Virginia's American Youth Philharmonic Orchestras program encompasses a pair of training ensembles and two performing orchestras, the American Youth Symphonic Orchestra, for younger players, and the American Youth Philharmonic for the most proficient and experienced of the school-age musicians. The program demands dedication and hard work and offers, in return, an opportunity to make music at a high level under expert leaders, to begin to learn the orchestral repertoire and to collaborate with like-minded and talented young artists.

On Sunday at the George Mason Center for the Arts, the AYPO's last concert of this season featured both performing orchestras and, as a special treat, smashing (in all senses of the word) performances by the percussion ensembles.

The Symphonic Orchestra, conducted by Carl J. Bianchi, led off with readings of Berlioz's "Roman Carnival"; Bruch's "Romance" for Viola and Orchestra, with National Symphony Orchestra violist and AYP alumnus Eric deWaardt as soloist; Copland's "El Salon Mexico"; and Tchaikovsky's "Marche Slave." Each of these is a tour de force of orchestration, and each received a performance that reflected careful attention to sonorities, a clear vision of musical structure and the kind of rhythmic energy that gives shape to motion. Particularly noteworthy were the clarinet solos in the Copland.

The Philharmonic's performance of Berlioz's "Symphonie Fantastique" had added dimensions of sophistication in its phrasing and incisiveness in its attacks that gave the colorful and programmatic work a vivid sense of drama. Luis Haza, finishing his 20th year as AYP Music Director, allowed the five movements to unfold with a sense of both patience and urgency.

In between all this romance and elegance, the percussion ensembles offered astonishingly athletic and well-coordinated attacks on pieces by Nebojsa Zivkovic and Dave Hollinden that brought down the house.

-- Joan Reinthaler

Luis Haza conducts the American Youth Philharmonic.