In 1969, Gordon and Inga-Lisa Wright recognized the need for a Youth Orchestras Program in Fairbanks. The idea sprouted in Gordon's mind, and took root in Inga-Lisa's hands and heart. Gordon, the conductor of the Fairbanks Symphony, saw the potential of a youth orchestras program as a training ground for future players in the Fairbanks Symphony. For Inga-Lisa, it was a challenging and exciting idea that she would see to fruition before her departure from Fairbanks in 1977. The founding committee, were eight women who shared not only a love of orchestral music, but also a desire to make it available to the next generation. The first orchestra formed in September of 1970 was conducted by Richard Port and organized under the umbrella of the Fairbanks Symphony Association. It began with eighteen youth string players who were later joined by twelve wind, brass and percussion players. Several members of the Fairbanks Symphony joined in to help round out the orchestra. In May of 1971, they presented their first concert, playing Winston Hoedown, two Beethoven Minuets, Sonata for Trumpet, Strings and Contniuo, three 17th Century Dutch Tunes and Song of Peace. The concert was a rousing success and the Youth Symphony was on its way.
In the fall of 1971, Anne Lackey, one of the founders, took the baton from departing conductor, Richard Port. Enrollment increased and the community became aware of the niche that the Youth Symphony Program was filling. By the spring of 1972, the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District recognized the need for an orchestral program in the schools and created its first official string conductor position, which Anne Lackey filled. The orchestra continued to grow and in the spring of 1973, another ensemble was added. The Preparatory Group, under the direction of Dolores Kirby consisted of four players: two violinists, one flutist and a clarinetist. By the next year this group had tripled in size and was directed by Inga-Lisa Wright while she simultaneously played bass. Anne Lackey and Frances Randall both conducted this group as well as Nancy Morgan who conducted for them for a lengthy tenure beginning in 1977. Nancy continued to provide this beginning level group with instruction through her conducting with few exceptions, through the Spring of 2000. George Wiese conducted the Youth Symphony from the fall of 1972 through the fall of 1975. Also conducting this group during the 1970's were Jim Kolwalsky, Delamour Kriley and Celeste Goering. Of note is that Celeste Goering was a charter member of the Youth Symphony, bringing her to a full circle of participation with this group.
During the 1980's, John Duff brought continued expansion to the Youth Symphony as did Nancy Morgan with the Preparatory Group. In 1979 the Preparatory Group became the Family Orchestra which included several parent-child teams who wanted to play in an orchestra together. Bron Kalita conducted this ensemble and wrote the North Star Suite for them to perform. In 1980, Nancy Morgan began conducting the younger group again and the adults formed the North Star Strings under Bron's direction. Another founder of the organization, Lesley Salisbury wrote a piece for the Preparatory Group called Alaskan Suite. This Suite consisted of four movements: I. Chickadee, II. Moose, III. Raven, IV. Mosquito. It was whimsical composition that contained some good Alaskan Humor, not the least of which were sporadic slaps during the Mosquito movement. Peggy Swartz, who served on the Youth Orchestras Council for many years also arranged numerous pieces for the Preparatory Orchestra to perform.
As the skills of the students increased it became apparent that they had the ability to perform fully scored symphonies. As a result, an additional ensemble was created and called the Junior Orchestra. Roberta Janiro, a flutist and former member of the Fairbanks Youth Orchestra became the first conductor of this group. There were twenty two members of the group at that time.
The Fairbanks Youth Orchestras concert schedule now includes a Winter Concert and a Spring Concert in which all three groups perform. In addition, to these concerts, each group plays an additional concert during the year if possible. The Youth Symphony has been asked to open the Fairbanks International Friendship Day event for the last several years, has done joint concerts with the Anchorage Youth Symphony on an exchange basis with musician families from both groups hosting the musicians when they come to town to perform. They have also performed in Whitehorse at the opening of the Artic Winter Games and performed a concert with the Whitehorse Community Choir and Orchestra of the North in 2000. The Concert Orchestra has performed concerts in Healy and Delta Junction and the String Orchestra performs a concert for a local nursing home. The students also perform Outreach recitals at various nursing homes and locations during the year.
Many of the young musicians in these groups have competed in the Fairbanks Symphony Association Concerto Competition. The winners of this competition each year play their Concertos with the Fairbanks Symphony at the Holiday Concert.
In the 2002-2003 concert year, a name change occurred again for the youth orchestras. The ensembles became knows as the Fairbanks Youth Symphony, Fairbanks Youth Concert Orchestra and the Fairbanks Youth String Orchestra.
Dr. Eduard Zilberkant conducted the Youth Symphony from 2000-2006 and brought the Fairbanks Youth Symphony into the international limelight at the Tubingen Music Festival, in Tubingen, Germany. The Youth Symphony performance included Tchaikovsky's 5th Symphony performed jointly with the Tubingen Youth Symphony. The students had the opportunity to be coached by instructors with the Tubingen Music School and Festival artists during their stay. The Tubingen Youth Symphony under the direction of Gudni Emilsson, traveled to Fairbanks in August of the same year to perform a joint concert with the Fairbanks Youth Symphony. In 2006, Dr. Zilberkant was appointed a Presidential Professorship with the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
George Rydlinski has been the Conductor and Music Director for the Fairbanks Youth Symphony since the 2007 season. In the summer of 2013 he brought the Youth Symphony on a 5 concert tour of Italy, Austria and Switzerland. The concerts were played to enthusiatic audiences, and the tour included a visit to Fairbanks' sister city, Fanano, Italy.
Of note is that many of the conductors past and present have also taught in the public and private sections and have provided ongoing support for the Youth Orchestras through sectional coaching, substitute conducting and encouragement of the students.