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Keep up to date with all the latest news from the National Youth Orchestra Foundation

‘Playing with the Concertgebouw orchestra is like playing football for Real Madrid’

An interview with Arno Piters by Ansie de Swardt

“A dream come true,” said Arno Piters, out from Amsterdam to tutor the young clarinettists of the SANYO at their Summer Course, about playing in the famous Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.  “It’s like football: The game is nice, but it is even nicer if you play with Real Madrid or Manchester United.”

The Concertgebouw attracts illustrious conductors.  Piters played with the former chief conductor Bernard Haitink (now retired). “He is not demanding you to play; he is always inviting you to play. Some conductors give you this [makes a pointing gesture], he always gives you this [makes an open hand inviting gesture].” 

The current resident conductor is Daniele Gatti and Piters has great admiration for his technical and listening skills, and his interpretation of pieces. “He does not listen to many recordings, he says, as he wants to re-create each piece for himself.”

Claudio Abbado, who is in the top three of most ‘best conductor’ lists, was another story: Piters auditioned for the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra but then got the (permanent) job at the Concertgebouw; on the same day as he got accepted for Abbado’s orchestra.  Under pressure from the former he declined the latter, to his perpetual regret (Abbado passed away in 2014).

I then wanted to know the obvious: was it his first visit to South Africa? And?… He responded with great enthusiasm that there was something about the vibe here that he could not put his finger on, and was still trying to figure out.  Perhaps an unusual openness, he speculated.  He paid homage to his own teachers, saying how much as they had influenced and inspired him, and now his wish was ‘to be a little inspiring’ to his students.

His teaching technique is based very much on the approach of his teachers, which is to give hints and tips, but to ‘force’ the students to discover many of the aspects of the music by playing it for themselves.  And how did the students respond? “People here are very open, so that when I teach one-on-one, all the others are really paying attention and listening and following everything. Not on their phones or playing a game or staring out of the window or picking their noses!”

Tiaan Uys, one of Arno Piters’ students at the Summer Course, after his performance as a soloist with the orchestra. Photo by Cornel van Heerden.

10 things you can do to help!


10 things you can do online (for free!) to help the National Youth Orchestra:

1. Tell people about us!
2. Invite your friends to like us on Facebook @SANationalYouthOrchestra
3. Follow us on Twitter @SANYOF
4. Sign up for a MySchool card that benefits the National Youth Orchestra – email us on and we’ll send you the form
5. Become and advocate on GivenGain (our online donation platform)
6. Subscribe to our YouTube channel
7 Follow us on Instagram @sanatyouthorch
8. Invite young musicians to apply for the course at
9. Sign up to our newsletter!
10. Share this post!


Applications 2017 are now open!

Nationals-are-you-goingEstablished in 1964, we are South Africa’s oldest youth orchestra, and the leading orchestra in the youth orchestral movement. Our National Youth Orchestra members are the national team that represent an incredible youth orchestra movement that stretches from the Western Cape to Limpopo and everything in between. Alumni from our courses have gone on to play for internationally renowned orchestras, and their achievements bare testament to the ability of South African musicians to be exceptional and true ambassadors for our country.

As a participant, you will be part of the Nationals community and benefit from a range of programmes associated with our courses including opportunities for international music exchange, instrument repair courses, musician mentorship, arts administration internships and composition and conducting workshops. With a rich mix of South African participants, and a faculty made up of renowned local and international music professionals, the National Youth Orchestra Foundation offers diversity that is worthy of celebration. The orchestra course experience is for young people interested in music, from grade 7 level to those just starting their professional careers.

After you apply we will confirm receipt via email and/or SMS within the week. Do not hesitate to contact us should you need further information. (Where applicants are unable to apply online they should contact us to do them telephonically on 083 272 2117.)

We are proud of the orchestra course participants, each of whom contributes to the vitality of the National Youth Orchestra. We look forward to receiving your application and hope to welcome you to our 2017 courses.


In order to complete this application online you will need a working email address and your South African identity number, or, if you are an international applicant, your passport number. This year we have limited seats for candidates from Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe.

You need to
1. Play an orchestral instrument
2. Be at at least Grade 7 level (Unisa, ABRSM, Trinity)
3. Be 25 years old or younger in 2017


In February and March live recorded auditions will be held in
Bloemfontein: 13 March 2017
Cape Town: 1 and 2 March 2017
Durban: 4 March 2017
Johannesburg: 24 February and 10 March 2017
Port Elizabeth: 6 and 7 March 2017
Potchefstroom: 14 March 2017
Pretoria: 27 February and 11 March 2017
Stellenbosch: 2 March 2017


Application Fee: A non-refundable fee of R50 is charged to each applicant to cover administration and processing costs. Only one application fee is required, regardless of how many programs you wish to apply for or how many instruments you apply on.

Please note: NO late applications or auditions will be accepted.

Candidates should prepare a solo piece and a study of their choice to demonstrate their standard and fluency on their instrument. Your programme (that means both study AND piece together) should not exceed 5 minutes in length and you may make any required cuts to fit within the time limit. NB: Accompanists are not allowed.


Travel: You are expected to get yourself to course. Auditions start on the first day of each course (be there before 12:00 please) and the course ends with our final concert in the evening on the last day of each course (most out-of-towners therefore leave on the morning of the day after the last day of course.)

National Youth Orchestra Course fee: R2300. This fee includes accommodation, meals and tuition. Proof of payment is to be received by our offices a month before each course. Please use your name/surname as the reference. If you are unable to afford the course fee, there are various financial assistance options available, including a payment plan and bursary options. Please contact us on if you require more information, and indicate that you require financial assistance in the application form.

APPLICATIONS:  OPEN for 2017 and the application FORM is now available.

What does it SOUND like?


The National Youth Orchestra, the green and gold team of our most talented young musicians, is embarking on an adventure in cutting-edge South African performance in a new collaboration with Bombshelter Beast, a genre-busting music collective of some of SA’s most colourful and innovative musicians.

Think Black Cat White Cat meets Brenda Fassie – add an opera singer, a polish refugee, a Manchester born kwaito star and SA’s most cunning linguist, and you have half the picture. The other half is best experienced live! Be taken on a journey from baroque to boeremusiek, comedy to kwaito, and a lot in between – a new South African sound that’s best served hot! Bring comfortable shoes to dance in – your feet will thank you. Shows on 11, 12 and 14 December in Johannesburg.

National Youth Orchestra concerts are made possible by the National Lotteries Commission, the Department of Arts and Culture, the SABC Foundation, the Academy of Sound Engineering and SAfm.

Thank you to Black Gosling for producing this awesome video!
Saxophone: Sisonke Xonti

Countdown #2: Suzy the Sousaphone

Suzy the Sousaphone speaks to us about her concerts with the National Youth Orchestra in December

Suzy is a Sousaphone. Her ancestors come from America, but she was born in Japan in 1989 in the Yamaha factory, and came to live with her musician Alex Hitzeroth, in Johannesburg in 2015. Sousaphones are seen as funny instruments, but really they’re quite sensitive and don’t take well to being teased. Suzy is an integral member of Bombshelter Beast, a band that performs a wide variety of music (she’s responsible for keeping the bassline pumping). She used to play in the army band, but she’s left them now in favour of a life made for dancing. She loves dancing.

Alex Hitzeroth with his sousaphone, Suzy performing at The Orbit with Bombshelter Beast.

Alex Hitzeroth with his sousaphone, Suzy performing at The Orbit with Bombshelter Beast. Photo: Dino Codevilla

Performing with an ORCHESTRA!

“I’m really quite delighted. My musician plays in the orchestra quite a lot, but he takes the Trombone on those outings. I’ve never had the opportunity of playing with an ORCHESTRA (even though, technically, I’m a tuba, they say I’m the wrong shape and that I’m designed for marching only. Pah! I don’t believe anyone should be judged on their body shape).
My musician, Alex, used to play in the National Youth Orchestra, so he’s told me all about it. He’s a member of the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra now, and plays for all sorts of concerts – but when he takes me with him, it’s for Bombshelter Beast. It’s not your average “band” – we’re a family. We’ve been to the MTN Bushfire Festival in Swaziland, and to Oppikoppi – and we’re getting on a flight to Stellenbosch today (I’m a bit nervous – I hope they won’t put me in the hold on my own!) – and on Saturday we’re playing in Pretoria at Park Acoustics.

The best part of my day is when I can entertain the crowd – everyone loves me. I hope you’ll come and see our performances in December! I’m most looking forward to our show at the Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden because my comedy friends Goliath and Goliath will be there, and that’s special.”
The National Youth Orchestra,​ the green and gold team of our most talented young musicians, is embarking on an adventure in cutting-edge South African performance in a new collaboration with Bombshelter Beast, a genre-busting music collective of some of South Africa’s most colourful and innovative musicians.

National Youth Orchestra concerts are made possible by the National Lotteries Commission, the Department of Arts and Culture, the SABC Foundation, the The Academy of Sound Engineering, the SAMRO Foundation and SAfm Radio. For more information on the performances in Johannesburg in December, please click here.