The Grand Rapids Youth Symphony and its sister ensemble, the Classical Orchestra, are a pair of audition-based youth orchestras that perform throughout the academic year in fine concert halls in Grand Rapids. Both ensembles engage in in-depth study of orchestral repertoire and benefit from coaching by professional musicians. The ensembles’ parent organization is the Grand Rapids Symphony.

Membership:

  • Members of the two ensembles range in age from 12 to 21 and represent schools from across West Michigan.
  • Students are required to be active participants in their school’s band or orchestra program or in a comparable program for homeschoolers.
  • Members are expected to attend all rehearsals and performances, though a limited number of excused absences from rehearsals are allowed.

Grand Rapids Youth Symphony

The Grand Rapids Youth Symphony is a full orchestra—strings, brass, woodwinds, and percussion—that plays symphonic music from a range of musical periods. The orchestra is composed of some of West Michigan’s most talented, hardworking young musicians.

Rehearsals:
Monday evenings 7–9:30 p.m. (September through May)
City High/Middle School

Classical Orchestra

The Classical Orchestra is a strings-only ensemble that focuses on the music of the classical period (1750–1820). Young string players often spend a year or more in the Classical Orchestra before advancing to the Youth Symphony.

Rehearsals:
Monday evenings 6–8 p.m. (September through May)
City High/Middle School

Annual Schedule

Following are the regular annual activities that ensemble members should plan on. Additional events, such as regional arts festival performances, are often added from year to year.

  • Auditions/applications for the following season (late May)
  • Audition results/acceptance letters mailed (no later than August 1)
  • Students/parents submit commitment and membership forms and pay tuition (August)
  • Kickoff retreat (first Saturday after Labor Day)
  • Rehearsals (Monday evenings, September-April/May)
  • Fall concert (a Sunday afternoon in late October)
  • GRYS Piano Competition (a Saturday in January)
  • Winter concert: includes performance by GRYS Piano Competition winner (a Sunday afternoon in March)
  • Skip Gates Concerto Competition (first Monday after winter concert)
  • Spring concert: includes performances by Skip Gates Concerto Competition winners (a Sunday afternoon in April or May)
  • Grand Rapids Festival of the Arts performance: Youth Symphony only (first Friday afternoon in June)

History

The Grand Rapids Youth Symphony was established in 1959 to provide a way for West Michigan’s most talented young musicians to rehearse and perform challenging orchestral music together, according to professional standards. The group was formed by the Grand Rapids Symphony, a 501(c)(3) organization, which has administered it since its inception.

The Youth Symphony has had three conductors in its 60-year history: Daniel Kovats, who began in 1959; David C. McCoy, who came in 1980; and John Varineau, who joined as conductor in 1986.

Today the Youth Symphony performs three annual concerts in fine concert halls and hosts the annual Skip Gates Concerto Competition for its members and the GRYS Piano Competition for local young pianists. The orchestra completed its first European tour in the summer of 2016, performing in Vienna, Salzburg, and Prague.

The Classical Orchestra was formed in 2000 to complement the Youth Symphony. It focuses on music literature for strings from the classical period. The Classical Orchestra performs at the same three annual concerts as the Youth Symphony and has its own annual Skip Gates Concerto Competition for its members. John Varineau is the founding conductor.