ROCK musicians are a lucky lot. Expected to indulge every whim, they get the girls (or boys), the glory, and the licence to chill out with whatever substance is to hand: a beer or a bourbon by the microphone or . . . well, let us leave it at that. But stand back, because it is the turn of the classical musicians to let their bow-ties down. Long consigned to anonymity in the Stygian stage-front pit, the emerging players of the Academy for Performing Arts Symphony Orchestra are smashing the mould for a euphoric celebration of European light-classical music: a homage to Vienna and all its exuberance. Presented by the APA, A Viennese Celebration will be performed on four nights, with the proceeds from the November 11 charity performance, featuring Hong Kong tenor Warren Mok, going to the Make a Wish Foundation for children. Under the baton of young Australian conductor Thomas Woods, the academy orchestra will offer the energetic best of Lehar, Offenbach and Johann Strauss II, among others, in a dazzling spectacular of waltzes, polkas and quadrilles . . . with a little extra on the side for the long-suffering musicians. 'They're coming up out of the pit!' declared an infectiously avid Kevin Miller, academy head of opera and vocal studies. 'They're delighted to get in on the act. Yes, these people do have faces! 'The aim is to re-create the atmosphere generated by the Vienna Philharmonic, and the really fun part - as far as the musos are concerned - is that during the Champagne Polka 'Viennese' waiters, dressed as if for a beer house, will appear and serve them champagne.' But the fizzy pop is just the tip of the extravaganza iceberg. 'It's a lark,' said Miller, laughing. 'We aim to outdo The Last Night Of The Proms. We'll be going right over the top with the glamour. There will be cannons, balloons, glitter and streamers; the balconies will be swathed in gold and silver; we have six Swarovski crystal chandeliers, worth $70,000 each, and all the silk flowers it's possible to get . . . about $20,000 worth! It will be truly spectacular!' The shimmering gold and silver of the setting will be mirrored in the programme: literally, in the case of Lehar's Gold And Silver waltz, and liberally in the froth and bubble of exhilarating numbers from Strauss' Die Fledermaus. Lehar will be weighing in with extracts from The Merry Widow, Offenbach with his vivacious 'can-can' strains. There will be a cast, if not of thousands, then at least to rattle the boards. 'When we introduce the 24 ballet dancers,' said Miller, 'we'll push the orchestra upstage - because there are also 30 singers to accommodate. With the orchestra that means a company of about 90. It will be entertainment with a capital 'E'!' Six months' planning and six weeks of rehearsals so far have realised Miller's project - 'I conceived it and wrote the dialogue, and although it's not a Kevin Miller show, it is my baby' - but there is a serious side to the glitz and gaiety. The beneficiary of the charity evening, the Make a Wish Foundation, makes dreams come true for terminally or seriously ill children in Hong Kong and Macau. It relies on donations and proceeds from charity functions, so Clara Weatherall, chairman of its umbrella organisation, the Keswick Foundation, said she was delighted to be associated with one of the academy's performances. 'We hope to raise half a million dollars,' said Ms Weatherall, 'almost every cent of which will go towards making children's dreams real. Their requests vary from something as touchingly simple as a pencil case to meeting Jean-Claude van Damme; from a grand piano to helicopter rides to computers.' Mok needed little persuasion when it came to lending his support to the charity evening; nor did Woods, who will conduct all four performances. Woods, 29, and according to Miller 'doing great things in international opera', answered the call with appropriate gusto. 'I'm thrilled to bits to be here,' he said. 'I accepted straight away.' Woods is a rapidly rising star; he studied at the Gnessin Institute in Moscow from 1989-90, and as one of their youngest conductors has worked extensively with the Australian Opera, often performing at the Opera House in his native Sydney. 'I guess I've done well for my age so far,' he added modestly, 'but age and conducting are misunderstood. There are a few young conductors, but everybody thinks they're all about 90. They're not - it's just that they stick around that long!' As rehearsals entered their final phase, Miller brought the curtain down on the preview. 'The musos might be looking forward to their champagne, but they won't be falling off their chairs,' he revealed. 'They won't have much drinking-up time; the Champagne Polka lasts precisely two minutes and 42 seconds - that means a bubble each!' A Viennese Celebration: APA, Gloucester Road, Wan Chai, November 7, 9, 11 and 13, 8pm; tickets $85 and $45 adults, $70, $50 and $40 concessions. Call 2734-9009. The Make a Wish Foundation can be contacted on 2579-2402.