members of the Rogue Valley Symphony Orchestra in order to provide accomplished young instrumental musicians with opportunities to learn and play standard orchestral literature, the Youth Symphony's first concert was held in Ashland on December 4, 1988. YSSO conductors have included Clarence Shaw, Arthur Shaw, Fred Palmer, Sylvain Fremaux, Phillip Bayles, Leanna Sterios, Cynthia Hutton, Ellie Malzahn and Faina Podolnaya.

The YSSO organization initiated a Concerto Competition for advanced Youth Symphony musicians in 1990.  A Preparatory Orchestra for intermediate level musicians was formed in 1991. Cynthia Hutton, D.M.A., was named Music Director and Conductor of the Youth Symphony and the Preparatory Orchestra in 1995. That year, the season was expanded to include Concert Series performances in professional venues in Grants Pass, Medford and Ashland. 

Youth Strings, a string ensemble for entry-level musicians, was formed in 1998.  Youth Strings was led by YSSO Associate Conductor Ellie Malzahn. Faina Podolnaya became YSSO Associate Conductor and Conductor of Youth Strings in 2000-2001. 

A Chamber Music Series was initiated in 2004-2005. Executive Director Sharon Wilson joined the staff in 2005.

The Youth Symphony performed at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts in Eugene as part of the 2010 Oregon Music Educators Conference.

The organization celebrated its Silver Jubilee Concert Season in 2012-2013. The 25th Anniversary Season included special events, proclamations and concerts, guest artist and violin virtuoso Gilles Apap, a gala performance by current and former members of the Youth Symphony, performances of masterworks and the premiere of The Orchard City: Medford, Oregon 1913 by Mark Jacobs. The work was commissioned by the YSSO organization in honor of the Silver Jubilee.

The three YSSO ensembles include accomplished brass, string, woodwind and percussion musicians from throughout the region. All qualified young musicians may participate in the YSSO. The YSSO offers tuition waiver and lesson assistance to current YSSO musicians each year to help ensure access to participation, training and performance opportunities.

This season, the YSSO organization is presenting three Community Outreach Concerts at the Rogue Valley Manor, two Chamber Music Series concerts, eight Concert Series performances and the Concerto Competition

The YSSO organization is an integral part of the region’s cultural community. Musicians in the Youth Symphony performed with the Rogue Valley Symphony in 2007 and again collaborated with the Rogue Valley Symphony in side-by-side performances during the 2010-2011 concert season.  YSSO musicians take part in Chamber Music Concert-sponsored master classes and perform with numerous other community and school ensembles. The YSSO works with public and private schools in Medford, Grants Pass and Ashland, as well as Southern Oregon University.  The Arts Council of Southern Oregon awarded the YSSO with its Award for Arts Education in 2000 in recognition of the YSSO's high-quality programs for young people and the public.

The YSSO is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. Revenue is generated through contributions and annual gifts from individuals and businesses, foundation and agency grants, nominal tuition, ticket sales and special events.

The YSSO has one full-time and five part-time professional staff members. A volunteer governing board of community members guides the YSSO.  Volunteer coordinators help recruit, organize and manage volunteers throughout the year.

The office of the YSSO is located in Medford.