El Camino Youth Symphony

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The El Camino Youth Symphony (ECYS) is a youth orchestra located in Palo Alto, California.

Founded in 1963, the El Camino Youth Symphony educates and trains more than 450 K-12 students from over 100 schools from San Francisco to Santa Cruz. The Symphony Orchestra is the top-level ensemble, and it is composed of talented musicians ranging from middle to high-schoolers from throughout the Bay Area. The orchestra studies under the baton of Jindong Cai, a conductor and master teacher who challenges the musicians to reach a high level of achievement. Other staff include Debra Gardner, clarinetist, who serves as wind coach for all of ECYS and assistant conductor, and Cathy Spieth, the executive director for ECYS.

The Symphony Orchestra performs to capacity crowds (2000+) at Flint Center in Cupertino, CA, and the California Theatre in San Jose, CA.

Preparatory Ensembles[edit]

In addition to the Senior Symphony, ECYS also maintains several preparatory ensembles for less advanced musicians. At the youngest level, students can participate in Chamber Players (1-2 years experience) or Camerata (3+ years), orchestras led by Dr. Michail Gelfandbien. Galbraith Honor Strings, under Dr. Kolchinsky, is a string orchestra named after the founder of ECYS, William Galbraith; its level is between the Camerata and Sinfonietta orchestras. ECYS also offers the El Camino Wind Orchestra, conducted by Christopher Florio, which performs wind ensemble repertoire, and prepares students for Sinfonietta and Symphony.

Up until 2010, the preparatory ensembles performed at Cubberley Theatre in Palo Alto, CA. Starting season 2010-2011, the preparatory ensembles, as well as Sinfonietta and Flute ensembles mentioned below, perform in the new Oshman Family Jewish Community Center.

With the increasing number of flutists in the Bay Area, too, ECYS boasts a strong program under the baton Melody Schaefle, lecturer at Stanford University. The flute ensemble program has an intermediate level - Intermezzo; and an advanced level for experienced flutists - the talented El Camino Flute Ensemble. The flute ensemble program also offers students the opportunity to play in chamber music groups with their peers.

Up until the 2010-2011 season, the flutes ensembles performed at the Community Congregational Church in Sunnyvale, CA.

The intermediate orchestra offered by ECYS is the Sinfonietta, also led by Dr. Kolchinsky. This program consists of intensive sectional work and is focused mainly on classical and early romantic repertoire, while preparing junior and high school students for admittance into the Senior Symphony.

Up until the 2010-2011 season, the Sinfonietta Orchestra performs at Spangenberg Theatre in Palo Alto, CA and the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts in Mountain View, CA.


From the annual Concerto Competition, student soloists are selected to play with the various ECYS ensembles. There is also a piano solo competition which is open to members and non-members.

ECYS is far from typical in that more than 20 soloists are selected each season to perform with several of the orchestras and ensembles. This practice develops young musicians as artists and trains leaders for the orchestras and ensembles.

Soloists of international stature are invited to perform as guest soloists with the Senior Symphony. In the 2010-2011 season, David Kim returned to the El Camino Youth Symphony to perform the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. In 2010, pianist Claire Huangci performed Saint-Saëns' Piano Concerto No. 2. In 2009, the Assistant Concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, Michelle Kim, and her colleague from the cello section, Sumire Kudo, performed the Brahms Double Concerto at Flint Center with the Symphony, as well as conducted a master class. In 2008 Martin Chalifour, the Principal Concertmaster of the Los Angeles Philharmonic performed the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. The featured artist for March 2006 was Robert Chen, concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. David Kim, concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra, performed the Bruch Scottish Fantasy with the Symphony in the October 2006 Benefit Concerts, to standing ovations. Both Robert Chen and David Kim have conducted a Masterclass for ECYS, along with their performances. In 2005 pianist Rueibin chen performed. In 2002-2003 ECYS presented violinist Alexander Barantschik, concertmaster of the San Francisco Symphony, and pianist Jon Nakamatsu. In recent years the Symphony has performed with pianists Barbara Nissman and Vladimir Viardo, cellist Michail Gelfandbein, and violinists Philip Quint and Bin Huang.

Outreach Program[edit]

The ECYS Performance Outreach Program is a great opportunity for ECYS musicians to be in a chamber music group (quartet, trio, quintet, duet, etc.) to provide performances for the community. ECYS chamber musicians earn community service and get to represent ECYS in performances and competitions.

This program is offered to members of Symphony, Sinfonietta, Galbraith Honor Strings, and the El Camino Flute Ensemble.

The ensembles rehearse with a professional coach from mid-September through mid-May.

International Tours[edit]

The Symphony has a long tradition of international tours, in recent years touring has occurred during the summer every two years. Recent tours have included England, Scotland, Austria, France and Italy. In the Summer of 2005, the Symphony performed in Central Europe with violinist Daphne Wang (who played the Barber Violin Concerto), where they received standing ovations in Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Germany, including the famed Dvořák Hall. In 2007, the Symphony toured the Baltics (Finland, Estonia, Russia) with featured soloist piano prodigy Chloe Pang, who played Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin. This tour featured an American program and a special performance in the world-renowned Glinka Capella, where they received a full-house standing ovation as St. Petersburg welcomed back Conductor Camilla Kolchinsky. In 2009 the Symphony visited Poland and Germany with soloist Hannah Pauline Tarley, violin, performing the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in his house, the famed Gewandhaus of Leipzig, and Sarasate's Navarra with Concertmaster Timothy Yu. In 2011, the Symphony toured Spain and France with soloist Naomi Kudo, piano, performing Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto, along with Stravinsky's Firebird suite and Berlioz' Le Carnaval Romain. Arguably the most successful tour in the Symphony's history, this tour featured an arousing performance in the Église de la Madeleine in Paris.

Annual Retreat[edit]

Each August the Symphony launches its season with a week-long retreat at UC Santa Cruz, where the season program is previewed and the instrumentalists work intensively with sectional coaches and the conductor. Seating auditions are also held there, and there is also the traditional trip to the Boardwalk.


The Symphony rehearses weekly throughout the school year, beginning in mid-August and concluding late in May or the first week of June. During the tour years, the Symphony has the Bon Voyages Concerts around the near-end of June, being a preview of the Tour concerts. Prior to each concert program, there are two dress rehearsals.

External links[edit]