The NYOC was the brainchild of the noted conductor Walter Susskind, who joined the Toronto Symphony Orchestra as its Music Director in 1956. Based on his earlier experience with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, Susskind became convinced that a training orchestra for outstanding young Canadian musical talent was essential: “I regard the formation of the National Youth Orchestra in Canada,” he said, “as the most important step we can take to help guarantee the successful growth and development of major symphony orchestras in this country.”
In the summer of 1960, Susskind and Harman Haakman directed a pilot workshop for young musicians in Stratford, Ontario. Its success and the subsequent support of several Toronto business people led to the formation of the National Youth Orchestra Association in 1960, a federally chartered, non-profit organization devoted to the discovery and training of accomplished young Canadian musicians.
The original function of the NYOC was to prepare a student orchestra for an annual cross-Canada tour. As time went on, however, the organization developed and elaborated its instructional program, becoming primarily a training body dedicated to perfecting the skills and talents of the best young Canadian musicians for careers as professional orchestral players through short but intensive summer session programs. The touring function of the orchestra, rather than being virtually the sole focus of the NYOC, remained a vital and integral part of a broader professional instructional program.
The NYOC’s concert tours have included every major Canadian city as well as occasional trips to the United States, Europe, and Asia. In 1996, the delegates to the World Youth Orchestra Conference in Tokyo, who represented 39 countries, voted to award the NYOC the title “Best Youth Orchestra in the World”. The NYOC returned to Japan and toured China in 2002.