The Asian Youth Orchestra (AYO) gave its first concerts in 1990 and, although conductors, players and repertoire change over the years, one constant is the annual auditioning tour undertaken by the orchestra's founder, Richard Pontzious, now its artistic director and conductor. This year's schedule found him in Japan at the moment when the ground shook. 'We were in Tokyo on March 11, on the 27th floor of the Hilton Hotel, when the earthquake hit. Auditions were the next day and, although we did have some cancellations, somehow the candidates arrived.' Pontzious selects 100 musicians from about 1,000 applicants each year and, in the early days, Japanese players were routinely filling about a third of those places. Recently, however, there has been a tailing-off in their numbers and a corresponding increase in those from the mainland. Pontzious doesn't believe this is related to the workings of the orchestra. 'I think it's jobs-related,' the 67-year-old American says. 'You graduate from a music school in Japan and you have a very difficult time finding a job as an orchestral player, whereas in China there are a lot of jobs opening up, a lot of new orchestras and concert halls. So the people there see this as a chance, a stepping stone to getting that job.' Seventy-two per cent of this year's orchestra members, aged 16 to 28, come from three sources: Taiwan, Hong Kong and the mainland. With the AYO's policy of capping the number from any one country at 30, the thought arises that it may one day become a Chinese Youth Orchestra in all but name, with countries such as Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam playing second fiddle. 'That's always a question that hangs over [us],' says Pontzious.