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James Smith retires as WYSO music director

After 31 years as the music director of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras and conductor of WYSO Youth Orchestra, James Smith will be retiring at the end of WYSO’s 51st season.

After taking over as music director in 1985, Smith oversaw the addition of a brass ensemble, harp choir, chamber music program, the Sinfonietta string orchestra, and the Opus One preparatory string orchestra. Under his baton he conducted nearly 400 students in the finale of WYSO’s 50th Anniversary Concert at the Overture Center last year.

Smith took the Youth Orchestra on its first international tour in 1989 to the British Isles. Since then, he has conducted the Youth Orchestra on tour in Taiwan, Japan, Washington D.C., France, Spain, British Columbia, Canada, Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Argentina and Italy. WYSO is committed to touring internationally every two years due to the success of these tours.

During Smith’s tenure, several WYSO outreach programs and partnership concerts were implemented. The WYSO Chamber Ambassadors program was established in 1995; the bi-annual Side-by-Side Concert with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra started in 2008; the Concert in the Park sponsored by the Gialamas Co. featuring Youth Orchestra premiered in 2009, the Music Makers Mentorship Program began in 2011; the NBC15 Sounds of the Season TV broadcast began in 2013; and the Music Makers Honors and Honors Too ensembles formed in 2015.

In 2015, the board of directors established the James R. Smith Guest Artist Fund, in honor of his 30 years of dedication to WYSO. The purpose of this fund is to enrich artistic experiences for young musicians by giving them the opportunity to interact and work with experienced professional musicians.

For more information, visit wysomusic.org.