This Week in History


Young Musicians Take the National Stage

For the week of Monday, December 26, 2016

On December 31, 1960, the National Youth Orchestra of Canada (NYO Canada) performed for the first time at Massey Hall in Toronto in front of an enthusiastic audience.

A NYO Canada rehearsal during the 1960s
© National Youth Orchestra of Canada

During the summer of 1959, the first group of young musicians met for a pilot program in Stratford, Ontario. The event was planned by Walter Susskind, Harman Haakman, and James McIntosh in an effort to prepare more Canadian musicians for Canada’s growing orchestras.

The first summer was a success, and Susskind, who was the music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, began planning another session. He auditioned young people from across the country and in December 1960, 122 musicians assembled in Toronto. After five days of practice, the National Youth Orchestra of Canada performed their first concert featuring the music of Mozart, Beethoven, Weinzweig, and Wagner.

Walter Susskind and the NYO Canada
© National Youth Orchestra of Canada

The NYO Canada quickly developed into a demanding six-week program. In addition to intensive study on their instruments, students also attended lectures about orchestra etiquette and history, as well as performances and open rehearsals. The entire session was offered free of charge to young musicians thanks to donations as well as government grants. Today, students also receive a scholarship upon the successful completion of the program.

In 1963, the NYO Canada prepared its first cross-Canada tour, less than three years after its first performance at Massey Hall. Then, in 1966, it went on a successful performance tour of Europe, including an appearance at the prestigious Edinburgh Festival.

Over the years, the NYO Canada has held its distinguished reputation for education and performance. With the addition of a chamber music component, and additional workshops, the program is now seven-to-eight weeks long. The NYO Canada was declared the best youth orchestra in the world by the World Youth Orchestra Conference in 1996. Today, about one-third of the musicians in Canada’s orchestras are alumni of the program.

Massey Hall is a designated national historic site for its role as a performance venue and its excellent acoustics. To learn more about Massey Hall read “The Grand Old Lady of Shuter Street” and the “The Queen of Concert Halls” in the This Week in History archives.

Follow us on Twitter @ParksCanada. Find out more about the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

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