The National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain (= NYO) is an orchestra of about 150 young musicians from the UK. The members of the orchestra are all aged between 13 and 19 years. The players are selected by auditions which take place in the autumn each year at various locations in the country. The minimum standard needed to audition is a Grade 8 Distinction (though it is not necessary to have taken the examination).
Ruth Railton (later Dame Ruth King) founded the National Youth Orchestra in 1948. Subsequent NYO directors have includedn Ivey Dickson (1966-1984), Derek Bourgeois (1984-1993), Jill White (1993-2002), and Jonathan Vaughan (2002-2007). Sarah Alexander was named the NYO's director in 2007. Christopher Seaman has also had a long association with the NYO.
Each course is directed by a world-famous conductor. These have included Marin Alsop, Jiri Belohlavek, Sir Adrian Boult, Semyon Bychkov, Paul Daniel, Sir Andrew Davis, Sir Colin Davis, Sir Mark Elder, Ivan Fisher, Antonio Pappano, Hugo Rignold, Andrew Litton, Keith Lockhart, Sir Roger Norrington, Tadaaki Otaka, Geoffrey Paterson, Sir Simon Rattle and Mstislav Rostropovich. In December 2008, the NYO announced the appointment of Vasily Petrenko as its new principal conductor.
The orchestra meets three times a year during the school holidays at New Year, Easter and Summer for two week residential courses, coached by tutors. Repertoire includes a wide variety of works by Romantic, 20th century and contemporary composers including Macmillan and Terry Riley. In addition to the main orchestral activity they have time to participate in chamber music and establish friendships. In the evenings after rehearsals, opportunities are available such as quiz nights, film viewings, fancy dress parties, and the leavers' Dinner every summer course for those members who are in their last year of the orchestra.
Venues for their concerts include Barbican Hall, (London), Symphony Hall, Birmingham, Bridgewater Hall, (Manchester), St David's Hall, (Cardiff) and Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. Every year they play in a Promenade Concert in the Royal Albert Hall to promote music making. Performances in 2007, for example, included Benjamin Brittenís War Requiem at St Paulís Cathedral under Richard Hickox and a Prom programme including the Leningrad Symphony by Dmitri Shostakovich under Mark Elder. Contemporary music is also an important part of their repertoire. Their 2007 Prom opened with the London premiere of Aaron Jay Kernisís New Era Dance (the UK premiere having been given by Mark Elder with the Hallé Orchestra in 2003). In June selected members of the orchestra played for an hour on the main pyramid stage at Glastonbury Festival. Trumpeters, trombonists and drummers from the orchestra played Aaron Coplandís Fanfare for the Common Man, but the whole orchestra joined together to play Dvorak's 9th Symphony 'New World' and A short Ride in a Fast Machine by John Adams.
NYO members have always had the opportunity to benefit from composition lessons and to have their works performed on NYO courses, usually on an informal basis. A Composers' course (consisting of 6 young composers), directed by composer Paul Patterson, now runs in tandem with the orchestra during the residential courses, writing pieces for the instrumentalists that are not needed for certain items of the main repertoire being rehearsed. These compositions are often featured in pre-concert events, such as in a BBC Proms Plus event or in the Clore Ballroom of the Royal Festival Hall (London).
The NYO has introduced special master-classes attracting world-class soloists to offer help and guidance to members of the orchestra. Creative projects which take place in the Summer provide the musicians with the opportunity of exploring improvisation techniques and music from other cultures. Each year almost 70 members of the Orchestra attend the creative projects, under the guidance of 11 specialised professors.
NYO started holding Open Days in 1998 as a means of enabling young musicians to experience the fun of working with other musicians of the same age under the guidance of NYO's renowned Professors (tutors). These days are aimed at musicians aged between 10 and 17, of grade 6 standard or above, although no exams need to have been taken. They are usually held in three locations per year. Since 1998, they have held Open Days in Hexham, Northampton, Nottingham, Winchester, Edinburgh, Bradford on Avon, Birmingham, Leeds, Launceston, Ipswich, Manchester, Bristol, Reading, London, Leicester and Kent.