For some, contemporary music may be classified into two types: that with melody and that without (“plinky plonky” music). This definition comes to mind when listening to the SCO concert tonight, because coupled with two sublime Mozart piano concertos, are two challenging contemporary compositions. Challenging the audience with new music is, of course, important: we can’t go on repeating the old, even if it is better! However, the SCO might be testing us a little too much tonight, by giving us two, tough contemporary works to listen to.

The concert begins with a Chamber Symphony by Thomas Adès (he was only 19 when he wrote it), and it shows that he was determined to demonstrate his radical nature. It really does begin with a “plinky plonky” sound of strings or sticks tapping out a kind of rhythm, which gradually spreads to the other instruments, but in a sharp, jarring, atonal manner: there is no melody here!

The other contemporary work, A Cold Spring by Helen Grime (written in 2009), does have melody, even if it is in a very modern setting, and features duets between the clarinets and has a lively ending. This is certainly new music one can listen to and get pleasure from, and is well conducted by the young conductor Duncan Ward, who appears to be at ease with modern music. The SCO instrumentalists are no strangers to new music, and play both works well.

The other two works in this concert are Mozart’s brilliant Piano Concertos No. 20 and No. 22, beautifully played by Kristian Bezuidenhout, who is very much an international star. He also leads the orchestra, although the SCO needs very little leading in great works such as these. The only problem is the fortepiano, which has a much softer tone than a modern one, and it is sometimes lost among the orchestra, particularly when heard from the gallery of the Queen’s Hall. Although period instruments do lend authenticity to a performance, it is important that they be heard.

So a concert of two parts—melody versus “plinky plonky”—where the melody and the Mozart win out. The SCO are as usual sublime, and we leave the Queen’s Hall happy.