A hundred young music makers trooped into Washington hotels yesterday, bringing tales of fatigue, of catching winks on airport couches, and of frantic rushes to the theater. Their ears still rang with the thunderous ovations they had received in Amsterdam, Milan and Moscow.

The members of the critically acclaimed American Soviet Youth Orchestra, on the last leg of their six-week tour of 17 cities on three continents, will perform tonight on the West Lawn of the Capitol, a rarely accorded privilege. The free concert begins at 8 p.m.

The orchestra tour, created in 1988 as a biennial event for 50 American and 50 Soviet musicians, was organized by Oberlin College's Conservatory of Music and the Moscow State Conservatory. It attracted applications from more than 1,000 students nationwide.

One of the American students selected to join the orchestra was Jean Gockowski, 23, a bassoonist who graduated from the Manhattan School of Music.

"When I said yes to the offer, I knew that it was going to be a lot of hard work but I was sure that I would learn a lot by seeing new places and working with some of the best conductors in the world," said Gockowski, who grew up in Prince George's County and attended the University of Maryland.

While Gockowski said that Moscow, with its "drab, bleak, dark streets," conformed to stereotypes, she asserted that once on stage, there were no chords of dissonance. "Though it was difficult to get bonded together with our Soviet counterparts, every performance was a fabulous experience. For the first time in my life, I had to give my best," she said.

Her roommate, Anna Smotrich, a 23-year-old violinist from Moscow, admitted that sometimes it was difficult to understand the American musicians, but "the music and the wonderful connection" were great sources of strength.

Conductor Leonid Nikolayev, director of the Moscow Conservatory Symphony, agreed that the diversity of the musicians "added a whole, new spiritual dimension to the creative process."

Nikolayev, who along with Catherine Comet, music director of the American Symphony Orchestra, accompanied the group on the tour, said, "All human differences recede into the background and the process of making music becomes the only focus."

At first it was difficult to get together with the Soviets in the group, said Scott Sabo, 20, a junior at Oberlin College, "but when we came to Europe, things improved." The countries were foreign to both groups, and the shared feeling of alienation helped them appreciate each other as musicians and as human beings.

Nathan Pawelek, of Hamden, Conn., a fifth-year student at Oberlin who plays the French horn, said he arrived in Moscow with images gleaned from the American media: "Politicians had said it was the evil empire, that the people in the Soviet Union were not friendly."

It took a tremendous amount of energy to communicate with each other through facial expressions and body language, Pawelek said, but the tour turned out to be a valuable experience.

"We realized that it was a powerful symbol of warm relations just when Russo-American relations were still recovering from the nightmarish years of the war in Afghanistan," said Frederick Starr, president of Oberlin College and the founder of the American Soviet Youth Orchestra.

Starr, a Sovietologist and a former musician, said that unlike the orchestra's first tour in 1988, the audiences this year were not the "highbrow elite."

"We wanted to take the message as far as possible and that led to an extremely demanding schedule," Starr said.

Starr recalled when the Soviets ran out of clarinet reeds in Chicago. It was difficult to get replacements from troubled Armenia, a center for the manufacture of reeds. But several people came forward, Starr said, to help the Soviet musicians, including a Chicago resident who pitched in $1.50. The show went on.