Musicians from all over the world will be in Rome between 9-17 December for the fourth edition of the International Festival of Young Musicians. The festival is organised by the Rome-based association Musicaeuropa with funding from the European Union and support from the Italian state. The aim of the initiative is to foster cultural interchange between the north and south of Europe and with the countries of the Mediterranean and the Balkans.

The festival, which the organisers claim is the only one of its kind, used to be a showcase for the World Youth Orchestra (WYO) which was created in 2001. At the outset, the WYO was made up of 74 young musicians between the ages of 16-25 who had been chosen from conservatories and musical academies in over 30 countries and across five continents. Out of this orchestra, the World Youth Chamber Orchestra (WYCO) was born in 2002 and it is this group that features in the 2004 festival.

The chamber orchestra this year is made up of 30 young musicians. They represent 25 countries including Ireland, Japan, Korea, Estonia, Albania, Israel, Palestine and Hungary. The ages of the musicians range from 18-26.

To ensure that the most talented are selected and to allow everyone a fair opportunity to display their merits, young musicians can apply for the orchestra directly to Musicaeuropa in Rome. At the same time, through a network of contacts with musicians and musical academies around the world, potential WYCO members are talent-spotted in their home countries. Over 40 music institutions worldwide work to form the orchestra, including the Shanghai Conservatory, the Accademia Nazionale di S. Cecilia in Rome, the Manhattan School of Music in New York and the Royal College of Music in London.

The general manager of the WYCO, Stefania Locatelli, says that as well as being of the highest standard, musicians must also represent the widest possible spectrum of countries. All orchestra participants are full-time academy or conservatory music students and are called together as a group for one occasion only. When they flew into Rome on 26 November to rehearse, they had never played together before, and after the festival, it is unlikely that they will ever do so again. They have two weeks before their first concert to undergo a series of masterclasses in preparation for the festival, and will be rehearsing at the Auditorium-Parco della Musica.

There is no such thing as a permanent member of the WYCO. Locatelli says that the unique aspect of the orchestra is its non-static nature. School and other commitments take the musicians elsewhere back to their home countries and to other parts of the world. The longest time any musician has played with the orchestra is four consecutive years.

The artistic and musical director of the WYCO is Damiano Giuranno, who was also one of the original founders of Musicaeuropa in 1995. Giurannos aim was not only to bring together talented musicians from different cultures but also to use the players varied cultural and religious backgrounds to draw attention to the social and cultural problems of the world. The United Nations childrens agency, UNICEF, nominated the orchestra as a goodwill ambassador in 2002 and the following year the group undertook a series of engagements around the Mediterranean, including concerts for peace in 2003 when it performed in 14 cities all over Italy, such as Rome, Florence and Taomina. The WYCO went on to play at the Rubin Academy in Jerusalem and in Ramallah as guests of the Palestinian ministry of culture.

The festival is divided into three parts. In the first section called LAgor Musicale Europeo a musical meeting place for Europe visiting musicians will be invited to play. This year the festival includes performances by a trio from the Estonian Academy of Music and by a jazz band and a pianist from Ireland.

The second section entitled Musica e Educazione music and education is dedicated to introducing young musicians to public performance. This year 25 school children in Rome, who will have rehearsed with the orchestra, will take part in the opening concert of the festival, on 9 December. It will be a performance of a musical fable called Il Quarto Re and will feature a string quintet of students from the Giuseppe Verdi conservatory in Turin.

Finally, in the third section of the festival entitled Giovani Talenti young talents the Musicaeuropa association will award its annual prizes to exceptionally talented young musicians. This year the winners are two violinists from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, founded by Claudio Abbado in 1995, whose musicians come from all over the world. The two violinists will give a prize-winners concert on 13 December.

During the festival the WYCO will make a short tour performing in St Marys Cathedral in Limerick on 13 December and at the Estonian concert hall in Talin on the 15 December before returning to Rome for its final concert on 17 December. The concerts will be held in various venues around Rome including the Sala Sinopoli at the Auditorium-Parco della Musica and the Oratorio del Gonfalone.

The Concerts:

9 December. Concert by the World Youth Chamber Orchestra with the participation of children from Rome schools, performing Il Quarto Re. All Saints Church, Via del Babuino 153/b.

10 December. Concert by Ariane Mathaus, violin and Alfredo Persichilli, cello. Music by Bach, Cassado, Ravel and Handel. Oratorio del Gonfalone, Via del Gonfalone 32/a.

11 December. Concert by the World Youth Chamber Orchestra and Hiberno Jazz Ensemble. Music by Mozart and various Irish composers. Sala Sinopoli, Auditorium-Parco della Musica, Viale P. de Coubertin.

12 December. Concert by TrioFratres. Music by Brahms and Mendelssohn. Oratorio del Gonfalone, Via del Gonfalone 32/a.

13 December. Concert by the winners of the Musicaeuropa Franco Gulli awards. Music by Leclair, Prokofiev and Ysaye. Oratorio del Gonfalone, Via del Gonfalone 32/a.

16 December. Concert by the Schubert Quintet from the Giuseppe Verdi conservatory in Turin. Music by Schubert. St Pauls within-the-Walls, Via Napoli 58.

17 December. Concert by the senior students of the World Youth Chamber Orchestra. Music by Brahms, DallOngaro and Tchaikovsky. St Pauls within-the-Walls, Via Napoli 58.

Tickets cost from 5-20. All concerts begin at 21.00. For information and booking tel. 06 48976294 or visit www.musicaeuropa.it.