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The Greater Buffalo Youth Orchestras make possible a unique performance opportunity for talented young Western New York musicians.  The GBYO and GBYSO offer these musicians a chance to experience the discipline and rewards of preparing and performing advanced repertoires; the Foundation exists to facilitate this experience for young people.

The Youth Orchestra Foundation of Buffalo, Inc., expects each student musician's continued participation in other music programs,e specially school orchestras and ensembles, as these programs are a vital component to the success and quality of the Greater Buffalo Youth Orchestras and they cultural life of the community.




Celebrating its 60th season in 2018-19, the Greater Buffalo Youth Orchestra can trace its history to 1958, when the Western New York Youth Orchestra was formed by Dr. Robert Mols, on the faculty of the University of Buffalo Music Department. This orchestra was the outgrowth of four orchestral workshops, which had been held annually since 1954 under the joint sponsorship of the University's music department and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. The Western New York Youth Orchestra continued for five years under Allen Sigel and Frank Cipolla of the University music department while Dr. Mols was on leave. 


With Dr. Mols' resignation in 1963, there was an informal merger of the Western New York Youth Orchestra with the Community Music School Orchestra, which was being led by Pamela Gearhart. In 1973 the orchestra ended its relationship with the Community Music School and came under the sponsorship of the Youth Orchestra Foundation of Buffalo, Inc., a not-for-profit, tax-exempt organization that is an affiliate of the Arts Development Services, Inc., the Western New York representative of the New York State Arts Council. At this time the name of the orchestra was changed to the Greater Buffalo Youth Orchestra.


At the end of the 1974 season, Ms. Gearhart resigned as Music Director to accept a teaching position at Ithaca College. John Landis, who first conducted the ensemble in 1975, was named Music Director in 1977. During the 1982-83 season, the orchestra was led by three conductors: Alan Heatherington, Joseph Bishkoff, and David Miller. In April of 1983, Mr. Miller was named Music Director and served until his resignation in February 1984. The orchestra was most fortunate to conclude its 1984-85 season under two gifted guest conductors, Ansgarius Aylward and Arie Lipsky. Mr. Aylward was subsequently appointed Music Director (1986 – 1990). 


With an increasing number of qualified young musicians auditioning for membership, the Board of Directors in 1983 decided to form a training orchestra to offer experience to players who previously could not gain entry into the organization despite their excellent skills and interest. This group came to be known as the Chamber Orchestra, with Dennis Lell appointed as its first conductor. Mr. Lell conducted this group for three seasons, specializing in music for small orchestra as the training medium for these younger, less experienced players. After Mr. Lell was appointed General Manager of GBYO, Steven Thomas assumed the post of conductor of this group, which was renamed the Repertory Orchestra for the 1986-1987 season.


Over the years the GBYO has grown in size and scope, maintaining a membership of over 140 student musicians in its two orchestras, while continuing to grow in excellence and versatility. These ensembles provide exceptional opportunities for young musicians in Western New York, while enriching the cultural climate for all the area's citizens. Members are accepted on the basis of competitive auditions each spring.


In April 1981, the orchestra undertook its first major concert tour, an eleven-day journey through the Southeastern United States conducted by Music Director John Landis. Each performance received an enthusiastic audience response and high critical acclaim. Typical of these accolades were those received in Greenville, South Carolina, where the orchestra was praised as being "one of the finest and most prestigious youth orchestras in the nation." A week-long tour of the Eastern United States in April of 1983 met with similar responses.


A series of exchange concerts with the Niagara Youth Symphony of St. Catherine's, Ontario, took place during the 1985-86 season. This exchange culminated in a joint concert at Artpark in Lewiston, New York, as part of the 2nd Artpark International Festival. Semyon Bychkov, the distinguished Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic, was guest conductor of the combined orchestras on this occasion.


After several seasons in which travel was limited to short trips and exchanges, the Foundation reinstituted a major tour program in 1988, which was to culminate in a tour to the Soviet Union in August of 1989 under the auspices of the Chautauqua Institution. Unfortunately, the tour never materialized, due to the overwhelming expense of the undertaking.

Since 1977, the Youth Orchestra Foundation has sponsored an annual Senior Concerto

Competition. The competitions have taken place in the fall, and winners have been given the opportunity for solo performances with the orchestra on the winter and spring concerts each year.

The Concerto program was expanded during the 1986-87 season by the addition of the first GBYO Piano Competition, chaired by long-time Board member Claudio Vasquez. The winner, Korean-born pianist Sung-A Han, performed on the initial concerts of the 1987-88 season.

As part of the Youth Orchestra's 25th Anniversary celebration in 1983, the Youth Orchestra Foundation commissioned a new orchestral work by the distinguished American composer, Walter Hartley, who was a member of the faculty of the State University College at Fredonia. The resulting work, Mr. Hartley's Symphony No. 3, was given its world premier performance by the GBYO at Slee Hall in May of 1983, David Miller conducting. The symphony is dedicated to the late Cameron Baird, former Chairman and benefactor of the State University at Buffalo Music Department.

After a lengthy conductor search in 1991, Gerard Floriano was appointed Music Director.  Under his tutelage, the GBYO has pursued 2 European tours –Italy in 1995, and Spain in 1999. Another tour to Spain and France was in the making when the terrorist attack took place Sept. 11, 2001.  Subsequently, that tour was cancelled.

Gov. Pataki began inviting the GBYO to perform at the Martin Luther King, Jr., birthday celebrations in Albany from 2001- 2007.  

A grand event for GBYO was a performance in Carnegie Hall in March ‘05.  GBYO was also invited to perform at the All-Eastern MENC Conference in Hartford, CT., in March ’06.  This was a great honor to be chosen as the premier performing group representing the State of New York.  In 2008, the GBYO was selected to represent Western New York at the New York State School Music Teachers Conference in Rochester.

The GBYO resumed European tours in 2010, with a tour including Salzburg, Vienna, and Prague, only to be postponed due to the volcano eruption in Iceland.  The tour did proceed in July, 2010, with great success, followed by a tour in 2014 to Italy.

In 2015, the GBYO was conducted by Stefan Sanders, Associate Conductor of the BPO.  A conductor search ensued and, in 2016, Ansgarius Aylward was re-appointed as Music Director.  

The GBYO enjoyed a very successful tour in 2018 to Salzburg, Prague, and Vienna performing to a sold-out house in Dvorak Hall, Rudolfinum, in Prague – home of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, whose new Music Director is none other that “Buffalo’s own” Semyon Bychkov.

The Greater Buffalo Youth Orchestra is a member of the Youth Orchestra Division of the American Symphony Orchestra League.