by Steve Smith
A change in leadership is cause for nervous anticipation at any institution, and the New York Youth Symphony is no exception. The orchestra opened its 45th season on Sunday afternoon at Carnegie Hall with a concert conducted by Ryan McAdams, its newly appointed music director.
Mr. McAdams, 25, faces no small challenge. The Youth Symphony is an accomplished, ambitious group of players ranging in age from 12 to 22. Mr. McAdams's tenure follows that of Paul Haas, a charismatic conductor whose adventurous programs drew attention to the orchestra. (Mr. Haas remains an artistic adviser to the group.)
Mr. McAdams, a recent graduate of the Juilliard School, arrives with impressive credentials. He spent much of last year in Sweden on a Fulbright scholarship, working at the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic with Alan Gilbert, the music director designate of the New York Philharmonic. In April Mr. McAdams assisted Lorin Maazel in Britten's opera ''The Rape of Lucretia,'' presented by Mr. Maazel's Châteauville Foundation at his Virginia estate. In June Mr. McAdams won the first Glimmerglass- Aspen Prize, and he spent the summer as an assistant conductor at the Glimmerglass Opera in Cooperstown, N.Y.
The spirit of the occasion may have gotten the best of Mr. McAdams when he started Ginastera's Seven Dances from ''Estancia'' before some players seemed completely settled. In the opening ''Trabajadores Agricolas,'' string figures that should have been as sharp as a threshing blade sounded wooly. But the musicians quickly found their footing in this bracing ballet music, with principal wind players and the timpanist Nicholas Murry making especially exciting contributions.
A newly commissioned Violin Concertino by Clint Needham, a doctoral student at Indiana University, provided a showcase for the violinist William Harvey, another recent Juilliard graduate. Mr. Needham's piece, according to his program note, was inspired by the death of a high school friend. Rather than sorrow or rage, the music seemed to describe an effort to find equilibrium and peace.
In the opening section Mr. Harvey's fragile lines wound through a hallucinatory landscape of dizzying strings, melting brass figures and chiming percussion. A more fitful second part found the soloist's busy phrases challenged by rowdy, mocking outbursts, until the music finally sighed once more into tranquillity.
Mr. Harvey also played with fire and assurance in Ravel's ''Tzigane.'' The richly nuanced accompaniment featured fine work from Caroline Bembia, a harpist, and Anton Rist, the principal clarinetist.
Following an intermission, the Youth Symphony presented its Theodore L. Kesselman Award for Arts Education to Zarin Mehta, the executive director of the New York Philharmonic. Afterward, a rousing account of Stravinsky's ''Firebird'' Suite (1919) offered further compelling evidence that the Youth Symphony is in good hands with Mr. McAdams.