After several seasons of uninspired programming, the Civic Orchestra, under the guidance of Michael Morgan, seems to be back on course with a judicious mix of standards and new material. What's more, Daniel Barenboim has taken a personal interest in the apprentice orchestra's affairs--the first CSO maestro to do so since Jean Martinon. Already this season, the Civic has played for Pierre Boulez and Barenboim. Now it's collaborating with Columbia College's Center for Black Music Research to introduce three works by African American composers written specifically for this orchestra. Variants on the Holiday Season, by Michigan-based Gary Powell Nash, is a tone poem based on Christmas jingles; Notations is the first orchestral composition by south-sider Henry Heard; and Atlanta's Challenge, loosely based on a Greek myth, is by veteran film and TV scorer and U. of C. alum Ed Bland. Also scheduled are older pieces by Alvin Singleton and Hale Smith. The oddest inclusion, however, must be the Violin Concerto in D Major written around 1786 by a Parisian known as "J.J.O., Chevalier de Meude-Monpas" who claimed to have studied with Rousseau and may have been a minor aristocrat. A seminar with some of the composers moderated by T.J. Anderson and Shulamit Ran begins at 1:30 Saturday afternoon. Preceding the concert will be a discussion of the legacy of black American composers with Columbia College musicologist Dominique-Rene de Lerma, starting at 6:30. Saturday, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan; 435-8122.