If the works played last night by eight student composers and the National Symphony Orchestra are harbingers of what is coming from the next generation, the message is that musically the 21st century is going to be very 19th century. The works by these youngsters, ages 10 to 16--who are products of Yamaha music schools and are winners of the Yamaha young composers competition--were unfailingly tonal, and almost unfailingly romantic.

The composers were picked from 46 finalists whose works were submitted from the schools; not all of them began their musical educations in Yamaha schools, however.

National Symphony music director Mstislav Rostropovich is a dedicated proponent of Yamaha teaching methods, with its focus on "total musicianship," and is a trustee of the Yamaha Music Foundation, an off-shoot of the large Yamaha corporation. He presided over last night's event with fatherly pride, and conducted the National Symphony in four works for solo and orchestra. All composers played their own works.

It cannot be said that anything especially original was heard. Sometimes, though, the level of compositional professionalism was impressive.

The most sophisticated achievement was the final work, the Third Piano Concerto of 16-year-old Yukie Nishimura. It had three movements and was cast sensitively in a mode of turn-of-the-century lyricism (turn-of-the-20th century, that is). It lacked the power of, say, the underrated Edward MacDowell piano concertos, but it might be labeled "School of MacDowell." The nocturnal slow movment, especially, was effective.

Before that came a nicely sustained piano-orchestra piece called "As Time Goes By," a work by 14-year-old Misato Mochizuki. It is an atmospheric bit of Japanese musical tone painting, including a koto, Japanese drums and temple chimes.

The other piano concerto came from 12-year-old Yukio Yokoyama; it was a Lisztian work, well played and nicely orchestrated.

The younger players had shorter solo works, including a lyric piano piece dedicated to Nancy Reagan called "Portrait of a Lady" that 10-year-old John Argosino had written for her; he performed it for her in California and again recently at the White House.

There is a strong commercial side to these events, which are performed around the world under the title "Junior Original Concerts." Yamaha instruments, as well as the schools, are spotlighted. The concerts are good advertising, they are free, and seemed to bring a lot of pleasure to the large audience at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.