Virtuosi in Washington, a new chamber orchestra that gave its first performance yesterday, has only one serious problem. It will be hard for it to surpass its debut concert in the three it has planned for the second Sundays of February, March and April.

Along with the new orchestra, the near-capacity audience was introduced to a new conductor -- Gene Forrell, who works out of New York -- and a new auditorium: the ballroom, with superb acoustics, of the Kennedy-Warren apartment building, next to the Zoo on Connecticut Avenue. The orchestra's string sound was particularly impressive -- notably the rich bass tone produced by only three cellos and one double bass -- but the winds also came through precisely and in ideal balance. The 24-piece orchestra is first-class, as evidenced by the presence of such players as Jody Gatwood as concertmaster and Evelyn Elsing as principal cellist. Conductor Forrell is equally at home in a variety of styles, and his orchestra was beautifully directed.

The program, divided between the 18th and 20th centuries, was well selected and interpreted, with a strong emphasis on good music that is not heard often enough. It opened with a vigorous, crisply played overture by Haydn -- a trifle, but charming -- and moved quickly into hard-core romanticism with Elgar's fine, neglected Serenade for Strings. Mozart's Symphony No. 29 in A, K. 201, concluded the program in excellent style, bubbling over with energy and the spirit of pure song and performed with spirit and precision.

The two other works had special Washington associations: a suite arranged from violin music by Corelli by Hans Kindler, and Honegger's Concerto da Camera, which was commissioned by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge and had its world premiere at the Library of Congress. Like so many works that came into the world under those auspices, it is a masterpiece, and that stature was fully realized in this performance. There were notable solos by Rebecca Staup on English horn and Mary Beth Lewandowski on flute.