The Yale Symphony Orchestra (YSO) was founded in 1965 by a small group of Yale students who sensed the need for an ensemble devoted to the performance of orchestral repertoire. Nearly half a century later, the YSO enjoys a reputation as one of the premiere undergraduate orchestras in the United States, and performs more than six concerts a year. The group has achieved a permanent place in Yale lore with the production of its annual Halloween Show—in full costume, at midnight—to an audience of thousands at Woolsey Hall.
Past YSO conductors include Richmond Browne, John Mauceri, C. William Harwood, Robert Kapilow, Leif Bjaland, Alasdair Neale, David Stern, James Ross, James Sinclair, Shinik Hahm and George Rothman—and, currently in his sixth season with the ensemble, Toshiyuki Shimada. Many internationally recognized artists, including Yo-Yo Ma, Frederica von Stade, Emmanuel Ax, and David Shifrin, have shared the stage with the orchestra, as have undergraduate winners of the annual William Waite Concerto Competition.
YSO alumni have gone on to rich musical careers, and many have earned world-wide reputations. The Symphony’s distinguished alumni include Marin Alsop, recently appointed music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra; Sharon Yamada, first violinist of the New York Philharmonic; Haldan Martinson, Gregory Koeller, and Owen Young of the Boston Symphony; David Howard, clarinetist for the Los Angeles Philharmonic; Miles Hoffman, commentator with National Public Radio; William Bennett, principal oboist with the San Francisco Symphony; and Miriam Hartman, principal violist with the Israel Philharmonic. As an extracurricular ensemble nestled in a liberal arts university, the YSO’s reputation and output can rival most conservatory orchestras.
The history of the Yale Symphony Orchestra has been filled with constant experimentation and fresh challenges. The YSO serves not only as a musical outlet for its players, but also as an important venue for performances of new music. The group has been honored to present national and world premieres of many works, including the European premiere of Leonard Bernstein’s Mass in 1973, the world premiere of the definitive restoration of Charles Ives’ Three Places in New England, the U.S. premiere of Debussy’s Khamma, and the East Coast premiere of Benjamin Britten’s The Building of the House.
The YSO does not confine its concerts to the Yale campus, and has performed in Portugal, Korea, Central Europe, Italy, and most recently, Turkey. The orchestra has also toured domestically, with appearances in New York’s Carnegie Hall, Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral.