About Us

At Empire State Youth Orchestra (ESYO), we believe in music and its power . . .
  • to guide young musicians in developing skills and creative ways of thinking
  • to inspire young people to focus, work hard, and work as a team to achieve excellenceSax players
  • to create community by crossing cultural, social, and economic divisions
  • to transform lives for the better

The ESYO Experience

Empire State Youth Orchestra challenges and inspires young people to achieve excellence through music in a rigorous learning environment leading to high-level performance opportunities.

Cellos Each season, more than 500 talented musicians, ages 9-18, from the greater Capital Region of New York and western New England, enjoy outstanding educational and performance opportunities as members in one or more of ESYO’s two full orchestras, wind orchestra, string ensemble, two jazz ensembles, and three percussion ensembles. With approximately thirty public performances each season, ESYO musicians experience the joy of playing in a variety of venues including Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, the Massry Center, Arthur Zankel Music Center, and even Carnegie Hall. ESYO’s Youth Orchestra has toured Europe four times and, in 2012, performed by invitation at the World Expo in Yeosu, South Korea, as well as at major concert halls in Beijing and Shanghai, China. Our ensembles have performed in festivals,  on NPR’s “From the Top,” and had exchanges with other youth music groups.

ESYO’s programming ensures that our musicians are exposed to a broad YPC blue section
range of music to form a solid musical foundation which is particularly important for those students who want to continue in music in college and beyond. As a result, our concerts feature masterworks as well as music from living composers. ESYO has commissioned music from composers such as Samuel Adler, Hilary Tann, Dan Cooper, Jin Hi Kim, Grammy-winning Bill Cunliffe, and Michael Davis, which allows our musicians to be a part of the creative process as they work with the composer in rehearsal and bring a musical idea to life in a performance. In 2008, ESYO was awarded a $100,000 grant from the New York State Music Fund at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors that helped support the “New Music for a New Generation” festival, at which commissioned works from nine separate composers were premiered, one by each of ESYO’s ensembles. In that same year, ESYO was awarded the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) Youth Orchestra Award for Adventurous Programming of Contemporary Music, as well as the ASCAP award for American Programming on Foreign Tours. During that tour, Samuel Adler accompanied the musicians to introduce the European premieres of his work, A Bridge to Understanding, commissioned by ESYO for the 2008 festival. In 2011 ESYO was accorded another award for Adventurous Programming from ASCAP.

Working with professional musicians goes beyond the weekly rehearsals and coaching sessions; ESYO musicians have taken advantage of master classes and visits from guest artists such as Boston Brass Quintet, Hyperion Quartet, ESYO alum Gary Wicks from Manhattan Transfer, Benjamin Zander, Alan Vizutti, and “Blue” Lou Marini. Collaborations with other arts organizations such as Albany Symphony Orchestra and Albany Pro Musica enhance the ESYO Experience.

ESYO graduates, nearly half of whom pursue music as a career, tell us that their ESYO experience helped them develop skills, such as working in a team, responsibility, discipline, that have helped them achieve success. Alumni can be found in all walks of life from finance to science to medicine to business, and, of course in the music industry. ESYO is well represented by alumni on stage performing classical and contemporary music in national orchestras and in small combos, backstage as arts managers, recording engineers, and composers, and in the classroom teaching the next generation of musicians.

Helen rehearsalESYO has a prominent role in the cultural life of the Capital Region. Over the years, thousands of young school children have been introduced to the workings of an orchestra at ESYO’s annual Young People’s Concert; senior citizens enjoy hearing the orchestra at our annual free Concert for Seniors. Many area residents grew up attending the Melodies of Christmas concerts that feature ESYO’s flagship ensemble, the Youth Orchestra; now these folks are bringing their own children. Produced by CBS 6 (Albany, these concerts benefit the pediatric oncology program at Albany Medical Center. In 2013, ESYO was recognized for its outstanding contribution as a vital economic force in the region by the Tech Valley Nonprofit Business Council.

Barry Richman founded ESYO in 1979, along with Lois Lyman, Eleanor Barnes and a group of dedicated parents and music educators. For the first two seasons ESYO had only one ensemble – the Youth Orchestra.  Over the years, additional ensembles were added to meet the needs of the growing ESYO community and to provide more opportunities for younger, less-experienced players. Currently, all of ESYO’s ensembles rehearse weekly under the direction of professional musicians. Our largest ensembles also benefit from periodic, instrument-specific coaching sessions. The Youth and Repertory Orchestras kick off each season with a rehearsal-retreat weekend at Frost Valley YMCA Camp in the Catskills.

Nearly half of ESYO’s expenses are offset by the generosity of individuals, corporations, foundations and government agencies. This dedicated support is crucial to keeping tuition fees affordable and allowing our orchestras and ensembles to include all talented musicians regardless of financial status.

ESYO is a (501)(c)(3) non-profit organization governed by a volunteer board of directors.


What do they say about ESYO?

Excerpts from reviews:Flutes

“The orchestra sounded so good that you could close your eyes and not be able to tell that what you were hearing was really a group of teenagers.”
Daily Gazette, Nov. 2006

Helen hair fly

“Cha-Pyo’s hair-flying passion and intense involvement clearly inspired the musicians. The orchestra displayed an abundant energy and technical proficiency, listened well to each other and rocked the hall with the finale’s fireworks.
Daily Gazette, Nov. 2007

“Music of the future will be in good hands. . . A marathon of the latest contemporary music . . . was happening in downtown Troy and the performances were all by middle school and high school musicians.”
Times Union, March 2008

“Everyone got a chance to shine in Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” One of the great orchestra pieces, Cha-Pyo conducted with her customary high energy, which makes her hair fly, and clear stick technique and set quick tempos. The orchestra knew what to do. Strong woodwinds, lush strings and a terrific brass choir brought it home.”
Daily Gazette, Nov. 2010