Music proved one of the best keys to ties between mainland and Hong Kong students when the China Youth Symphony Orchestra visited recently. The cultural exchange was organised by Soong Ching Ling Children's Foundation which was set up last year to bridge the gap between children on both sides of the border. Composer Wu Zuqiang, former president of the Central Conservatory of Music, said the tour also strengthened cultural links which were vital during the transition period. 'Music is the easiest and direct way of communication. The 80 students from the orchestra can see for themselves the lifestyle of Hong Kong youngsters and understand the culture better,' Mr Wu said. Chen Nan-gang, head of the China Youth Orchestra, said it gave her students a chance to perform in front of a Hong Kong audience. Since it was founded in 1959, the China Youth Symphony Orchestra's standards have become world class. 'At the beginning the orchestra performed relatively simple and short symphony pieces. Now we perform difficult pieces which require high levels of skill,' Ms Chen said. The orchestra rehearses three to four hours every day. 'Our students are trained to be professional. It's different from the youth symphony orchestra from Hong Kong which is made up of amateur performers,' said Ms Chen. Several of the orchestra's students have won international competitions such as the Menuhin International Youth Violin Competition and the Libinski and Wieniawaki International Violin Competition. Each year the orchestra recruits students not only from China, but also Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan. Out of thousands of applications, only about two dozen musicians are selected after a series of tough auditions. Seventeen-year-old pianist Miao Ning-bo, is one of the orchestra's stars. He began playing the piano at the age of seven and won his first trophy a year later at a local piano contest in Wuhan. At the age of nine Ning-bo was accepted into the elementary school attached to Central Conservatory of Music. Since then he has won several international piano competitions. Ning-bo said solo performances allowed him to bring out the best of himself in front of the audience. However, there were times when Ning-bo worried whether any applause would come from the audience. 'The applause is an acknowledgement of my performance,' Ning-bo said. Orchestral performance, on the other hand, was a team effort which required close co-operation between musicians. Whether as a soloist or not, Ning-bo has already decided on music as a career. Apart from giving performances in Hong Kong and the mainland, Ning-bo said he hoped to study music abroad in the future.