Our city would be much the poorer without the Auckland Chamber Orchestra. Peter Scholes and his players have enriched the lives of so many, searching out music you are unlikely to hear from the bigger orchestras.

"Putting on stuff that no one else will do is important," says Scholes, visibly excited about tomorrow's mix of Strauss and Gulda alongside the first Auckland performance of his own Relic.

Friedrich Gulda (1930-2000) was a maverick. The Austrian pianist was celebrated for his Beethoven interpretations yet also played jazz alongside Chick Corea. As a composer, he penned a set of variations on The Doors' Light My Fire.

"There's nothing quite like Gulda's Cello Concerto," is how Scholes describes this 1980 piece that sets the soloist against a band of wind instruments. "There's jazz, rock'n'roll and a Sousa-style march, along with some Austrian folksong," he laughs. "It's certainly eclectic and lots of fun."

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You can preview the work on YouTube, played by French cellist Gautier Capucon; tomorrow the soloist is Santiago Canon Valencia, the young Colombian virtuoso who thrilled ACO audiences last year in Shostakovich's First Concerto.

"Santiago is absolutely unflappable," says Scholes, "and always so calm and focused. He's so much at one with his instrument that it's almost like the cello is surgically connected to him."

Richard Strauss' Suite from Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme could have been written for the forces of the ACO but it is one of the orchestra's bigger challenges to date, "with harmonies moving around a lot and high violins".

Scholes points to the almost physical humour of pianist David Kelly and Tim Sutton musically duelling on the fencing master movement, "but then Moliere's original play is so funny too".

Scholes suggests many of Auckland's working musicians might identify with one episode from the French comedy.

"There's that scene between the music master and the dancing master in which the music man complains that the incense of applause doesn't provide a living - the best praise is cash-in-hand. They were saying it in the 17th century and they're still saying it."

Scholes' own Relic, commissioned and premiered by the Wellington group Stroma in 2010, grew out of a trip to Cairo in 1997. This proved a source of exotic inspiration using the skills that have made Scholes one of our leading film composers.

Looking over what ACO is offering this year, one notices Kurt Weill's Second Symphony turning up in June, alongside Lilburn and Mozart. For Scholes it brings back memories of working on a 2006 production of the German composer's Seven Deadly Sins. "It's got the same sound," he explains. "It may be written for orchestra but here and there it slides into the world of cabaret."

An August concert brings out the First Symphony of American Elliott Carter, aged 102, and still composing.

"These days Carter writes beautiful, dissonant music that our audiences might find hard to get into; this 1942 work is very much in the Aaron Copland American landscape style."

You may have gathered that Peter Scholes is a hunter and gatherer, finding all this music.

"I spend months planning, and then I go to my players and say, 'Let's do it together. I can't do it without you.'

"The music may exist on paper but when you can actually hear real people playing it, for a live audience, that makes all the work worthwhile."

Performance

What:Auckland Chamber Orchestra
Where and when: Raye Freedman Centre, Silver Rd, Epsom, tomorrow at 5pm