When it comes to making new music a natural part of the concertgoing experience, few orchestras in the United States can match the record of the New York Youth Symphony, now in its 36th season, which presented a rewarding program on Sunday afternoon at Carnegie Hall.
Since 1984, through an initiative called First Music, the orchestra has commissioned and performed a new work at every one of its concerts. So far, 55 composers have been commissioned, 43 for orchestral works, the rest for chamber pieces.
Over the years, works of wildly diverse styles have been presented. Sunday's was by Carter Pann, a doctoral candidate in composition at the University of Michigan who is 27. When told that he was being given the opportunity to compose a piece for orchestra featuring the clarinetist Richard Stoltzman as soloist, Mr. Pann, who admires Mr. Stoltzman's affinity for jazz, complied with ''Rags to Richard,'' a pair of dance movements based on ragtime, the first a slow drag, the second a two-step, both full of the kind of virtuosic writing the clarinetist revels in. This snappy piece would not be out of place on a pops program. Yet, in the wash of brassy and reedy orchestra colors, and in the pungency of the harmonies, with their ''wrong-note'' chords and layered complexities, the music has a modernistic veneer.
Mr. Stoltzman played with verve and seeming delight. He was also the soloist in a novelty: Prokofiev's popular Flute Sonata in D, also well known in a version for violin and piano, but here presented in a transcription for clarinet and orchestra by the composer Kent Kennan. Mr. Stoltzman brought a mellow, plaintive beauty to the familiar solo part. The rich orchestration, while often sumptuous, lacks the rhythmic definition and bite of the original accompaniment for piano. But Mr. Stoltzman, the young players and their fine conductor, Mischa Santora, who is in his second season with the orchestra, were good advocates for the work.
In the second half, Brahms's Second Symphony was conducted by Mr. Santora, a lanky, kinetic 26-year-old who at 6 feet 6 towers over his players even when standing on a low-rise podium specially built for him by the orchestra. The musicians seem excited by him, and with good reason: he is a solid technician and a sensitive musician.
What this performance lacked in technical polish, it made up for in enthusiasm. If you want to experience a familiar repertory work afresh, there is nothing like hearing a performance by young musicians who are discovering it for the first time.