The Asian Youth Orchestra raises the curtain on its 10th anniversary season with two concerts in Hong Kong as a prelude to its Japanese and North American tour. For the past three weeks, 106 of the region's best young musicians have been practising at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts under the tutelage of a faculty of professional musicians from orchestras around the world. The presence of these international musicians is testimony to the success of the AYO which for the past decade has been a driving force in exposing the region's brightest young musical talents to a global audience. Since it was founded in 1987 by artistic and executive director Richard Pontzious under the patronage of Sally Aw Sian, the AYO has brought together top young musical talents each summer in a selected Asian city for its six-week season. After the concerts in Hong Kong, the orchestra embarks on a 14-date concert series in Tokyo, Osaka, Vancouver, Seattle, Los Angeles and San Diego before finishing with two concerts in Hawaii late next month. Music director and conductor Sergiu Comissiona returns for his sixth season. Since its first season in 1990, the AYO has performed 136 concerts in 97 cities to an audience of more 300,000 people. Speaking at the opening ceremony of the AYO rehearsal camp, Chief Secretary for Administration Anson Chan Fang On-sang, said the growing reputation of the AYO on a global scale spoke well of the education and training the musicians were receiving in their home countries. She called the AYO a 'wonderful idea in action', creating great friendships and experiences for its members, both in their future life and work with music. 'The Asian Youth Orchestra, brought together for a season each year, drawing together people from so many countries and cities, shar ing together ideas, vitality and influence, is one of the stars illuminating the modern life of our region,' Mrs Chan said. 'It is an invaluable investment in the cultural life of our communities and an example of co-operation and growing together that could be followed with benefits in many other aspects of our mutual relations.' Mr Pontzious, an American who created the AYO 'to celebrate the achievements of these young people', said the orchestra had grown from its humble beginnings in 1990 when fewer than 500 students from eight countries auditioned. Since then, the auditions have become a highly competitive affair as about 2,000 students from 11 countries and regions auditioned this year. The mainland successfully placed 24 musicians in the orchestra followed by Taiwan (20) and Japan (19). Hong Kong placed 12 students.