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When the Festival of British Youth Orchestras was launched in modest fashion in Edinburgh in 1979, it would have been hard to imagine that one day it would present the world premiere of a commissioned major work by one of the leading figures in contemporary music. However, that is precisely the situation this year.
Sir Peter Maxwell Davies's High On the Slopes of Terror was commissioned by the FBYO's parent body, the National Association of Youth Orchestras, in celebration of the festival. The piece, completed in 1999, is a product of the visit to Antarctica which also inspired his Antarctic Symphony, which received its Scottish premiere at the St Magnus Festival in Orkney in June.
The title refers to Mount Terror. Although the composer did not visit that location during his stay with the British Antarctic Survey in 1997-98, he was inspired to choose this subject by a passage in the diary of the explorer and adventurer Captain Robert Scott, as well as his own experience of the continent.
Chetham's Symphony Orchestra, making its first visit to the festival from the famous music school, will give the premiere performance. The composer has not given the young musicians an easy task. He has written: "Nobody can return from Antarctica and not be touched and changed by it, and this work attempts to convey the intensity of light and sound in a completely unpolluted atmosphere, where all the senses are peculiarly sharpened and responsive.
"Rhythmically it is particularly demanding, and I have composed a virtuoso piece in the belief that today's young musicians need no compromise or concession, such is their quality. It is as tough in some respects as any work I wrote for mature professionals."
The quality of proficiency that he speaks of will be evident throughout the festival. Davies's piece is just one of four new works which will be featured. Another is by Richard Michael, the founder and director of the Fife Youth Jazz Orchestra, who was commission to write a suite based on the love songs of Robert Burns.
The FYJO is always popular at the festival, particularly with school audiences.They will be joined by three more groups from the region, led by the Fife Youth Orchestra. Not to be outdone, they also have a commission, Bruce Fraser's Concerto for Trumpet, with John Wallace as the soloist.
Jazz is also represented at the festival by the Strathclyde Youth Jazz Orchestra and the Edinburgh Schools Jazz Orchestra.
The number of orchestras from overseas who visit the festival has risen in recent years, and there are no less than six in this year's programme. The Norden Orchestra, made up of leading students from various Nordic countries, will open the festival in Glasgow, while the National Youth Orchestra of Ireland Under-18s will do so in Edinburgh.
Both orchestras will be heard in both cities, as will the Vancouver Youth Symphony Orchestra and the Schwyz Youth Orchestra from Switzerland. The World Wind Quintet and the Ingolstadt Young Chamber Choir from Bavaria, will perform in Edinburgh only.
Scottish schools are well represented. In addition to the Fife contingent, there are orchestras or ensembles representing Glasgow, the West of Scotland, East Renfrewshire, East Dunbartonshire, Edinburgh, Lothian, the Borders and Perth.
Visitors from south of the border include several groups new to the festival. In addition to the Chetham's Symphony Orchestra, there will be the Malden Young Strings, an ensemble directed by George Steven, who first suggested the festival, the Shropshire Youth Orchestra and bands from Redbridge and Staffordshire.
The repertoire they will play is both extensive and imaginative. It ranges from pillars such as Beethoven's Symphony No 5 and Dvorak's New World Symphony to novelties such as a "Beatles' Suite for Trombone" and Alan Silvestri's "Forrest Gump Suite".
The music of Sir Malcolm Arnold - always popular with youth bands - will feature heavily in honour of the composer's 80th birthday.
Festival of British Youth Orchestras in Edinburgh and Glasgow, August 11-September 2; see www.nayo.org.ukTickets and details from the Fringe office, Edinburgh, tel 0131 226 5138, and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow, tel 0141 332 5057. Concerts free to children, students subject to availability