How this 28-year-old Scot wrote some of best classical music of 21st century

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A PIECE of music by a rising young Scottish composer, lasting just five minutes, has been singled out as one of the greatest classical works of the 21st century.

• Scottish composer Helen Grime is seen as a rising star of classical music

Virga, by 28-year-old Helen Grime, will feature in Royal Scottish National Orchestra's new season in a showcase of the best ten new works of the last decade

Yesterday the RSNO music director, Stephane Denve, said he was bowled over by the "distinct voice and a special poetry".

He described how he considered dozens of new works by major names – and only then found the composer was Scottish.

Despite the brief length of the piece, Virga is written for a major orchestra and will feature alongside works by leading classical names including American John Adams and fellow Scot James MacMillan.

A former student of Edinburgh's top music schools, Ms Grime is considered a rising star in her field, but she is not yet a household name.

Virga, written in 2007, was played at the London Proms last year. "It is a very exciting and prestigious list of composers," she told The Scotsman. "It will be great for me to be up with them."

The "Ten out of 10" performances, of newly written music alongside classical greats, are a highlight of the RSNO's 2010-11 season. Mr Denve said in five years he had "created trust" with the Scottish classical audiences to try out what "may be some of the best music written in the last ten years".

The 2010-11 season, launching in September, also includes a pioneering series of chamber concerts at the Dovecot Gallery in Edinburgh. Up to 12 RSNO players will perform in the main hall used by weavers and to exhibit art at the tapestry-making centre. "We've been exploring the building in all sorts of different ways," said managing director David Weir. "It's fantastic."

Mr Denve said the chamber concerts would allow people to get close-up with RSNO musicians in an intimate musical setting.

The RSNO chief executive Simon Woods claimed a series of records for the national orchestra yesterday. Subscriptions are at their highest level in two decades, average audiences are the highest in 15 years, and youth audiences are up, with an average of 110 people under 26 at each concert.

The RSNO is meeting its goal of being a "world-class" institution, Mr Woods said. "We have always thought that audiences in Scotland should expect no less than orchestras in London should accept," he said.

This year's season is "a little bit more adventurous, a little bit daring", he said. Conductors include RSNO favourite Neeme Jrvi and his son Kristjan. Soloists include violinists Frank Peter Zimmerman and Scotland's Nicola Benedetti, and pianist Gabriela Montero. Favourite set-pieces run from Beethoven's Emperor Concerto to Rachmaninov's Second Symphony.

Ms Grime's work was chosen along with selections from MacMillan's opera The Sacrifice, and Graffiti by New York composer Magnus Lindberg. Adams' piece, On the Transmigration of Souls, was written in 2002 to commemorate the first anniversary of 9/11.

The modern pieces will be played in various concerts alongside older and better-known works. Ms Grime's piece is performed in the Usher Hall in November with music by Berlioz.

She is increasingly busy with new work. One piece premieres this year at the Sound festival in North-east Scotland, while the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra has commissioned a piece for December.

Ms Grime's longest piece to date is about 20 minutes long, because new classical commissions are usually kept shorter, she said. "I haven't written anything particularly long yet. It's the nature of the commissioning process."

Virga is being played in Paris in May by the Orchestra de Paris under legendary composer and conductor Pierre Boulez.

"The fact that the RSNO are making a point of programming new music by living composers is a great thing," she said.


• Born in York in 1981; moved to Scotland with her parents as a baby.

• Her grandparents were music teachers in Macduff; her mother is a music teacher in Edinburgh.

• An oboeist, she studied at City of Edinburgh Music School from the age of about nine.

• At 17, she moved to St Mary's Music School in the capital.

• Graduated with first class honours and later master's degree at the Royal College of Music in

London in 2004.

• Her Oboe Concerto commissioned in 2003 for Edinburgh's Meadows Chamber Orchestra won

Making Music category in British Composer Awards.

• Her composition A Cold Spring was written for the prestigious Aldeburgh Festival last year and

played at London's Wigmore Hall in January.

• Her music has been broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and Radio 4.

• New commissions include a composition for the Sound festival in the north-east of Scotland. A

commission for the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra is due in December.