Pairing youthful energy with high-quality musicianship, AYS recently relocated its headquarters to El Segundo and offers dazzling performances for little or no cost to audiences.
By Maureen Kingsley
El Segundo has a new neighbor headquartered just east of Pacific Coast Highway on Rosecrans Avenue: American Youth Symphony (AYS). This impressive, ambitious organization features 100 highly skilled pre-professional musicians aged 18 to 25 years who are transitioning from their university orchestras to professional music careers, and it invites the community of El Segundo to attend its performances. "New audiences are blown away by the musicality and quality of AYS performances," Executive Director Tara Aesquivel (pictured below, right) says. "AYS is run like a professional orchestra and sounds like one." All of AYS's performances are offered for free or at very low cost. Most of them take place in Royce Hall at UCLA and at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Downtown LA.
American Youth Symphony is new to El Segundo but has been active for decades. Begun in the 1960s under UCLA orchestra director Mehli Mehta, AYS is currently led by Music Director Carlos Izcaray (pictured below, second from right) and maintains its mission to inspire the future of classical music by awarding fellowships to virtuosic young-adult musicians and offering high-quality free concerts to the greater Los Angeles community. Explains Maestro Izcaray, "American Youth Symphony's exceptional musicians are dedicated to nurturing their craft and sharing their love of music with the community." The symphony's instrumentalists gain valuable training and experience while offering their musical gifts to audiences, performing each season at Royce Hall, Walt Disney Concert Hall, and additional smaller venues. The musicians also participate in the symphony's Share-A-Stand program, which sends them into underserved communities to mentor middle-school-aged music students.
AYS violinist and Orchestra Management Fellow Hannah Chou, 22, is a graduate student at UCLA and says she was "happy to find AYS here in Los Angeles" when she relocated from Chicago. Through her participation in the symphony and her fellowship, she has met other talented musicians of various backgrounds and is learning how orchestras are run and managed behind the scenes. And because AYS pays its musicians stipends and charges no tuition of any kind, it "attracts very high-level musicians," Chou explains, and is extremely competitive. "There were 300 applications for 35 spots last season," says Executive Director Aesquivel.
Accessible, innovative, and nearly identical in quality to those of a professional orchestra, AYS's performances this season are centered on the theme "A Celebration of Nature" and include such works as Beethoven's "Pastoral" symphony and Higdon's tribute to Grand Teton National Park, "All Things Majestic." In an effort to teach new and younger audiences about classical music, Maestro Izcaray "explains pieces to audience members for background and context," says AYS percussionist Jeremy Davis, age 19. "He's great." Study guides and programming notes for each performance are made publicly available as well, says Executive Director Aesquivel, to further educate new and curious audiences. The pieces chosen for performances range from standard classical symphony works to world premieres to film-industry pieces. (This is Los Angeles County, after all!)
The season runs from October to June, with this season's remaining concerts scheduled from this month on February 8th at Walt Disney Concert Hall through the summer. Smaller chamber-style performances are added during the season as well; those interested are urged to follow AYS on social media (@aysymphony) and online to stay informed of additional event dates. Aesquivel is looking forward to scheduling some close-to-home performances here in the South Bay, too, and has been in touch with El Segundo Unified School District employees, as well as directors of other local nonprofit organizations.
AYS is a nonprofit itself and offers yearly memberships and sponsorships. One-time donations and volunteer support are welcome also. For more information, drop into the new AYS offices at 2301 Rosecrans Avenue, or visit AYS online.
**Attention readers: Use code ES15 when purchasing tickets online to AYS's February 8 performance at Walt Disney Concert Hall for 15% off.**
This story appears in The El Segundo Scene's February 2020 issue.