The orchestra was begun in 1999 on a semester grant from the Jewish Community Foundation, administered by the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony. The orchestra was based at Milken Community High School and conducted by composer Russell Steinberg, who had just been appointed Director of Music for the Stephen S. Wise Temple Schools. At the conclusion of this grant, the Stephen S. Wise Temple became its continuing sponsor. The orchestra broadened to perform all orchestral repertoire. Russell Steinberg arranged the first five Haydn symphonies and began composing original works that highlighted the students. strengths. Dr. and Mrs. Raymond Borun, through the Anna and Harry Borun Foundation, became the first major donors for the newly named Stephen Wise Youth Orchestra. In 2003, the orchestra membership grew beyond Jewish and local schools to include over fifty Los Angeles area schools, both public and private. To reflect this growing diversity, the orchestra was renamed the Los Angeles Youth Orchestra.
In 2003, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra began a partnership with Los Angeles Youth Orchestra, making it possible for students to attend working LACO rehearsals. These rehearsals afforded opportunities to interact with cello soloist Yo Yo Ma, conductor Jeffrey Kahane, cello soloist David Finckel, and many of the musicians of the LA Chamber Orchestra. In 2007, the Los Angeles Philharmonic selected the Los Angeles Youth Orchestra as a Partner Orchestra, awarding the honor of performing at Walt Disney Concert Hall in November 2007. In addition, various LA Philharmonic musicians now attend Los Angeles Youth Orchestra rehearsals and work with students throughout the year. In each of 2007 and 2008 three LAYO students were selected to perform with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra in Opening Night at the Hollywood Bowl. In 2008, the Los Angeles Youth Orchestra collaborated with the UCLA Music Department to perform a concert at UCLA's Schoenberg Hall featuring Beethoven's Triple Concerto, combining soloists from the UCLA music department with our orchestra and a UCLA wind and string ensemble.
In July of 2009, the Los Angeles Youth Orchestra became an independent 501(c)3 arts education organization, and began searching for a new home. We completed an agreement with the Beverly Hills Performing Arts Center, and starting in the fall of 2010 we rehearsed and performed at the beautiful Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills.
In the spring of 2011, we were told by the Saban Management that they had succeeded in finding better-funded ways of filling their own theatre-performance schedule, so we were on the move again. Milken Community High School found a way to work us back into their schedule, so we gratefully accepted, and now rehearse there.
In its relatively short history, the Los Angeles Youth Orchestra has grown into one of the most respected youth orchestras in the city, consistently improving in quality.
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