National Youth, Orchestra of Scotland, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

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The Independent Culture

If members of the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland sought role models, they surely found them in the Scottish conductor Garry Walker, and Scottish soloist Colin Currie, both starring in the orchestra's New Year concerts. There was also inspiration to be drawn from the Scots-born Thea Musgrave, whose short new percussion concerto, Wood, Metal and Skin, was commissioned by NYOS and dedicated to Currie.

Far from offering another opportunity to bash anything that is created out of wood, metal or skin, Musgrave has clearly taken into account both Currie's virtuosity and sensitive musical expressiveness, as well as the strengths, rather than any limitations, of the accompanying band. In also involving three groups of satellite solo percussion, Musgrave has provided a work in which Currie - too often the lonely soloist - can enjoy a bit of instrumental jousting with his percussive and orchestral colleagues.

After a Prologue, marked "dramatic", and in which all the percussionists make their individual entrances on to the platform, the following six sections unfold without interruption. Each is dominated in turn by the contrasting timbres produced by wood ("lyrical"), metal ("capricious") and skin ("stormy"), separated by two interludes, "mysterious" and "excited".

As you might expect from Musgrave, abundant contrast in rhythm, colour and texture is fastidiously and fascinatingly woven into the musical fabric. Currie moved confidently between each instrument, especially mellifluous on the tuned percussion, into which creeps a Hollywood-style filmic element. And though vividly dramatic, he avoided being raucous, as the work's climax erupts before the epilogue brings together the conflicting elements of wood, metal and skin in this subtle showpiece.

The players of NYOS demonstrated a natural feel for the music's shape and dynamics, while the plucky orchestral percussionists struck out, undaunted. It is a shame that both BBC Radio 3 and Radio Scotland failed to record these ambitious first performances in either Edinburgh or Glasgow. There couldn't be a clearer demonstration of the vital role that music education and an enterprise such as NYOS plays in the lives of young people from across Scotland.

Under the sympathetic and assured direction of Walker, one of Britain's most promising young conductors, the tricky Prelude and Liebestod from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde gave NYOS a chance to demonstrate its grasp of long-term structure and unfolding melody. Both here and in a particularly beautiful interpretation of Tchaikovsky's Fifth, Walker encouraged the young players, in singing string-tone, warm brass and characterful woodwind contributions, to demonstrate their admirable poise and instinctive musicianship.