West to east and points south

The National Youth Orchestra of Scotland conducted its summer course in Orkney this year. It was NYOS's first visit to the island since 1995, though the decision was partly motivated by loss of its regular base, St Andrews College in Bearsden, which is being sold by Glasgow University.

Relatively few places can match the heavy demands of a NYOS summer school. It requires accommodation which allows the necessary degree of security and supervision of a residential course for well over 100 students, tutors and staff. And they need a working space large enough for full orchestra rehearsals, plus numerous smaller rooms for section sessions.

Orkney provided all of that and was rewarded with NYOS's first performance in the new Pickaquoy Centre in Kirkwall. This launched its summer tour, with scheduled concerts in Glasgow, Kendal, Birmingham and Amsterdam.

First stop, though, was the Eden Court Theatre in Inverness, where the orchestra gave another impressive performance under Nicolae Moldoveanu. The Romanian conductor has worked with NYOS before and clearly is popular with the players. They rewarded him with some exceptional playing.

The concert opened with a new work jointly commissioned by NYOS and the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. Gordon MacPherson's "South" commemorates the centenary of a Scottish scientific expedition to Antarctica, led by William Spiers Bruce in 1902-04 on board the Scotia.

The Dundee composer's music evokes the icy waste in vivid fashion and builds gradually towards a heroic summation of the expedition. He makes striking use of individual wind and brass instruments against the glacial timbre of slow-moving string figures and incorporates bursts of morse code into the music, including an insistent motif delivered by piccolo which launches the final portion of the work.

The young German soloist Andreas Boyde and a reduced orchestra gave a sparkling, rhythmically alert account of Schumann's Piano Concerto.

The full forces returned to the stage after the interval in another challenging work, Stravinsky's vibrant and colourful music from the ballet Petrushka. The players attacked the music in confident and assertive fashion and pulled off the many exposed solo passages with considerable panache.

NYOS and the RSGS plan a school project next term in which music and geography departments will be encouraged to collaborate on the theme explored in "South".

Kenny Mathieson

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