About us

The Young Musicians Symphony Orchestra (YMSO) is distinctive in being the only full-size symphony orchestra based in London which provides orchestral training, performance experience and professional development opportunities to outstanding young classical musicians from across the UK, between the ages of 18-25. The YMSO is a registered Charity and has never received any statutory funding.  Founded in 1971 by its Artistic Director James Blair MBE, it is now in its 50th year of successfully bridging the gap between college life and the orchestral profession.

By the time a student leaves music college they will have committed at least fifteen years to developing their skills as a musician. Abruptly, competition for the small number of performance opportunities against several hundred others in the same position becomes a fact of life.

The number of students destined for a solo career is limited. Instead, the majority will end up as music’s foot-soldiers, of necessity equally at home in a string quartet, a chamber or a symphony orchestra. Today’s musician must be versatile, flexible and thrifty in order to survive.

Most will remain self-employed and need to promote themselves to ensembles and orchestras whilst, in some cases, performing recitals on a small scale. They will be required to reach public performance standard after minimal rehearsal be available in the most disparate venues from one day to the next.

The richness of London’s musical life is world-renowned, but the musical education system does not have the resources to address these issues and many students find themselves abandoned in a world of work without being equipped to handle it. The YMSO provides a bridge between college life and the profession and gives students a real advantage with experience of the major classical repertoire, realistic rehearsal schedules and performances in the great concert halls of the country.

These young people are passionate about their music and have dedicated much of their lives to reaching the very highest professional standards. In such a precarious situation, anything that can enhance their opportunities for employment should be applauded and encouraged.

For 50 years the YMSO, with no contribution from national or local government but with the generous support of its private and corporate admirers, has filled in the gaps. Our gratitude for that support is immeasurable.

“The Young Musicians Symphony Orchestra represents the realisation of an ambition I have had for some time – that the musicians of this orchestra be drawn not only from the most eminent Conservatoires in England but that it be an orchestra representing the whole of the British Isles, Ireland and beyond. Their audiences will be treated to an integrated body of musicians incorporating the great cultural strands which compose these green islands. I am happy that this more than national orchestra is now in existence and will continue. I pray, for years to come to bring our audiences the most wonderful music played in a most wonderful way by our young people.”

Lord Menuhin – late President of the YMSO



Roger Bramble

Company Secretary
Derek Stretton

Principal Conductor and Artistic Director
James Blair MBE

Roger Bramble (Chairman), Iain Gibbs, Professor Ian Jones, Simon Melluish, Ben Pateman, Derek Stretton

Advisory Council
Jane Asher, Lord Bragg, Matt Cooper, Lord Deben, Prue Leith CBE, Lord Puttnam, Frances Sorrell, Colin Tweedy, Julian Lloyd Webber, Martin Williams

Charlie Jones

James Blair MBE Artistic Director

James Blair, Principal Conductor and Artistic Director of the Young Musicians Symphony Orchestra, was born in Scotland. Whilst studying in London with Bernard Keefe, Sir Adrian Boult and in Italy with Franco Ferrara, his talent was soon recompensed with numerous awards including the Ricardi Conducting Prize and an Italian Government Scholarship to study in Sienna, Rome and Venice.

James has been associated with the YMSO since 1971 and has established it as the UK’s leading training orchestra. He has received particular renown with the orchestra in two areas; the interpretation of large-scale romantic works and the rediscovery of and, in some cases, British and World Premieres of neglected works by a variety of important composers.

James has worked with every major choir in England including the London Symphony Chorus, London Philharmonic Choir and the Huddersfield Chorus and with many of the UK’s major orchestras including the Royal Philharmonic, Philharmonia, Scottish Chamber, BBC Philharmonic and Scottish Symphony Orchestras and London Mozart Players. He has toured the USA where he has given concert series with the San Jose, Sacramento, Kansas City, Delaware and Colorado Springs Symphony Orchestras. In the field of opera he has conducted performances at the Dublin Grand Opera and the Athens Opera House. He had a close association with Yehudi Menuhin, assisting him in Spain and Russia working with the Orchestra Sinfonica de Euskadi in Saint Sebastian and the St. Petersburg Camerata.