Friday's concert at Birmingham Conservatoire showed current university music education at its best, with its tripartite programme exposing the student performers to a huge range of styles, influences and cultures.

Tazul Ijan Tajuddin's prizewinning Gamelbati - Mediasi Ukiran III, basically a concerto for Indonesian gamelan and a slightly unusually-constituted western chamber orchestra, is a piece whose substantial length flies by.

A typically oriental patience and longsightedness informs its structure, recurring columns of gamelan-coloured serenity punctuating anxious skirls from woodwind, later by strings, before a gradual acceleration brings the piece to its well-achieved conclusion.

Edwin Roxburgh directed an assured account from a remarkable bunch of students in the gamelan and Thallein ensembles.

Two further prize-winning compositions followed, selected by a distinguished panel of judges from shortlisted entrants in the Philip Bates Prize for Young Composers. First we heard the tragically killed young Bates' own deftly busy, melodically ravishing Invention no.1, neatly conducted by the promising Daniele Rosina, before well-prepared performances of the five candidate works.

Johan Ericsson's hypnotically incantatory setting of Bob Dylan's Thief of Thoughts was declared overall winner, while Joanna Lee's evanescent, well-imagined Pierrot! won the audience prize.

Finally came a gratifying performance of Berg's demanding but so rewarding Chamber Concerto for Violin, Piano and 13 Winds from the Thallein Ensemble, these students playing with immense concentration, blend and balance under Roxburgh.

For all his purported grittiness, lyricism is never very far away in Berg, and David Chad-wick's sweetly piercing violin tone looked forward a few years to the composer's Violin Concerto (Berg always seems to see the instrument as elegiac).

Robert Birchall's authoritative pianism, the complexities of notes so secure under his hands, reminded us how dearly the Second Viennese School of composers cherished memories of Brahms.

After this heartening display of expertise from Conservatoire students it was the icing on the cake (an apt expression) to witness some of their immediate predecessors taking part in a wonderful production of Hump-erdinck's Hansel and Gretel by the sparky young company Operamus on Saturday afternoon.

Founded only last year, the organisation has as its aims the demystification of opera via the engagement and involvement of young people, and certainly the response of youngsters at this matinee on both sides of the proscenium (except that there wasn't one) was encouraging beyond belief.

This brilliantly constructed touring presentation opened at St Francis of Assisi Church in Bournville, chairs ranged down both sides of two raised rostra, with a tiny instrumental ensemble in the middle. And as the hymn-like tones of the Prelude's opening emerged from Robert Challinor's sonorous piano the atmosphere seemed perfectly captured.

Humperdinck has given us an opera Wagnerian in musical language and subject-matter (Gothic myths, sleep-incantations, woodland spirits and the rest) but domestic in scale, and the heroic little instrumental ensemble (the resourceful reduction by David Seaman, who also supplied the witty libretto-translation) under Richard Laing's unobtrusive yet unfailingly effective conducting achieved marvels in this continuously-varying sound-tapestry.

Alison Strain's production makes a virtue of minimalism, with symbolic sets (Claire Witcomb's vivid designs and Bruno Edward's chillingly atmospheric lighting, even with the full afternoon sun streaming through the windows - not to mention the strains of Bourn-ville's lovely carillon), and a vivacity of movement which attempts to approach every member of the audience.

Sightlines are occasionally obscured, though, especially in the final act, when the scrummy gingerbread house sits in the middle of proceedings, but the musical qualities are such that nobody seems to mind.

But before discussing those, mention must be made of the contribution of a children's chorus high in ah-factor and a corps of young dancers from Elmhurst School of Dance, performing with impressive gravitas and style.

There is a strong team of principals, beginning with Karen Wise as a boisterous, vulnerable Hansel and Katie Trethewey a touching, fragile Gretel. As their parents, Byron Jackson is attractively feckless,

with something of a young Willard White in his instinctive charisma, and Caroline Amneus brings an intensity to her careworn, wits'-end role which would surely enable her to tackle parts in operas by Wagner himself.

Young Tom Lilburn was an ethereal, hypnotic Sandman, and Becky Challoner a trendy, galvanising Dew Fairy.

But the biggest scene-stealer was the Witch of Sara Jonsson. Despite an announced indisposition (the multi-talented Rea Lawrenson was standing by in the orchestra, score-armed, just in case), she turned in a performance of zappy pzazz as a Bette Midler lookalike, her chic outfit completed by a neat little magic wand, her eye-flashing delivery turning us all to jelly -undoubtedly one of her recipes.

* Repeated Tuesday, Netherton Arts Centre, Dudley and Thursday, Stuart Bathurst School, Wednesbury (7.30pm, running time 2 hours ten minutes). Details on 0121 472 5342.

Christopher Morley ..SUPL: