AS AN eight-year-old in 1955, Gidon Kremer, the virtuoso later described by German maestro Herbert Von Karajan as the ''greatest violinist of a generation'', performed with a youth orchestra at the prestigious Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. It was Kremer's first time on a big stage and the experience left an indelible impression - an understanding of how important it is to give young musicians an opportunity. It is no wonder Kremer has chosen to again perform with a youth orchestra, offering his services as a soloist and a drawcard for a high-profile tour by the Asian Youth Orchestra (AYO). It is not only an act of charity, but also one of reciprocation. ''I have always liked initiatives that involve young people,'' he said. ''When you deal with young musicians there is less of the routine attitude that you sometimes have with professional musicians - there's enthusiasm and energy.'' Funded by Cathay Pacific, the tour is nothing if not ambitious. The concerts will feature pianist Vadim Sakharov, conductor Eri Klas and 99 students from a number of Asian nations. For the first time in the youth orchestra's four-year history, the tour will venture beyond Asia. After performing at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre next Sunday, the tour moves to Europe with performances at famous venues like the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Vienna's Konzerthaus and Berlin's Schauspielhaus. All of which is heady stuff for 15 to 25-year-old amateur musicians. At the orchestra's rehearsal camp at the United World College in Singapore, Japanese violinist and AYO concert master Aya Iga enthused: ''This is the best [orchestra we have had].'' And Hong Kong's Francis Kan Pak-kin, the viola leader, said: ''It's getting better and better each year. The spirit of playing is very high.'' Even the Latvian-born Kremer was not above a little pre-tour excitement. ''I like the idea of connecting people from different cultures. Through the music we all speak the same language,'' he said. ''We can't change the world, but we can set standards and values. And that is important for every musician - the idea of bringing people together through music.'' But the presence of Kremer also represents a challenge for the students. While they may be well versed in the classics, Kremer often delves into the eclectic works of contemporary composers. In this case, concertos by Phillip Glass and Alfred Schnittke. These pieces are not necessarily more difficult to play, but they do represent different sensibilities. Kremer is confident the students will take to the music. ''Phillip Glass can be considered an Asian composer. There are certain elements of Asian philosophy - and that influence is there. I don't expect all 99 students will fall in love with Glass or Schnittke, but if half of them feel a passion for it, I'll consider my mission and that of my partners fulfilled.'' One partner who is already feeling fulfilled is Richard Pontzious, who founded the Asian Youth Orchestra with Lord Menuhin and financial backer Sally Aw Sian. While the orchestra has blossomed this year, the process has been demanding. ''The countries in Asia don't usually co-operate with each other,'' Pontzious said. ''It's usually my country against your country. ''And the countries in this part of the world tend not to want to deal with a charitable institution like the AYO. They only understand how to deal with other governments. So I think what saved us is the excellence of the orchestra - a lot of officials like the orchestra and that cuts through the red tape.'' That is partly why the orchestra has rehearsed in Singapore for the past two years - Singapore's Minister of Defence and the Minister of Information and the Arts are fans. They helped arrange the facilities at the rehearsal camp and provide exemption from military service for anyone accepted into the orchestra. ''All that kind of razzle-dazzle is important to us,'' Pontzious said. The Asian Youth Orchestra featuring Gidon Kremer will perform the Hong Kong premiere of Alfred Schnittke's Concerto Gross V, for Violin, Invisible Piano and Orchestra at the Cultural Centre Concert Hall on August 8 at 8 pm. For ticket information, call the AYO on 866-1623.