If you want a taste of European culture, you can get it from the source at the Kennedy Center Friday evening when The Chamber Orchestra of Europe appears in its first American concert tour. Conducted by Claudio Abbado and featuring soprano Elizabeth Connell, the 45-member orchestra will perform works by Brahms, Ligeti, Beethoven, Mahler and Mozart.

The group originated four years ago, when some members of the European Youth Orchestra reached the age limit of 23, but wanted to continue playing music together. The musicians, who represent eight European countries, are all under 30. Scotsman Douglas Boyd, 25, principal oboist and one of the founding members of the orchestra, says, "We are all involved with other things, but this is our first priority. Otherwise we couldn't develop and progress."

The orchestra tours for six months of the year, and rehearses "wherever the tour happens to start," says Boyd. "One of the problems in professional music is that it is hard to sustain a level for nine or 10 months of the year . . . Every time we get together it should be a special occasion." What is special about this group, says Boyd, is that it is "the spirit of the Youth Orchestra captured in a professional orchestra."