WITH ONLY a week between the start of rehearsals and the concluding concerts, the members of the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland accept a considerable challenge in undertaking one of the orchestra's summer or winter courses.
To create a coherent, disciplined ensemble out of a group of players who are together for such a short period is no easy matter, nor is it one to which the orchestra's management makes any concessions with its choice of repertoire. Where straightforward works might seem the easiest solution, it instead programmes music that tests the players' skills to the full.
There was proof of this in abundance at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh on January 3, when the orchestra's latest crop of young musicians - consisting of over 100 players aged between 12 and 21 - tackled a programme under the baton of Christopher Adey that, alongside works by Elgar, Britten and Berlioz, included the cello concerto by the great 20th-century Polish modernist Witold Lutoslawski.
With its use of graphic notation that leaves some elements of the music up to the choice of the players themselves, the concerto has a score unlike any other the musicians have probably encountered before.
The technical demands placed on both soloist and orchestra are ferocious, and the musical language is dense and challenging.
It takes a brave conductor to venture into this music with a non-professional ensemble, but Adey, with his considerable experience of working with young players, was in command throughout. He guided the orchestra through the complexities of the score and incited them to rebel at the points in the piece where the music seems to explode into cacophonous chaos.
Though the concerto was the heart of the programme, there was plenty to admire in the rest of the concert. Britten's "Four Sea Interludes" from Peter Grimes were evocatively depicted.
The programme culminated with Elgar's often overlooked extended symphonic study "Falstaff", which was flowing and atmospheric.