California's oldest independent youth orchestra was founded right here in the Bay Area in one of the world's liveliest centers of intellectual and artistic activity: Berkeley. When this took place in 1936, the orchestra was not only the first of its ilk in California, it became the second such in the United States.

Still thriving as the Young People's Symphony Orchestra (YPSO), the ensemble is hard at work preparing for its annual Winter Concert at 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at El Cerrito High School's Performing Arts Theater, 540 Ashbury Ave., in El Cerrito.

The concert will include Mussorgsky's compelling "Night on Bald Mountain," the first movement of Vieuxtemps' Violin Concerto No. 4 with soloist Sabrina Chern, Holst's Double Concerto for Two Violins featuring Tanaeya McCoy and Jonathan Altman and Tchaikovsky's exquisitely beautiful Symphony No. 6.

Violinists Chern, McCoy and Altman, along with flautist Rachel Adams and violinist Ellie Kanayama, are winners of YPSO's most recent Concerto Competition. Their wins qualify each to play at least one movement of a concerto with the orchestra at a regular concert. Adams and Kanayama will be featured in YPSO's annual Spring Concert in May.


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Chern, 15, is a sophomore at the Head-Royce School in Oakland. She is currently in her third season with YPSO, having played with various area orchestras since the age of 8. She says she had planned to perform the Vieuxtemps' fourth movement. But after "falling in love" with the first movement's combination of lyrical melodies and virtuosic solo passages, she changed her mind. Besides music, she plays tennis and competes on her school's varsity tennis team. She is also interested in VEX robotics and 3-D printing.

Violinists McCoy and Altman mutually chose the Holst Double Concerto, since the two of them have been playing duets for the past four years and are currently establishing themselves as a duo they call Worldweyes.

McCoy, 18, is a senior at Connections Academy, an online private school, and she lives in Riverbank. A most unusual achiever, she initially taught herself to play the violin from YouTube videos and CDs. Her first formal violin lesson was only two years ago! Her current teachers are Ryo Fukuda at Santa Clara University and Juan Gutierrez of the Modesto Symphony Orchestra.

Altman, her musical partner, is an eighth-grader at Ustach Middle School in Modesto. He began piano at age 4 and violin at 6. By 9, he was in the Modesto Symphony Youth Orchestra's senior division. He studies violin with Juan Gutierrez and Doris Fukawa of Crowden School.

Directing YPSO's 100-plus musicians is music director David Ramadanoff, who has held the post for 25 years. YPSO's members ranges in age from 12 through 22 and hail from 28 cities and six counties throughout the Bay Area. Auditions are conducted in May and, if needed, in August. Applications for auditions are available on YPSO's website.

Details: $10-$14; 510-849-9976, www.ypsomusic.net.

AN AMERICAN THEME: The Cypress String Quartet, one of the most vibrant of the Bay Area's string ensembles, has an especially pleasing concert on its schedule this month: a program featuring "Two Sketches Based on Native American Themes" by New York-born composer Charles Griffes; Pennsylvania-born composer Samuel Barber's Op. 11 String Quartet; and Czech composer Antonin Dvorak's Op. 96 "American String Quartet." All three works are part of a highly successful CD the quartet initially released in 2011 called "The American Album." It was reissued on AVIE Records in November.

The concert, part of the "Live at Mission Blue Concert Series," will be at 8 p.m. Feb. 15 at the Mission Blue Center, 475 Mission Blue Drive, in Brisbane.

The Griffes work draws from the "farewell song" of the Chippewa Indians. It includes instructions to the string players to create effects that sound like Indian drums. The Op. 11 Barber Quartet includes the glorious "Adagio" that Barber eventually transcribed for a whole string orchestra. The resulting "Adagio for Strings" became one of the 20th century's most celebrated works. The Dvorak work was inspired by Dvorak's fascination with the Native American and other folk tunes he encountered while visiting the United States. After thoroughly researching our native and folk music, he assembled a selection of them into a gloriously lush, romantic four-movement work, in just three days.

Details: $15-$20; 415-467-2060, http://liveatmissionblue.com/tickets.

Contact Cheryl North at cherylnorth@hotmail.com.