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This month, the YOLA National Festival brings together 144 music students (ages 12 to 18) from 37 cities across the country to participate in an intensive summer learning program and top-tier ensemble. The Festival will culminate in a performance conducted by Music & Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel and Roderick Cox at Walt Disney Concert Hall on July 26.





Unlike any other youth orchestra, Festival students hail from more than 50 music education programs, many of which were modeled on El Sistema – the innovative Venezuelan music and social development initiative that nurtured Dudamel in his youth and inspired our own Youth Orchestra Los Angeles. 

The Festival is not, however, the first of the LA Phil’s summer training orchestras. The Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute Orchestra (created by Leonard Bernstein) performed from 1981 to 1991 at the Hollywood Bowl and sparked the careers of countless musicians (including one current LA Phil player).

In this month’s Centennial Reflections, read about the history of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute Orchestra.

A young Leonard Bernstein’s career was launched in 1940, when he was noticed in a conducting class at Tanglewood. Bernstein wanted to pay that opportunity forward. The LA Phil wanted to bring the spirit of Tanglewood to the Hollywood Bowl. Bernstein and the LA Phil’s then-general manager Ernest Fleischmann teamed up with the University of Southern California’s Daniel Lewis to create an orchestra-training program for early career musicians and conductors. They called it “a constructive force for practical music education.”

The Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute lasted a decade. After Bernstein, it was led by Michael Tilson Thomas, André Previn, Lukas Foss, and, finally, renowned cellist Lynn Harrell.

Bernstein with students at the Hollywood Bowl, c. 1981
Photo credit: Robert Millard/LA Phil

Harrell said of the Institute Orchestra:

“Not only do students have an almost daily open working situation with Philharmonic players, but they’ll have the opportunity to join them in performance. To sit next to experienced orchestra musicians and play with that kind of immediacy is worth a thousand words..."

“Here it was again – the thrill of discovery, the joy of those concerts at the Hollywood Bowl, the sense of showing the best to young players. And the hope was that, 20 years down the road, it would sustain them through the reality of bad times – the broken-down bus in the middle of nowhere, rehashing yet another “Unfinished” Symphony for the unprepared wunderkind, the drudgery, the aching back, the deafened ear, the empty bank account. What gets you through days like those is the priceless gift of sharing, soul to soul, heart to heart, the unforgettable performances, the masterpieces at their most inspired.”
– American classical cellist, Lynn Harrell 

The young musicians performed for several weeks each summer at the Hollywood Bowl — a truly one-of-a-kind training program. Among the 757 participants, more than one-third went on to professional orchestra posts, including Ben Hong, associate principal cello of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

In 1991, facing a recession and financial uncertainty, the LA Phil canceled the program. Aspects of it would be reconstituted two decades later, however, with the arrival of Dudamel and his commitment to music education.

The Dudamel Conducting Fellows, the Nancy and Barry Sanders Composer Fellowship Program, (YOLA) Youth Orchestra Los Angeles, the LA Phil Resident Fellows, and, of course, the YOLA National Festival are all descendants of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute.

Learn about all our Learning programs here.


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Without their generous support, none of this would be possible. 

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To learn more about the LA Phil’s history and its road ahead, look for our limited-edition, two-volume Centennial publication: Past/Forward: The LA Phil at 100, available online and at the LA Phil Store.