Commissioning works is clearly essential for the propagation of new music, but what of the second, third and fourth performances? The fact that much contemporary music is never heard again after its initial outing is what prompted the Royal Philharmonic Society and BBC Radio 3 to launch the Encore project, in which a number of significant orchestral works by British-based living composers are to be given broadcast performances over the next few years.
The latest Scottish contribution was Nigel Osborne's Zansa, a virtuoso exploration of rhythm and timbre, inspired by the complex rhythms of central and west African music. Written 20 years ago for the London Sinfonietta, here it was played by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and conductor Garry Walker, who exploited the potential for interesting spatial effects arising from the placing of the piano and percussion at opposite sides of the stage.
In keeping with the Encore ethos, the SCO used the occasion to revisit a couple of its own recent commissions - the Viola Concerto No 2 by Sally Beamish and James MacMillan's l (A Meditation on Iona). That the viola - Beamish's own instrument - should elicit a particularly personal response is unsurprising. The second concerto, inspired by the Anglo-Saxon poem The Seafarer, is a poetic, rather melancholy, introverted work, in which the soloist - here the excellent Lawrence Power - is cast as a lone figure against the expanse of the orchestra.
MacMillan's l has not lacked performances since its premiere nine years ago, but if anything, time has just added potency to the bleakness and austerity of his vision of Iona, particularly with the SCO emphasising the juxtaposition of the tenderness of solo lines and hammered orchestral passages.
Younger Hall, St Andrews
Tuesday December 13, 2005