Mission & History

Our Mission

The Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra was established in 1970 for these purposes:

  • To provide enriching musical and educational experiences to highly capable and committed young musicians through the study and performance of symphonic masterworks;

  • To bring together music students from diverse social and cultural backgrounds;

  • To promote teamwork and a shared dedication to excellence;

  • To develop a life-long love of music-making.



Music beats at the heart of Rochester's cultural life and for decades has helped to define our community. Rochester's thriving commercial and industrial life in the 19th century had attracted immigrants for whom music was an essential part of life. Within a short time music schools and performance groups had become part of the fabric of our urban structure. The creation in 1922 by George Eastman of the Eastman School of Music and the Eastman Theatre Orchestra (the predecessor of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra) soon led to Rochester's prominence as a major musical center. And by the 1940s and 1950s both the Eastman School and the RPO had developed national reputations for their superb music training, performance, and innovative music education programs. This was the rich musical environment that eventually led to the creation of the Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra.

The RPYO emerged in 1970 as the successor to long established All-City public school music ensembles and to the annual youth music festivals sponsored by the RPO. Now a program of the RPO's Education Department, the RPYO draws highly motivated middle and high school musicians from within a large region of western New York State.

Its program of weekly rehearsals and three formal concerts in major area performance halls is enriched by sectional rehearsals with RPO musicians, an annual Side-by-Side concert with the RPO, and other musical activities that include periodic domestic and international tours.

RPYO alumni follow a wide variety of musical and non-musical career paths. These include positions in major symphony orchestras and as music educators as well as involvements in countless other occupations. The RPYO is thrilled and proud that an RPYO alumnus, Ward Stare, returned to Rochester in 2014 as the new music director of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. Other RPYO alumni currently perform with the New York and Rochester Philharmonic Orchestras, the San Francisco, Chicago, and Cleveland Symphony Orchestras and many additional professional and community ensembles.

Since 1970 the RPYO has had four music directors: Howard Weiss, then concertmaster of the RPO, served as its founding music director from 1970-1989. Darryl One followed as RPYO music director and resident conductor of the RPO from 1990-1993. David Harman retired in 2014 following a distinguished tenure of twenty-one years as the RPYO's third music director. In 2017 David retired as music director of the University of Rochester River Campus Orchestras and continues to serve a music director of The Penfield Symphony Orchestra.  In 2015, James Mick, a faculty member at the Ithaca College School of Music, was appointed its fourth music director.

The RPYO is honored to have been a participant for over forty-five years in Rochester's illustrious musical world. It takes pride in collaborating with local professional musicians, music educators, instrumental teachers, and community music programs with the common goal of encouraging, inspiring and guiding our young musicians to high levels of musical achievement and fulfillment.