89 Years Young
The History of America's First Established Youth Orchestra

In 1924 a group of visionary citizens established the Portland Junior Symphony Association (later renamed the Portland Youth Philharmonic Association [PYP]). Building on the pioneering work of Mary V. Dodge, whose Irvington School Orchestra was the nucleus of the first Junior Symphony, the Association engaged Russian émigré Jacques Gershkovitch as conductor. The Portland Junior Symphony is the oldest youth orchestra in the United States, with a program that was to become the prototype for youth orchestras across the country.

Photo of 1912-1917 Harney County Sagebrush Symphony Orchestra

Pictured above: Mary V. Dodge teaching her first orchestra, the Harney County Sagebrush Symphony Orchestra
from 1912-1917. Later she moved to Portland to conduct the Irvington School Orchestra.

Photo of Portland Junior Symphony in 1925

Pictured above: The Portland Junior Symphony in 1925 taking a trip to Salem, Oregon. (Jacques Gershkovitch
is the tall man on the front row to the right).

In his thirty years as Music Director, Gershkovitch set standards of excellence that have been maintained to this day. Under his leadership, the Junior Symphony became well known locally, regionally, and nationally. He was followed by Jacob Avshalomov, himself an alumnus of the orchestra, who led the orchestra for a distinguished forty-year tenure.

Photo of conductor Avshalomov in 1958

Pictured above: Jacob Avshalomov conducting the Portland Junior Symphony in 1958 at Pennisula Park in
Portland, Oregon.

Under Maestro Avshalomov, the orchestra had the distinguished honor of receiving the ASCAP Award for "Adventuresome Programming of Contemporary Music", and went on six international tours to Europe and Asia. After his impressive career, Avshalomov retired and was succeeded in 1995 by Huw Edwards.

Photo of PYP in front of Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in 1995

Pictured above: Huw Edwards and the Philharmonic Orchestra in 1995.

During the seven years Maestro Edwards was Music Director, he established the nationally acclaimed Peer Mentor program, broadcast the world's first interactive Children's Concert via satellite across Oregon, and again received the ASCAP Award for "Adventurous Programming and Commitment to Contemporary Music". In 1998 PYP represented the U.S. at the Banff International Festival of Youth Orchestras in Canada and in the summer of 2000 embarked on its seventh international tour to Australia and New Zealand.

Photo Mei-Ann Chen at the Waterfront Concert in 2002

Picture above: Mei-Ann Chen in her debut performance with the Philharmonic Orchestrain August 2002
for the Waterfront Concert.

When Edwards chose to make his departure at the end of the 2001-2002 Season, Mei-Ann Chen was selected from a field of over 100 applicants to become the fourth Music Director of PYP . A doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan, Ms. Chen holds a bachelor's degree in violin performance and a double masters in violin performance and orchestral conducting from New England Conservatory. In 2004, during the PYP's 80th Anniversary Season, she led PYP on a tour of the East Coast where they received a standing ovation in Carnegie Hall. Also under her leadership, the orchestra received its third ASCAP Award for "Adventuresome Programming of Contemporary Music." Most recently she won the prestigious 2005 International Malko Competition for Young Conductors in Copenhagen, Denmark. She was one of thirty applicants invited to the competition out of 240 that applied from 42 countries and the first woman to win since the competition began in 1965.

Over the years, several thousand young musicians have played in the PYP. Some have gone on to professional careers in orchestras across the country, including the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony, the National Symphony, the St. Louis Symphony, the Oregon Symphony, as well as the Juilliard and American String Quartets. Others have achieved great success in additional fields, while continuing to be accomplished amateur musicians and active supporters of the arts in their communities. Many alumni attribute much of their success to the discipline and teamwork they experienced as members of the Portland Youth Philharmonic.

David Hattner was selected as PYP’s 5th Conductor and Music Director in April 2008.  He has received rave reviews in his time here and is responsible for new outreach and education programs introducing children to bass and percussion lessons.  He is passionate about supporting school music and brings his extra time and talent to classrooms around the region.