Judith and Thomas L. Beckmen YOLA Center
Students on stage at the new Judith and Thomas L. Beckmen YOLA Center | Credit: Joshua White

In just over a decade, Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA), led by LA Phil Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel, has become one of the country’s most influential music education programs. And now — cue drum roll, please — YOLA at Inglewood will be the program’s fifth site (YOLA currently operates at four locations in L.A., and serves more than 1,300 young musicians and their families), the first to be situated at its own dedicated home: the Judith and Thomas L. Beckmen YOLA Center (BYC).

After a 2019 groundbreaking — and delays caused by the 2020 global pandemic — the Center, named after the Beckmens, is expected to begin classes in the fall. A planned grand opening in August has been put on hold pending the course of the Delta variant in the L.A. region. Designed by Frank Gehry, this former bank building in downtown Inglewood has been transformed into a 25,000-square-foot purpose-built facility that will expand the existing YOLA programs. At a cost of $23.5 million, the Center’s core is the 4,450 square feet of Edgerton Foundation Performance Hall, its height and stage equal in size to that of Walt Disney Concert Hall, with collapsible seating for up to 272 people that can also be converted into two smaller rehearsal spaces.

Judith and Thomas L. Beckmen YOLA Center
Frank Gehry designed the new Judith and Thomas L. Beckmen YOLA Center. | Credit: Joshua White

In addition, the partially-sprung floors are intended for collaborations with dance students, while there are also spaces for every need, from practice studios, large ensemble rooms, and a choir room to a technology-enabled classroom, a music library, instrument storage areas, and office and meeting spaces for LA Phil and YOLA staff and teachers.

Of course, a key element to any top-notch music center is its acoustics, and BYC has it in spades: Disney Hall’s acoustician, Yasuhisa Toyota has lent his aural talents to the Center, with its excavated basement and raised roof also sporting a 45-foot floor-to-ceiling height that further helps ensure pristine sounds.

Also enhancing the acoustics are the heavy materials that have been chosen for the interior construction, while the exterior materials of glass, metal, brick, tile and plaster have been retained so that passers-by on South La Brea Avenue are able to peek through the glass and see students rehearsing and performing.

Judith and Thomas L. Beckmen YOLA Center
A view of the stage at the new Judith and Thomas L. Beckmen YOLA Center | Credit: Joshua White

This, too, is part of the grand plan. “We know how to do YOLA,” said Elsje Kibler-Vermaas, Vice President of Learning for the LA Phil, which oversees the YOLA Program, as she co-guided a recent in-person tour of the facility. “And our director Camille [Delaney-McNeil], will engage with local artists. This is a community space, but also a creative laboratory and we make sure that we’re good shepherds and every space is flexible.”

Project Manager Elaine Nesbit, who oversaw BYC’s construction and co-led the tour, is dedicated to the YOLA philosophy. “Everybody put a lot of heart into this,” she noted. “We treat students as artists and the Artist Entrance is the first space actually named for Frank Gehry.”

Nesbit explained: “[LA Phil Chief Executive Officer] Chad Smith asked Frank if he could name that entrance for him and Frank replied, “That’s amazing, because no one has ever named anything for me.” And when the light comes through the glass, the name [Frank Gehry Artist Entrance] is reflected right here,” she said, pointing to the floor.

Indeed, this seems the perfect metaphor for a building dedicated to talent, youth, and music, one that will shine a glorious light not only on the community, but also on Los Angeles and, in turn, the world at large.

Judith and Thomas L. Beckmen YOLA Center
The new Judith and Thomas L. Beckmen YOLA Center. | Credit: Joshua White