THE ASIAN Youth Orchestra (AYO) is also known as the Asian Youth Opportunity. That's because this extraordinary group offers opportunities to young musicians from all over Asia to perform in concerts around the world. Opportunity is the main focus because there is insufficient direction for youngsters to get involved in music in Asia, explained Richard Pontzious, founder and artistic director of AYO. 'People who are studying music seriously in Asia really have to want to study music, especially in Thailand and Malaysia,' he said. Creating opportunities is what separates AYO from other orchestral organisations. AYO has come a long way since its inception 12 years ago. The orchestra focuses on creativity and exploration for young musicians to discover the 'joy of music', said AYO manager Keith Lau. To maintain a high standard, AYO selects new musicians each summer through auditions. This year, 63 new faces will join the 41 musicians in preparation for the upcoming Asian concert tour. The musicians are chosen not only for their talent, but for their attitude as well. 'Playing is important, but behaviour is equally important,' stressed Lau. 'We look at how they are dressed, whether or not they are chewing gum ? it's the equivalent of how you would present yourself for a job interview.' AYO also focuses on exposure, and Pontzious believes the ensemble offers the musicians a chance to travel, meet new people and 'see beyond the music'. 'The musicians come to play music. They're passionate, they want to excel. But they will also remember standing on stage, meeting a new roommate, or playing in their first concert in Tokyo ? when they look at their photo albums years later,' he said. Viola player Elvis Chan Tze-shun, who joined AYO in 1999, believes the AYO music camps are different from other music camps because they make members feel like they are part of a family. 'I've met many friends from different nations through AYO, and we still keep in touch,' said the 21-year-old. He finds it difficult communicating with some musicians from countries such as Japan, as most of them cannot speak English very well. 'It's quite amusing to have to use gestures or handwriting to communicate with them,' he said. Jeffery Chan Chun-hin, 15, who is the youngest and tallest member of the orchestra, at 1.8 metres, is less concerned about being able to communicate with other musicians, as he believes music is an 'international language'. 'Every country has its own style of playing, and I hope to absorb them all,' said the lanky percussion player. Aside from coming to terms with cultural differences, the AYO has had other challenges to face, such as the lack of government funding and, in some cases, problems with visa applications for the travelling players. 'But when we step back, we always find a way to work things out,' said Lau.