National Youth Orchestra is given half a million dollars

National Youth Orchestra is given half a million dollars


norman lebrecht

August 15, 2016

From the Department of Canadian Heritage:


justin trudeau melanie-joly-candidate-photo

The Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Canadian Heritage, took advantage of a concert at the Montreal Symphony House to announce $525,000 in funding for the National Youth Orchestra Canada’s pan-Canadian signature initiative, Edges of Canada Sesquicentennial Concert Tour.

Thanks to this support, provided through the Canada 150 Fund, the National Youth Orchestra Canada (NYO), featuring young musicians from all across Canada, will tour the country presenting 14 concerts in 28 days in 2017. NYO will travel to several communities in the North for the first time and will include Indigenous artists in their performances. The organization will offer a mentoring and outreach program for aspiring young musicians in every community it performs in.


  • Chris says:

    “Montreal Symphony House” ??? Oh Wikipedia, look what you have done! #maisonsymphonique

  • Anon says:

    Perhaps the NYO can use some of this windfall to search for a new Executive Director. The NYO is a cultural treasure and a vital training resource to Canadian musicians. The orchestra is coached by excellent and experienced faculty and performs in top-notch concert halls. Many orchestra members go on to excellent careers. I’ve done NYO as a student more than once and I’m tremendously grateful for everything this program gave me as a musician. It’s a great organization and it deserves better leadership than it has now.

    As ED, Barbara Smith has treated talented young musicians like livestock. She has failed to respond adequately when informed of serious staff misconduct against students, including an episode where one of her senior staff swore at, insulted and berated a group of student musicians for bringing a safety concern forward. She has made decisions that jeopardized the safety of musicians and their instruments, including booking the orchestra to play a rehearsal and concert outdoors on a 30+ degree (C) day, with a forecast of rain, without overhead cover of any kind. She has fostered a staff culture of contempt for the musicians in the orchestra to the point where reasonable, serious questions to staff members are as likely as not to receive insults and mockery in response instead of answers. She has commissioned works from respected Canadian composers and then trash-talked their finished work in front of the entire orchestra, as she did with Brian Current’s SOMA. She has said some very troubling things to individual members of the orchestra, particularly those in leadership positions, telling one principal that the NYO was spending too much money on them for them to look so tired (when NYO had arranged accomodations in a building where the air conditioning was either switched off or did not work at night).

    All of the above are things I either witnessed firsthand or, in the case of the last anecdote, heard directly from a person involved. Many fellow alumni I’ve spoken to feel powerless to do anything about the situation. Barbara gives a speech at the beginning of each session to the effect that the music business is a small world, and people talk, and if young musicians don’t want trouble in their careers, they shouldn’t make trouble for the NYO.

    Barbara has done a great job of balancing the budget, raising the ensemble’s public profile and courting donors. It would be best if NYO could find a role for her that would focus on these elements while keeping her as far as possible from managing the actual operations of the organization.

    • James says:

      Sorry, “ANON”. I have participated in the program twice and never heard that speech from her. Sounds like a lot of vague accusations with no evidence to back them up, mixed with a healthy dose of whining and entitlement. At least, have some guts and put your name behind your personal smear campaign.

    • Amahl says:

      I did NYO in 2010 and 11, went to India with them in 2013 and have played a number of gigs/fundraising events/etc for them. Never heard that kind of speech from Barb at any point in the 6 years I’ve known her. She never trash-talked Soma in front of the orchestra, and if you’re talking about 2011, yes the AC was broken in the dorms during the training session, but that was booked SO far in advance, and was far beyond her control.

      I had nothing but positive interaction with her, and the staff in all of my experiences with the NYO. If you treated them with respect, and treated the programme with respect, they would respect you. If you f*** around, have a bad attitude, show up unprepared and don’t pull your weight, expect to be reprimanded.

      • ANOTHER ANON says:

        Furthermore, these building problems stopped happening when NYOC moved its home to Wilfrid Laurier University, which has been a very good venue for the orchestra training session. I have been a member of NYOC in both venues, and I remember the University of Western Ontario being a pretty poor accommodation for us – but thankfully all is well now.

  • Andy says:

    Dear Anon:

    What serious staff misconduct against students, specifically?

    Who swore at, insulted and berated the group of student musicians, and what was their safety concern?

    Did the orchestra get rained on during any rehearsals or performances?

    Any specific examples of reasonable, serious questions to staff members being responded to with insults and mockery?

    Aside from “Soma” in 2011, which other commissioned works were trash-talked, and what was the trash-talk about “Soma”?

    What very troubling things were said to individual members of the orchestra (that would not be said to virtually any employee or contractor in the business world)?

    What’s your name? Mine is Andy Ferrier, and I’m just responding to the thread you’ve started.

    • Andy says:

      Not taking any questions? Just quietly skulking in the shadows? Just as I thought. James and Amahl are right; you’re a bitter malcontent, trying to perpetuate ill will.

      Congratulations are due the NYO and Barbara Smith.

      Anon, if you’re able to do a better job, then go for it. If not, best to retreat further into your darkly shadowed hole.

      • James says:

        Amen, congratulations to this fine program and everyone involved in running it, and may it have many more successful years of giving young musicians an unforgettable and life-changing experience.