The Music Director of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO), James Smith, is the winner of the 2017 Rabin Youth Arts Award in the category of Artistic Achievement. The award, administered by the WYSO, will be presented at Arts Day on March 9, 2017 at the Overture Center at 10:00 am.
For 31 years, James Smith has served as the music director of the WYSO and conductor of WYSO Youth Orchestra. James Smith became music director in 1985 and has helped to grow and expand WYSO into the program it is today.
Smith came to UW-Madison as a professor of conducting in 1983 after having achieved national recognition as a clarinetist. Two years later he took over as music director for WYSO. According to the award, “His gift for enabling students to give their very best in rehearsal, week after week, year after year, has contributed to their personal growth and the musical success of the orchestra.”
Smith oversaw the evolution of WYSO as it added 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.
His leadership was instrumental in taking the Youth Orchestra on their first international tour in 1989 to the British Isles. Since then he has conducted the Youth Orchestra on tour in Taiwan, Japan, Washington DC, France, Spain, Banff, British Columbia, Canada, Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Argentina, and Italy. Because of the success of these tours, WYSO is committed to touring internationally every two years.
Smith initiated several WYSO outreach programs, and from them many partnership concerts were created: The WYSO Chamber Ambassadors, the bi-annual Side-by-Side Concert with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Concert in the Park, the Music Makers Mentorship Program, the NBC 15 Sounds of the Season, and the Music Makers Honors and Honors Too ensembles.