THE York Spring Festival of New Music got off to a cracking start with a concert of music by Webern, Stravinsky and a new work by James Whittle.

Webern’s Five Pieces For Orchestra is an incredible essay in musical economy. The University of York Chamber Orchestra were brilliant, delivering a series of beautiful, haunting musical images – fleeting yet magical moments. I loved the dramatic punch and cute signing-off in the final movement.

Stravinsky’s Movements For Piano And Orchestra is another wonderful marriage of economy and invention. Pianist Joseph Houston gave an entirely engaging and thoughtful performance: a musical constant with the instrumentation ever changing. The delicate balance was judged beautifully by John Stringer and the UYCO.

If this work embraces the modern, then his Concerto In E flat, Dumbarton Oaks, could be said to embrace the past and Bach in particular. But, as this fresh, vibrant account of the work confirms, it doesn’t make it less radical. The first movement delivered a delightful spell of contrapuntal ingenuity, the third was rhythmically thrilling and they captured the wit and warmth of the central Allegretto beautifully.

James Whittle is the first recipient of the Terry Holmes Performer/Composer Award (a typically generous gesture) and it is not hard to see why. Remains Of Elmet, a concerto for viola-vocalist, voices and instrument, is a rich, ambitious work full of creative ideas. The piece radiated energy and engagement, capturing the strangely haunting, elemental tone of Ted Hughes’s imagery. The drama focused on fragmented exchanges between the soloist and a spatial string quartet. I loved the conclusion where, after a poetic soliloquy, the soloist, now conductor, ushered the fragmented forces into a cohesive, affirming cadence. The 24, in the role of the Greek Chorus were, as ever, excellent. But the performance by viola-vocalist (and co-collaborator) Victoria Bernath was simply spellbinding. She is a very real musical talent.

The York Spring Festival of New Music continues today until Sunday. Box office: