In music as in exercise, you must constantly push yourself, trying things a bit beyond your abilities, until your muscles (or musical talent) develop to the point where you can do them.

The programs of the American Youth Concert and Symphonic Orchestras at Oakton High School in Vienna on Monday night seemed designed to be a little too difficult for the players -- but they rose to the challenge more often than not.

J.D. Anderson first led the Concert Orchestra in Lucien Cailliet's arrangement of Bach's Fugue in G Minor, where the strings shone but the winds struggled.

Then came Schubert's delicate Symphony No. 5, in which the winds played gamely but were inevitably swamped by the strings. The work was not so much interpreted as it was simply played, but the performers gave their all. Then they relaxed, producing their best-balanced sound in two encore-like excerpts from Rimsky-Korsakov's "Capriccio Espagnol."

The more advanced Symphonic Orchestra, under Carl J. Bianchi, did an all-Sibelius program, opening with the "Alla Marcia" from "Karelia," with flutes and horns in fine form. The following Symphony No. 1 -- with the third movement omitted -- never quite coalesced.

Sibelius's most Germanic symphony, challenging even for professionals, was well played by soloists (clarinet, bassoon) and sections (cellos, basses).

But its grandeur never quite emerged as the orchestra struggled through tempo and metrical changes, so the symphony sounded craggy -- indicating the musical heights that these young players are still learning to scale.

-- Mark J. Estren