Orchestra founder dies

Orchestra founder dies


norman lebrecht

December 25, 2020

Keith Lau, general manager of the Asian Youth Orchestra, today announced the death of its founder, Richard Pontzious:

Dear AYOers and friends,
It is with deepest sadness and a broken heart that I inform you our beloved Mr. P has left us this morning due to the complication caused by pneumonia.
Over the past 25 years I worked with Mr. P side-by-side in AYO to create special opportunities to the young people. Going through rough time and good time. Experiencing many adventures. Before his departure, Mr. P wished all of the AYOers to carry on his mission to nurture the young people. He wanted to tell you all how much he loved you and missed you. He wanted so much to be there in 2022 to conduct the AYO’s 30th anniversary concert with all of you.
Mr. P is my best friend, my mentor and my boss. Life ahead without him will never be the same.

This was Mr P’s last message, just three days ago:

Message from Richard Pontzious, Founder & Artistic Director of AYO.
My dear AYO friends,
As the pandemic around the world is still not under control, there is a concern whether it is safe to have AYO tour in 2021. Alas, we have to take another year off to be sure everyone is safe and every where we go is safe. As much as I can guarantee it there will be an AYO 30th anniversary celebration in 2022. With auditions in 2022 and concerts and full tour in 2022. Details to follow. Some of you might know I have been in the hospital for the past couple of months (no, I didn’t have the coronavirus). I have now returned to my home. It will take time to fully recover but I am getting better day by day. Not to worry about that. I look forward to seeing you in 2022.
Richard Pontzious


  • Nick2 says:

    During his years teaching in China, Richard Pontzious saw an opportunity, grasped it and made it happen. It can not have been easy. He was fortunate to have the financial backing of the Hong Kong media tycoon Sally Aw Sian which guaranteed at least the first and probably several more seasons.

    There is no doubt that the founding of the AYO has given wonderful opportunities to thousands of young instrumentalists from all over Asia, including countries with little tradition of western orchestral music. The AYO was his passion and he deserves tremendous credit for making the dream come true.

    If there was one blind spot it seemed to be in the selection of conductors. Young musicians need conductors with rock solid technique, superb musicianship and the ability to inspire the ensemble to play almost above themselves. After the first few years, the standard of conductors seemed to drop. I also felt that it did the AYO no favours that Pontzious himself took over the role of Principal Conductor. He was a good amateur conductor but the AYO would have benefitted more from full time professional conductors. Perhaps this was an issue with finance or even the difficulty of finding conductors during the main Festival season in the west.

    Whatever the reason, his place in the development of music and musicians in Asia is secure. Bravo and RIP!

  • Richard was a lovely gentleman, whose passion for music was clear. But it is sometimes forgotten that he actually started in the profession as a music critic in the San Francisco area. He followed his dream and was able to see it to fruition. RIP.

  • Jonny says:

    I find this blog becoming really more and more depressing. One out of two posts is about announcing a new death. Besides being depressing, it’s not interesting nor adding any value.

  • Jay Liu says:

    Very sad news! His influence has changed many young musician’s life! Rest In Peace Mr. Pontzious!

  • Jerome Hoberman says:

    Oh, how awful! I hadn’t seen Richard Pontzious since running into him in a shopping mall well before last year’s pre-Covid disruptions; he was lively as always, in a rush but quick to talk a bit of business, though he did seem somehow unwell. I’d known Richard for at least 25 years, and had the pleasure of sitting and listening with him at an AYO audition in Hong Kong sometime in the mid-90s. A single day of auditions is exhausting; knowing that he did it for weeks on end, with seemingly undiminished energy, was astonishing and inspiring. Working with him was a blast: the constant stream of jokes both oral and scribbled masked the deep seriousness behind them, and kept the atmosphere focused but relaxed. He knew exactly what he wanted, and how to get it. I remember a time when we were both in Shanghai — I with the Conservatory orchestra, he with the Middle School orchestra (which was probably the better band). Watching him rehearse, patiently teaching while unbending in his demand for specific results, was a lesson in how to train young musicians that I’ve never forgotten. May his memory be a blessing.

  • Ernest says:

    RIP Maestro – your legacy will live in the sterling achievements of the AYO and its alumnus!

  • CHUN KEUNG LAU says: