Richard Pontzious founded the Hong Kong-based Asian Youth Orchestra in 1987 with the distinguished violinist, conductor and humanitarian Yehudi Menuhin.
The idea for the creation of an orchestra that would unite the region and celebrate the talents of East Asia’s brightest young musicians came as the result of Mr. Pontzious’ work as conductor, writer, teacher and mentor in mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan. Critics have called AYO “astonishing” and the “finest among youth orchestras around the world.” In 2010 the Orchestra was awarded Japan’s Praemium Imperiale Grant for Young Artists, a global arts prize.
Mr. Pontzious’ work with the Asian Youth Orchestra has led to extraordinary collaborations with Yehudi Menuhin, Sergiu Comissiona, James Judd, Wang Jian, Yo-Yo Ma, Alisa Weilerstein, Elmar Oliveira, Gidon Kremer, Elly Ameling, Cho-Liang Lin, Gil Shaham, Young Uck Kim, Stefan Jackiw, Jean Luis Steuerman and Alicia de Larrocha. He was appointed Artistic Director and Conductor of the Asian Youth Orchestra in 2002, at the urging of Sergiu Comissiona.
Recent tours with AYO have included live television and radio broadcasts from the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall as well as sellout performances in Beijing’s National Centre for Performing Arts, the Shanghai Oriental Arts Centre, the Xian Concert Hall, Kuala Lumpur’s Dewan Petronas Filharmonik, Singapore’s Esplanade, Hanoi’s historic Opera House marking its 100th anniversary, the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Taipei’s National Concert Hall and Tokyo’s Opera City Concert Hall. His concert celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Asian Youth Orchestra drew 5,000 concertgoers to the Hong Kong Coliseum.
The first overseas musician to be invited to live for an extended time in China after the tumultuous years of the Cultural Revolution, Mr. Pontzious served as conductor-in-residence at the prestigious Shanghai Conservatory of Music in the early1980s, toured with the Conservatory orchestra, and conducted the orchestras of Nanjing, Hangzhou, Fuzhou, and Harbin, where he is credited with reviving that city’s Summer Arts Festival. He recently returned to the Conservatory to conduct a program that included the Chinese premiere of Martinu’s Rhapsody for Viola and Orchestra with San Francisco Symphony associate principal violist Jay Liu, a Conservatory graduate.
A student of American composer Lou Harrison and conductors Sergiu Comissiona, Ferdinand Leitner and Josef Krips, Mr. Pontzious was awarded Hong Kong’s Bronze Bauhinia Star in 2000 for his contribution to music and the arts. That same year, at age 56, he received his private pilot’s license. Five years later he piloted a single engine Piper Archer across the United States in the company of AYO general manager Keith Lau, who served as navigator for the trip.