Arts & Culture

Tacoma’s top youth symphonies go Russian for their season openers

The Tacoma Youth Symphony in 2014.
The Tacoma Youth Symphony in 2014. Courtesy

Along with Tacoma’s professional classical music groups, another organization is kicking off its new season with concerts this month. The Tacoma Youth Symphony and Tacoma Young Artists Orchestra, the top two orchestras in the Tacoma Youth Symphony Association, will give concerts this and next weekend in the Rialto Theater and Urban Grace church, themed with music from Russia.

The Tacoma Youth Symphony, the top-level group comprised mostly of juniors, seniors and college-age students, plays “The Music of Love” in the Rialto on Sunday. Conducted by Paul-Elliot Cobbs, the performance will feature Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet” overture, Rachmaninoff’s Symphony no. 2 and the double bass concerto by Koussevitsky, played by TYS co-principal bass April Kim.

The Tacoma Young Artists Orchestra will present “Russian Fairytales” on Nov. 21 in Urban Grace church. Conducted by Dale Johnson, it will include excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker,” Glinka’s Spanish Overture No. 1, three short whimsical pieces by Liadov and Mussorgsky’s demonic “Night on Bald Mountain.”

Each year, the association chooses a different theme for its senior orchestras, exploring music from a certain country or period. This year’s theme is Russia, allowing the full spectrum from ballet music to symphonies to revolutionary pieces.

The nonprofit association, now in its 53rd year, teaches children ages 6-21 the skills of big-ensemble playing. With a budget of around $658,800, it maintains five orchestras (three full and two string-only) plus brass, wind and percussion ensembles, as well as encouraging small chamber groups and offering theory lessons. It’s among the top five youth orchestra associations in the country for size and budget, says director Loma Cobbs. The association is planning another tour for its top orchestras in 2017 or 2018 and will present a joint performance with the Tacoma Symphony next April.

Students from the youth orchestras have gone on to major music institutions and organizations as professional instrumentalists, conductors and educators. After a dip a few years ago, enrollment is now at 350 students — up 10 percent from last year, says Cobbs, partly as a result of reaching out to lower-income students in partnership with Tacoma Public Schools. Outreach efforts include sending conductors into schools to hold side-by-side workshops with school orchestras, and offering financial aid and support providing uniforms, lessons, music and transportation.

“We want desperately to have these student with us because we’re seeing first-hand the effect we have on getting them through high school and into college,” said Cobbs. “That’s the most important thing that distinguishes us from similar organizations. We don’t just want to churn out musicians of high caliber, although we do that. We also turn out fine citizens of the community. Music is our tool.”


Tacoma Youth Symphony

What: “The Music of Love” featuring Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Koussevitsky.

When: 3 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Rialto Theater, 310 S. Ninth St., Tacoma.

Tickets: $19 balcony, $8 floor (advance) or $10 at the door.

Information: 253-627-2792,

Tacoma Young Artists Orchestra

What: “Russian Fairytales” featuring Tchaikovsky, Glinka, Liadov, Mussorgsky.

When: 7 p.m. Nov. 21.

Where: Urban Grace, 902 Market St., Tacoma.

Tickets: $19 balcony, $8 floor (advance) or $10 at the door.

Information: 253-627-2792,