Media Release: Young composer wins national prize

NFS Final James Nicolson 3 ams

James Nicolson wins Scottish orchestra’s national competition for composers aged 12-18 years
Fellow competitor, Tom Aitken’s work to be performed at the opening of Scottish Parliament in July

EIGHTEEN year-old James Nicolson from Kirkwall has won Scotland’s national orchestra’s Notes From Scotland, its annual composition competition specifically for 12-18 year-olds based in Scotland.

The theme for the second Notes From Scotland was sourced from Scotland’s contemporary architecture: Maggie’s Highlands; Pier Arts Centre, Orkney; The Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh; Shettleston Housing Association, Glasgow, and Dundee Contemporary Arts Centre.

In partnership with the Festival of Architecture 2016 and as part of the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s (RSNO) Notes From Scotland invited young composers to write a two-minute work for an instrumental trio, quartet or quintet.

Following the closing date for entries in May five works were chosen to be performed by an RSNO ensemble at the orchestra’s new auditorium at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall last Saturday evening.

A panel of judges including Scottish composer, Jennifer Martin, selected James Nicolson’s work White Oasis, inspired by the architecture of the recently-restored Pier Arts Centre in Stromness, as the winning entry. James receives an iPad with music software packages included, as well as VIP access to future RSNO concerts.

Composer, Jennifer Martin, said: “The variety of work we see in the course of this initiative is really inspiring. The brief, to express something of a piece of contemporary architecture in sound, is not easy, but our winner did just that. James Nicolson captured the essence of the building and its environmental context beautifully.”

Notes From Scotland 2016 winner, James Nicolson, added: “I first heard of the Notes From Scotland through my music teacher who encouraged me to enter a piece into the competition. Before this, the only music writing I had really done was for my music exams so I enjoyed the challenge of writing a more involved composition.

“The day of the final was incredible. Hearing the other finalists’ pieces and getting to meet the other young composers from across Scotland and hearing what inspired their pieces was fantastic.

“One of the highlights of the whole competition was the rehearsal where the young composes discussed with members of the RSNO how we wanted our compositions to be played. Watching these highly skilled musicians at work was a huge honour and their efficiency and professionalism was awe-inspiring.

“The whole competition is a fantastic idea and I am thrilled to have been part of such a special event.”

Fellow Notes From Scotland competitor, Tom Aitken, whose Piano Quintet No1 was performed on Saturday by the RSNO ensemble and pianist, Julia Lynch, will receive a Royal audience, having been chosen to be performed at the official opening of the fifth session of the Scottish Parliament in the presence of the oorchestra’s patron Her Majesty The Queen and Members of the Scottish Parliament,  on Saturday 2 July.

Presiding Officer, Ken Macintosh MSP, said: “Tom Aitken’s piece perfectly encapsulates a day at the Scottish Parliament building – there’s passion, urgency, discord, reflection, and ultimately, harmony. The Scottish Parliament is delighted that it will be played before Her Majesty The Queen and our other guests at the opening of the fifth session of Parliament.

“It is wonderful to see new musical talent like Tom Aitken emerging from Scotland. As the new session of the Scottish Parliament gets under way, it’s right that we provide a platform for bright, young, creative people like Tom and that we put them at the centre of our events.”

Prior to the final concert, composer, Stuart MacRae, hosted free workshops for entrants at each of the inspiring buildings across Scotland (DCA; Shettleston Housing Association; Pier Arts Centre; The Scottish Parliament; Maggie’s Highlands). The participants were given tours of the sites before receiving an introductory guide to composing to a theme.

Notes From Scotland 2017 will be announced later in the year but for more information visit the competition website,, or contact the RSNO’s Learning and Engagement team on 0141 225 3557 or email


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