Katya Richardson, a 15-year-old sophomore at Orange County High School of the Arts, is the only fellow who's the offspring of a professional musician: Her father has played trumpet behind Buddy Rich, Tom Jones and Brian Setzer, among others.

The others are Jason Griffin, a senior at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School whose current big challenge in life is deciding among recent acceptances to Stanford, Columbia, USC, UC Berkeley and the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y.; and Richard An, also 17 and a senior at Crescenta Valley High in La Crescenta, who will be making up his mind about USC, UCLA or Oberlin. Their college applications included musical scores and recordings of L.A. Phil members playing their music, a practical benefit of being a Composer Fellow.

All four fellows began music lessons at a young age, thanks to supportive parents, and a musical restlessness soon set in that prodded them to make up their own music instead of sticking to what was placed in front of them.

An's father is a plumber; he said his dad and his mom, who died shortly before he began the fellowship, supported his music-making from the day when at 4 he pointed at a piano player on television and said that's what he wanted to do.

It's not just a fellowship in name, An said. "I was surprised at how little competition there is between us. Maybe it's because we each have such individualized voices or sounds that there's no niche to fight over. We can do exactly what we want, and we won't be elbowing into any other fellow's territory. I wouldn't have the knowledge I do without the other three, and hopefully the others feel the same way."

While taking the royal road, for now, the students do get reality training about just how tough — make that all but impossible — it is to earn a living writing music for classical ensembles.

"I make sure they know life is not always like this," Matheson said. "They're not going to be protected under the blanket of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and things get a lot rougher down the road. They come out of it with their eyes open. We try to give them skills and knowledge that will give them the best chance they can have. All the other variables are not under anybody's individual control."

The variables seem to be breaking favorably. Recently Tamzin Elliott, who finished her fellowship in 2011 and is now a sophomore at Bard College in upstate New York, received critical thumbs-up in the New York Times and Washington Post for songs she'd written for members of the Bard College Conservatory to sing at New York City's Morgan Library and for a percussion tribute to John Cage that was played during a Cage festival at American University in Washington, D.C.

Saad Haddad, who was part of the first composer fellows group that finished in 2009, is a junior at USC. One of his recent compositions is scheduled to be played by the American Composers Orchestra, which is dedicated to fostering fresh talent, on Monday and Tuesday at its annual festival of new works in New York City.

Stucky said he met with Anderson Alden a few months ago in New York. The high school kid who was shoved forward in Santa Monica as an argument that the L.A. Phil needed to nurture its community's teen composers is about to get his bachelor's degree from Yale. He wanted advice about graduate schools.

"They're competing at the highest level," Stucky said. "It's like having your kids grow up."