Lincoln Middle School orchestra director Jim Wang told his students about the opportunity at the beginning of the school year.

They’ve been counting down the days ever since.

Three dozen chamber ensemble musicians from the Santa Monica school are currently in Salt Lake City for the National Orchestra Festival, which is being held in conjunction with the American String Teachers Association conference.

Wang’s group was one of just four middle school orchestras invited to play at the festival, which will also feature middle school orchestras from Utah, Nevada and Washington state.

The Lincoln students were scheduled to perform works by Felix Mendelssohn, Antonin Dvorak and Aaron Copland at Abravanel Hall, which is home to the Utah Symphony.

“They’re excited,” Wang said Wednesday, the day before he and his students flew to Salt Lake City. “Hopefully this will fuel their passion for music.”

Wang, who grew up in Diamond Bar, has been interested in taking students to the festival ever since becoming Lincoln Middle School’s orchestra director about four years ago. He attended the conference as a student when it was held in San Francisco.

Last year’s ASTA conference in Louisville, Kentucky, brought together 795 teachers and directors, 294 college students and 17 festival groups as well as scores of other students and exhibitors. Rhode Island and Georgia have also hosted the event in recent years.

The relative proximity of Santa Monica to Salt Lake City made this year’s conference more financially and logistically feasible, Wang said.

Wang said his students, who are in grades 6-8, were invited to attend the festival after he submitted a recording of last year’s chamber ensemble.

Each selected group receives feedback from judges and takes part in an educational training session with a clinician directly after its performance.

“The (festival) brings together orchestras from around the country to a single location in order to provide an unparalleled opportunity to receive placement, ratings, comments and education from leading clinicians and adjudicators in the industry,” the event website reads.

When they’re not performing, the Lincoln students will attend development sessions and master classes and have the chance to hear other orchestras perform as well as interact with other musicians.

“They really get a national perspective, and they get to see the field outside the Santa Monica bubble,” Wang said.

The director added that many colleges will have recruiters on hand to talk about their music programs.

The ensemble has been raising money for months. It received a generous contributions from the Gores Group, a Los Angeles-based private equity firm, and obtained scholarships through several family trusts. It also partnered with the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Santa Monica, Wang said.

“The idea behind the fundraising was, regardless of the trip costs, everybody was going to go,” he said.

When students return Saturday night, they’ll continue preparing for their spring concert, which is slated for 7 p.m. April 16 at Lincoln Middle School. For more information, visit www.lmsorchestras.org.

Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, jeff@www.smdp.com or on Twitter.

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