About AYS

American Youth Symphony
A Training Ground for the 21st Century

The American Youth Symphony’s mission is to inspire the future of classical music by providing landmark fellowships to virtuosic young adults and exceptional, innovative, and free concerts to the Los Angeles community. Competitively selected, our orchestra is comprised of 100 musicians who represent extraordinary talent from all over the world. By offering our community remarkable concerts at world-class venues, we remain committed to creating access and opportunity for everyone to experience the inspiration of this beautiful art form. An elite fellowship opportunity, AYS is designed to prepare the concert artists of tomorrow for leadership in 21st-century orchestras and ensembles. Musicians receive in-depth exposure to the varied styles of symphonic music, from classical masterworks to world premieres and unforgettable film scores. 

AYS is a tuition-free program, and each AYS fellow receives an annual stipend ranging from $1,400-$4,000. Fellows perform at renowned venues like Royce Hall and Walt Disney Concert Hall, and work alongside world-class guest artists such as Sarah Chang, Daníel Bjarnason, Anna Clyne, Glenn Dicterow, Johannes Moser, John Williams, David Newman, Alan Silvestri, Takeshi Furukawa, and Lera Auerbach. Designed to challenge, nurture, and inspire, the American Youth Symphony is a musical laboratory where fellows not only master their parts and develop a deep understanding of musical scores, but also explore their roles as musician citizens within their community. 

At AYS, we aim to create leaders, innovative thinkers, and articulate communicators for the 21st century and beyond. Founded in 1964 by world-renowned conductor Mehli Mehta, AYS celebrates over five decades as an important architect in building the future of classical music. To date, AYS has trained over 2,500 musicians who now enjoy successful careers in some of the finest orchestras in the nation, including the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, and the Metropolitan Opera. The three leading orchestras in Los Angeles – the LA Philharmonic, the LA Chamber Orchestra, and LA Opera – employ 37 AYS graduates. 

AYS has firmly established itself as a “gateway” orchestra for aspiring musicians, as well as the field of classical music at large. AYS shares our love and enthusiasm for classical music with diverse audiences from across Southern California. In fact, AYS audiences are some of the most diverse to be found in classical music today. We have found that what begins as a free opportunity to experience something new often develops into a life-long appreciation for the art, with audiences who first came through the Royce Hall doors for a film concert returning for classical programs year after year. This creates a system of support both for AYS and the field at large. Therefore, supporters of AYS not only provide the gift of exceptional concerts to the Los Angeles community, they also are investing in the future of this beautiful art form. 

The American Youth Symphony strives to be a resource for the community, and in recent years we have expanded our partnerships to include collaborations with Title-1 LAUSD schools through our Share-A-Stand music mentorship program, as well as organizations like the Skirball Cultural Center and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. This season we are proud to be growing our presence outside of the concert hall through a series of chamber concerts presented in underserved areas. 2018/19 is the second year of the AYS Citizen Musician Fellowship, for which one musician is selected to guide his or her colleagues in learning how best to use classical music as a tool for social good. 

We are proud to be part of this diverse and vibrant city, and excited to continue growing and evolving together.

History & Mission

Mission: The American Youth Symphony’s mission is to inspire the future of classical music by providing landmark fellowships to virtuosic young adults and exceptional, innovative, and free concerts to the Los Angeles community.

Competitively selected, our orchestra is comprised of 100 musicians who represent extraordinary talent from all over the world. By offering our community remarkable concerts at world-class venues, we remain committed to creating access and opportunity for everyone to experience the inspiration of this beautiful art form.

Founding Director, Mehli Mehta

Mehli Mehta came to Los Angeles in 1964 to teach at UCLA and become director of the orchestra department. Within two months of his arrival, he took over the American Youth Symphony (then made up of university students) and made it his own with the help of Mildreth Sheinkopf Samson. AYS was his pride and joy. He conducted the orchestra’s first 33 seasons, only retiring at the age of 90. Under his guidance the orchestra grew into a 100+ member ensemble, with musicians ranging in age from 18 to 27. Most of them came from schools (like UCLA) that did not have the resources for playing the big orchestral repertoire of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Mr. Mehta cared deeply about what he did. Violinist Lawrence Sonderling, a member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic since 1977 and a former AYS concertmaster, said that Mr. Mehta “did everything with great intensity and great purpose and great love for music. It was always the music that was the most important thing. In rehearsal with the orchestra, he would badger us, he would yell and scream; sometimes he would tell stories of things he had heard and seen in his musical youth. Always the intensity was there. And the passion.”

Mr. Mehta was born to Parsi parents in Bombay, India, on Sept. 25, 1908. He became interested in Western classical music while listening to his father’s records of violinists Fritz Kreisler, Jascha Heifetz and Efrem Zimbalist, and began violin studies when he was 5.

After studying at the University of Bombay and Trinity College of Music in London, he founded the Bombay Symphony in 1935, serving for 10 years as concertmaster before becoming its conductor. In 1940, he founded the Bombay String Quartet.

“I should have been born in Europe,” he told The Times in 1994. “In my 25 years playing in India, not one Hindu, not one Muslim came to my concerts. Only the English and the Americans came.”

Hoping to become a world-class violinist, Mr. Mehta moved to New York on a student visa in 1945 to study with the eminent pedagogue Ivan Galamian. “It was the heyday of great conductors and virtuosos,” he said. “At my best, unhappily, I was no match for Nathan Milstein and Jasha Heifetz.”

Mr. Mehta returned to Bombay to take over the podium of the Bombay Symphony, but wanted to return to the United States. When he was unable to obtain a U.S. visa, he moved to England in 1955. He served for five years as concertmaster of the Hallé Orchestra under Sir John Barbirolli, whom he acknowledged as “one of the greatest influences of my conducting life.”

Mr. Mehta joined the Curtis String Quartet in Philadelphia in 1960 as second violinist and toured with the group until he moved to Los Angeles.

With his wife of 67 years, Tehmina, he raised two sons who play important roles in classical music. One son, Zubin, former music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the New York Philharmonic, and former general music director of the Bavarian State Opera, is music director for life of the Israel Philharmonic. The other, Zarin, former executive director of the Montreal Symphony and the Ravinia Festival in Chicago, is executive director of the New York Philharmonic.

Mr. Mehta was the recipient of the Governor’s “Award for the Arts” of the California Arts Council: the “Magnum Opus Award” of the University of Southern California; the American String Teachers Award; the Award of Merit from the Mayor and Council of Los Angeles; and the Zoroastrian Association of California’s Honorable Award.

Leslie Chelsey, concertmaster; Mehli Mehta, conductor; and Linda Quan, assistant concertmaster
Mehli Mehta and Terry King, principal cello

Maestro Mehta Conducts AYS on PBS in 1978

In May 1998, he left the stage after his farewell concert in obvious discomfort: “The doctor said that, were it not for the defibrillator regulating my heartbeat, I would have been dead on the spot.” He passed away on October 19, 2002.

Alexander Treger, AYS Music Director 1998-2015

Treger came to the American Youth Symphony in 1998, succeeding Maestro Mehli Mehta while maintaining the highest standard of training and performance quality. Treger has garnered numerous accolades for his gifts as an educator, his talent on the podium and, of course, his 36 years at the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which included the concertmaster position. Under his leadership, the American Youth Symphony performed at Carnegie Hall and Walt Disney Concert Hall, and worked with numerous world-class musicians including Yefim Bronfman, Sarah Chang, Midori, Johannes Moser, Alan Silvestri, and John Williams.

After seventeen successful years with the orchestra, Maestro Alexander Treger completed his tenure as Music Director of the American Youth Symphony in Spring 2015. In the announcement of his departure, Maestro Treger stated: “Working for the last 17 years with so many exceptional young musicians, I have been inspired by their dedication and artistry. It has been a joy to guide them from talented student to professional performer; in fact, it has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career.”

Carlos Izcaray, Named AYS Music Director in 2016

In May 2016, AYS proudly announced the appointment of Maestro Carrlos Izcaray as the third Music Director in the organization’s history.

“We are extremely fortunate to have Carlos Izcaray become our new Music Director. AYS musicians and audiences will greatly benefit from his artistry, enthusiasm, and experience. We all look forward to the future of this exciting partnership.” – Kevin Dretzka, Chairman of the Board of AYS

“I’m incredibly honored and excited to become the next Music Director of the American Youth Symphony, an ensemble with a deep history and a bright future in the great city of Los Angeles. AYS is without a doubt one of a handful of elite training orchestras in the United States, hence I cherish the opportunity to contribute to the development of the next generation of top professional musicians.” – Carlos Izcaray

Learn more: Carlos Izcaray, Music Director

Alumni

Alumni in Orchestras:

AYS Alumni have joined the finest orchestras, enjoy successful careers in recording, and are on the faculties of prestigious schools. Their success speaks to the impact of our training program. We value your updates to this incomplete list!

ALABAMA SYMPHONY
Richard Cassarino, bass
Brad Whitfield, assistant principal clarinet

ATLANTA SYMPHONY
Joseph McFadden, bass

AUCKLAND ORCHESTRA (New Zealand)
Sophia Acheson, viola
Jonah Levy, associate principal trumpet
Steven Logan, principal timpani

BERKELEY SYMPHONY
Franklyn d’Antonio, concertmaster & orchestra manager
Rene Mandel, executive director
Cheonho Yoon, principal trumpet

BOSTON SYMPHONY
Rachel Childers, horn

CHAMBER ORCHESTRA OF PHILADELPHIA
Stephen Tavani, concertmaster

CHARLOTTE SYMPHONY
Brice Burton, principal percussion

CINCINNATI SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
Philip Marten, assistant concertmaster

CHICAGO SYMPHONY
John Bruce Yeh, asst. principal clarinet
Karen Basrak, cello

CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA
Michael Sachs, principal trumpet
Richard Weiss, asst. principal cello

COLORADO SPRINGS PHILHARMONIC
Sergei Vassiliev, principal clarinet

COLORADO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
Nicholas Recuber, asst. principal bass

DENMARK NATIONAL ORCHESTRA
Stanislav Zakrievski, violin

DALLAS SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
Bing Wang, violin

DETROIT SYMPHONY
Michael Ke Ma, asst. principal bassoon
Peter McCaffrey, cello
Shannon Orme, clarinet
Hang Su, viola
Robert Williams, principal bassoon
Johanna Yarbrough, horn

ENSEMBLE ORCHESTRAL DE PARIS
Joel Sultanian, viola

FORT WORTH SYMPHONY
Allan Steele, principal cello

GRAND RAPID SYMPHONY
Joel Schekman, bass clarinet

Hawaii Symphony
Anna Lenhart, principal horn

HOLLYWOOD BOWL ORCHESTRA
Tim Barr, principal bass
Nicole Bush, violin
Rose Corrigan, principal bassoon
Gregory Goodall, percussion
Armen Ksajikian, associate principal cello
Barry Newton, bass
Radu Pieptea, violin

KANSAS CITY SYMPHONY
Maria Crosby, cello
Joseph Petrasek, associate principal percussion
Raymond Santos, principal clarinet

KITCHENER-WATERLOO SYMPHONY
Edwin Outwater, music director

KNOXVILLE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
Claire Chenette, principal oboe
Garrett McQueen, bassoon

LOS ANGELES CHAMBER ORCHESTRA
Maia Jasper, violin
Armen Ksajikian, associate principal cello
Connie Kupka, violin
Damian Montano, bassoon
Searmi Park, violin
Steven Scharf, violin & personnel manager
David Washburn, principal trumpet

LOS ANGELES OPERA
Tamsen Beseke, violin
Ryan Darke, trumpet
Marlow Fisher, viola
Mary Gale, clarinet
Gregory Goodall, principal timpani
Jennifer Johnson, oboe & english horn
Jenny Kim, horn
Daniel Kelley, horn
William May, bassoon
Jayme Miller, violin
David Stenske, associate concertmaster
Andrew Ulyate, trumpet
John Walz, principal cello
Mark Zimosky, percussion

LOS ANGELES PHILHARMONIC
Kazue Asawa-McGregor, librarian
Raynor Carroll, percussion (retired)
Richard Elegino, viola
Jerry Epstein, viola (retired)
Barry Gold, cello
Michele Grego, bassoon
David Howard, clarinet
Matthew Howard, principal percussion
Ingrid Runde Hutman, viola
David Allen Moore, bass
Jeffrey Reynolds, bass trombone
Peter Rofe, bass
Brent Samuel, cello
Barry Socher, violin (retired)
Lawrence Sonderling, violin (retired)
Dennis Trembly, principal bass
Bing Wang, associate concertmaster

LOUISIANA PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA
Jack Pena, principal bassoon

MACAO ORCHESTRA (China)
Christian Goldsmith, principal trombone
Lu Ya, violin

MANCHESTER SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
Andrew Tang, viola

METROPOLITAN OPERA
Kari-Jane Docter, cello

MILWAUKEE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
Ilana Setapen, associate concertmaster
Benjamin Adler, assistant principal clarinet

MINNESOTA ORCHESTRA
Gregory Milliren, associate principal flute

NASHVILLE SYMPHONY
James Zimmermann, principal clarinet
Patrick Kunkee, co-principal trumpet

NATIONAL SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
Paul DeNola, bass

NEW YORK CITY OPERA
Montgomery Hatch, percussion

NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC
Michelle Kim, assistant concertmaster
Roger Nye, bassoon
Cynthia Phelps, principal viola
Sheryl Staples, associate concertmaster

OREGON SYMPHONY
Silu Fei, viola

PACIFIC SYMPHONY
Rose Corrigan, principal bassoon
Maia Jasper, violin
Marisa Sorajja, violin

PHILADELPHIA ORCHESTRA
Brook Speltz, cello

PHOENIX SYMPHONY
Viviana Cumplido, principal flute

SAN ANTONIO SYMPHONY
Marisa Bushman, viola
Martha Long, principal flute

SAN DIEGO SYMPHONY
Benjamin Jaber, principal horn
Rose Lombardo, principal flute
Julia Pautz, violin
Yao Zhao, principal cello

SAN FRANCISCO SYMPHONY
Yun Chu, violin
Yun-Jie Liu, associate principal viola
Brian Marcus, bass
Bruce Roberts, horn
Daniel G. Smith, associate principal double bass

SANTA CRUZ SYMPHONY
Nigel Armstrong, concertmaster

SEATTLE SYMPHONY
Sayaka Kokubo, viola

SINGAPORE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
Yu Ling Duan, violin

ST. LOUIS SYMPHONY
Anna Spina, horn

TORONTO SYMPHONY
Theodore Chan, bass

TUCSON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
Gabrielle Castriotta, oboe
Laura Odegaard-Stoutenborough,
…. principal clarinet

Conrad Jones, principal trumpet

U.S. AIR FORCE
Christine Lightner, cello

VANCOUVER SYMPHONY
Ryan Zwahlen, principal oboe

VIRGINIA SYMPHONY
Gabriel Campos Zamora, principal clarinet

Alumni News:

Recent Accomplishments by AYS Alumni include:

EDUCATION:

Annie Hyung, Cello (2016-18):
Accepted into undergraduate program at Northwestern University

Joseph Mora, Principal Tuba (2015-18):
Accepted into Masters program at
Northwestern University

Julian Seney, Viola (2016-18):
Accepted into undergraduate program at
New England Conservatory

Joseph Mora

ORCHESTRA POSITIONS:

Seth Biagini, a member of the AYS cello section from 2009-2011, has joined the Oregon Symphony.

Makena Clark, Violin (2017/18):
Section violinist with Reno Philharmonic

Dana Jackson, AYS principal bassoon during the 2012/13 season, has joined the Seattle Symphony as the 3rd Bassoon/ Contrabassoon. She was also appointed Adjunct Instructor at the Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle.

Conrad Jones, an AYS alumnus from the 2012/13 and 2013/14 seasons, has recently been appointed principal trumpet of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. He has also joined the trumpet faculty of DePauw University in Indiana. 

Taylor Marino, AYS principal clarinet during the 2015/16 season, has won the same position with Charlotte Symphony.

Philip Marten, Concertmaster (2015/16):
Assistant Concertmaster of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra

Carrie Rexroat, Horn (2013-15):
2nd Horn with Symphony Tacoma

Stephen Tavani, Co-Concertmaster (2011-2014):
Assistant Concertmaster of Cleveland Orchestra

Dana Jackson

COMPETITIONS:

Sergio Coehlo, Principal Clarinet (2015-present):
Runner up in the Classics Alive Young Artists Auditions, and finalist in the 2018 Hennings-Fischer Young Artists Competition.

Dong Nyouk Sunrise Kim, AYS principal cello (2015-present): won second prize in the strings division of the Pasadena Showcase House Instrumental Competition. 

Coleman Itzkoff, Principal Cello (2014-2017): Won Division A of the Classics Alive Young Artists Auditions

Geneva Lewis, who played in the AYS first violin section during the 2014/15 Season, was a finalist in the 2018 International Naumberg Violin Competition in New York City.

Grace Park was named first prizewinner of the International Naumburg Violin Competition in November 2018

Connor Rowe, currently a sub in the AYS trombone section, has just been named the winner of the 2019 Yamaha Young Performing Artist Competition. He is one of only 11 musicians nation-wide to earn this distinction. 

Geneva Lewis
Coleman Iztkoff

SOLO ENGAGEMENTS AND MORE:

Garrett McQueen, Principal Bassoon (2011-12):
On-air host for Classical 24, nationally-syndicated radio program produced by American Public Media and Public Radio International

Simone Porter, Violin (2011-13):
Upcoming and recent soloist engagements with: LA Phil, Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, Long Beach Symphony, Fort Worth Symphony, Edmonton Symphony, and Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional De Costa Rica