Youth Orchestra FAQ

What is the CBSO Youth Orchestra?
The CBSO Youth Orchestra is an amateur symphony orchestra for young people run by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. It was set up in 2004 in response to the winding-up of the Midland Youth Orchestra (MYO) to complement the region's existing youth orchestras and to offer young orchestral musicians in the Midlands the opportunity to work with top professional orchestral musicians, conductors and soloists in challenging and exciting repertoire.

Where and when does the CBSO Youth Orchestra meet?
The orchestra meets for one week at a time in school half-term holidays (October and February), for a week long course of rehearsals followed by a concert. Rehearsals are usually between 10am and 5pm, with occasional evening sessions and are usually held in CBSO Centre, Berkley Street, Birmingham. Concerts are usually at Symphony Hall, Birmingham.

The CBSO Youth Orchestra Academy also meets for a week each summer, allowing a selected chamber orchestra drawn from the CBSO Youth Orchestra to perform smaller-scale repertoire, and take part in other musical activities, culminating in a concert at Birmingham Town Hall.

What standard do I need to be to apply?
You need to be at a minimum of grade 7-plus for strings, grade 8-plus for wind, brass and percussion. The orchestra aims to play challenging music to a very high standard, so it's not suitable for beginners, but how you perform in audition is far more important to us than your official 'grade' - so if you're keen to give it a try, and feel ready for the challenge, please do apply, even if you haven't yet taken (or aren't planning to take) your grade 8.

We regret we are unable to accept applications for membership of the CBSO Youth Orchestra on non-standard orchestral instruments (e.g. drum-kit, guitar, saxophone, etc.)

What age must I be to apply?
Minimum age: 13 (in year 9)
Maximum age: 21

For further clarification on eligibility please contact Helen Poulter at

What are the commitment requirements?
All rehearsals are compulsory. Youth Orchestra members are expected to attend all rehearsals during the week.

How much does it cost?
£135 per course – making the CBSO Youth Orchestra one of the most inexpensive youth orchestras of its type in the country. We're keen to attract the very best young players, irrespective of their financial position, therefore support is available from the Blyth Major Memorial Bursary Scheme for those who are eligible, while larger grants may be applied for once a year from the James Langley Memorial Trust – please contact Helen Poulter at for more information.

Do I have to live in Birmingham to join the orchestra?
No, the CBSO Youth Orchestra rehearses in Birmingham, and accepts applications from young players from across the Midlands region. Applicants must have a connection to the Midlands in order to apply. Connections could include the following: residing in the Midlands; previously resided in the Midlands or studying in the Midlands.

I'm already in my local youth orchestra – does this mean I can't join?
Quite the contrary. The CBSO Youth Orchestra was set up specifically to offer a more advanced level of orchestral experience to members of other youth and schools orchestras. It's meant to be something you can join in addition to your regular orchestra. Because the CBSO Youth Orchestra only meets during half-term holidays, it shouldn't clash with your regular orchestral commitments.

Are the courses residential?
No – members need to be able to get to and from central Birmingham on each day of the course.

Who's the conductor?
The CBSO Youth Orchestra doesn't have a permanent principal conductor or music director – we work with different conductors for each concert, including former CBSO Music Director Andris Nelsons, CBSO Principal Guest Conductor Edward Gardner, CBSO Associate Conductor Michael Seal, former CBSO Music Director Sakari Oramo, and the most exciting of the CBSO's roster of guest conductors. These have included John Wilson, Jac van Steen, Martyn Brabbins, Paul Daniel, and Garry Walker. Each conductor chooses their own concert programme.

Who are the soloists?
An important aim of the CBSO Youth Orchestra is to give its members a taste of what it means to be a member of the CBSO, including having the opportunity to perform with world-class guest artists. Therefore, our policy is to engage soloists who have already performed with the CBSO itself. These have included Katarina Karneus, Christine Rice and Lore Lixenberg (mezzo) Leon McCawley, Peter Donohoe, Joanna MacGregor and Steven Osborne (piano), Julian Bliss (clarinet), Alison Balsom (trumpet), Tasmin Little and Chloe Hanslip (violin) and Guy Johnston and Andreas Brantelid(cello). We don't usually engage non-professional or first-time soloists.

What do you play?
The CBSO has a worldwide reputation for adventurous and innovative programming, with particular emphasis on contemporary music. The repertoire of the CBSO Youth Orchestra reflects this – we aim to programme works that you would not normally expect to play in a Youth Orchestra. Recent works performed include Strauss’ An Alpine Symphony, Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony, Mahler's Seventh Symphony, Ravel's Daphnis et Chloe, Shostakovich's Eleventh Symphony, Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony, Bruckner's Romantic Symphony, Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra, Walton's First Symphony, Nielsen's Inextinguishable Symphony, Bartók's The Wooden Prince and Korngold's Violin Concerto – music that we hope you'll find challenging and exciting, and probably won't get the chance to play anywhere else!

We also commission new music, and in February 2007 the Orchestra premiered Streamlines, a brand-new work, written specially for it by Tansy Davies. In 2009, we premiered another commission, Piu mosso by Luke Bedford, and in 2011 we followed this with a third new work, this time commissioned from the young British composer Ben Foskett. Charlotte Bray also wrote us a new piece for the 2013-14 season and, in February 2017, we premiered Breakbeat by Daniel Kidane.

There will also always be great classics by composers like Stravinsky, Elgar, Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven, all with conductors and soloists who'll show you these works as you've never heard them before.

I write music – can I have my works performed by the CBSO Youth Orchestra?
We regret that we are unable to consider or return any unsolicited orchestral scores; the CBSO Youth Orchestra only plays two or three concerts a year, and the programmes for these are chosen by the individual conductors and CBSO staff after very careful consideration.