While many young conductors are haranguing their agents and hustling to book engagements years in advance, Fabio Mechetti seems content to let fate take its course.

"I am not in a hurry," says Mechetti, who is completing his subscription concert debut with the National Symphony Orchestra this week. "As a performer, quality is number one. It is more important to do a few things well than many things not as well."

So, he says, "I'll take a year at a time and go with the wind. So far I've been lucky."

Mechetti came to the NSO in 1985 after a year as assistant with the Spokane Symphony. Since then he has been working mostly in low-profile positions -- conducting family concerts and educational programs, studying repertoire, covering for guest conductors and reviewing new music for possible future NSO performances.

But as the orchestra's Affiliate Artists conductor, he is in a position that has served as a springboard to glory for two predecessors. Hugh Wolff, the first to hold this position with the NSO, went on to become music director of the New Jersey Symphony and has recently been appointed part of the triumvirate (with John Adams and Christopher Hogwood) to lead the prestigious St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. Wolff's successor and Mechetti's predecessor, Andrew Litton, has not yet celebrated his 27th birthday but is principal guest conductor for the Bournemouth Symphony in England, a frequent guest conductor with the London Philharmonic, the Royal Philharmonic and the Halle Orchestra and is one of the hottest young free-lance conductors in Europe.

Mechetti's prospects for success seem equally promising, and the NSO's music director, Mstislav Rostropovich, has said, "Both the orchestra and I will continue to do everything in our power, both humanly and musically, to ensure that he attains that success."

Next month, he will take a big step and begin a new job as resident conductor of the San Diego Symphony. Luck was with Mechetti on the appointment, because San Diego, coming out of a financial crisis, had just hired Wesley Brustad as its manager. "Wesley just happened to be manager of Spokane when I was there," Mechetti said, and they "had no time for a long search, so he called me." Mechetti will fill the gaps between guest conductors and develop innovative programming directed at children, singles and young professionals. "We are quite pleased that he is coming to San Diego," says Brustad. "We feel he will be very well accepted here."

At the same time, he will stay on here for his third year as assistant with the NSO. "Fortunately we have the thing called a jet," he said with a laugh. "I will be alternating two or three weeks with each orchestra until May, and then stay here in Washington for the summer."

Mechetti, now 30, was born in Brazil to a musical family. "My father and my grandfather were both conductors of the Sao Paulo Opera Theater. I am one of those people who have the virus of music in my blood. I always wanted to be a conductor." When young, he played the piano, "but I never wanted to be a pianist -- I hated practicing."

Even with his musical heritage, getting started as a conductor was not easy. "There is no great interest in the arts {in Brazil}, because there is not enough money." He noted that unlike the United States, "everything there is state-sponsored. As a performer, you are dependent on the government, and when the government is in trouble, the arts are the first to suffer."

For a time, Mechetti tried to find an alternative. He spent two years studying journalism, but even though he enjoyed writing, it was not what he wanted. "Music was my form of expression."

So six years ago, he and his new wife Aida Ribeiro, (a pianist now studying for her master's at Catholic University) decided to take a risk and head for Juilliard. "When we arrived in New York, we hadn't even auditioned. Fortunately we both got in."

After receiving his master's degree, Mechetti auditioned for composer-conductor Gunther Schuller in hopes of attending Tanglewood. "I didn't make it," he says. But Schuller at the time was conductor of the Spokane Symphony. "Instead, he offered me Spokane." After a year as assistant conductor there, Mechetti was selected for an Affiliate Artists position with the NSO.

His first year here, he says, was "a sea of experience for both sides. Musicians and management want to see what the young conductor is able to do, through pops programs and by dealing with unusual circumstances." Most unusual was a Disney spectacular in the huge Capital Centre, filled with children's excited cries. "Just to keep the orchestra together through all the confusion was a good experience."

Mechetti takes children's performances very seriously. "I firmly believe that kids' concerts should not be just funny, but should always have a firm message, with the focus on the music." His approach won his 1984 Spokane "Sym-funnies" series (he did not select the name) a National Education Association award for the best educational program in the United States.

At Rostropovich's invitation, he conducted two all-Tchaikovsky concerts last summer at Wolf Trap, and more important, he was booked for the current subscription concert series, the traditional highlight of an assistant's third and final year. The program included Debussy's Prelude to "Afternoon of a Faun," Ginastera's Harp Concerto and Dvorak's Seventh Symphony, all which were handled with precision and compelling attention to form.

Mechetti chose his pieces with care. "I tend to have the whole program diversified, but underneath united by a 'backbone.' " For example, he says, "the Debussy is the first real impressionistic piece, and the Ginastera shows the influence of the French impressionists with its thin texture of long sustained notes and its use of percussion for color rather than rhythm. But {in the Ginastera} there is a pulse throughout, and the rhythm eventually becomes as important as the harmony. In the Debussy the rhythm is more sparse."

Dvorak's Seventh is then linked to the Ginastera, he explained, in that "Dvorak uses the {rhythmic} notion of 'two beats against three' in both the third and fourth movements, and the same technique is used throughout the Ginastera." The link may seem subtle, but Mechetti feels that it is very important. "The audience perceives a unity without being told," he said. "It becomes a cultural experience, not just entertainment."

There are practical considerations as well. "It is hard for musicians to jump from, say, Mozart to Stravinsky. If you have a program where there is some thought given, it is much easier for the musicians to adapt to new styles in a short period of time."

Mechetti hopes that playing a work by the South American Ginastera will help familiarize audiences with music from his part of the world. "Because I am away from my country, I feel a duty to help in some way. Every year I go back to conduct and present some master classes. Also, I am translating some music books from English to Portuguese. The professional music literature in Brazil is very poor."

Mechetti, who will receive no revenue from this work, has begun with a book that was once an inspiration to him: "The Classical Style," by Charles Rosen. It is, he says, "a very good analysis for the performer and musician, not just historical or philosophical."

Brazil is in a mixed musical situation, Mechetti feels. "In terms of creation -- composer, poet, writer -- Latin America has a lot to offer. They are able to translate all of the political changes into their arts, creating an innovative, tradition-free means of expression. But as a performer, you are dependent on the government. A large number of children study, but {as musicians} they have no future there."

When asked what he will be doing next year, Mechetti shrugs. "I have no plans. I suppose I would like to continue with San Diego. If not, I might stay in this area or perhaps something else might come up." In an era of self-promotion, Mechetti's comfortable reliance on talent, hard work and luck seems to be working.