ABERDEEN’S Music Hall may be one of the oldest concert venues in Scotland, but as it reopens following extensive refurbishment, its first orchestral concert on Saturday December 15 is very much a showcase for youthful music-making.

The soloist playing Grieg’s Piano Concerto with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra is Alice Sara Ott, who turned 30 a couple of months ago, and the conductor Alpesh Chauhan – already far from a stranger to Scottish audiences – had his 28th birthday in April of this year. He celebrated it in the company of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s Symphony Orchestra and Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances on what was his last visit north of the border.

On this occasion Glasgow audiences will have the opportunity to see him at the City Halls two days ahead of the Aberdeen concert, in an afternoon performance broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, but the only common ingredient in the two events in the Second Symphony of Jean Sibelius. As a glance at the young conductor’s busy schedule will confirm, he is not afraid to take on a huge amount of repertoire, with a busy calendar of commitments in Spain and the Netherlands as well as his own orchestra in Parma, the Filarmonica Arturo Toscanini, where he has been Principal Conductor since last year.

Alongside these commitments, Chauhan has found the time to be one of the faces of the BBC’s Ten Pieces scheme introducing schoolchildren to classical music, and to be a judge of the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition. As far as he is concerned those engagements are an obligation that harks back to his own upbringing as a British Indian in Birmingham.

“I went to a normal primary school but we heard music every day as we walked into assembly and then again as we walked out. Sometimes it was classical, sometimes jazz, sometimes pop, sometimes rap but it was something to make us think and for us to talk about. Now I don’t think young people are given the opportunity to listen and at the same time there is so much rhetoric against young people asking why they don’t care about serious music.

“It is important that they are given the opportunity to listen and then to try and learn an instrument.”

In Chauhan’s case the instrument was the cello. “When I was six years old someone played the cello at assembly at school and asked if anyone was interested in learning. That same day I went home with a cello. There was not music in the family – my mum worked for the Bank of India in Birmingham and my dad was a lorry driver for Parcel Force – and 20 years ago the Indian community was more closed to outside influences, but my parents have always supported me doing my music.”

Chauhan went to the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester with his cello and stayed on after he graduated to take a masters in conducting, where one his first teachers was Michael Seal, then combining his own conducting with playing second violin in the City Of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

“I was in the second year of my masters when the chief executive of the CBSO, Stephen Maddock, created a new Conducting Fellow post, and I spent a year on the M6 shuttling between Manchester and Birmingham. I was still at the Northern, so I could be practising technique and do my studying and the other half of my time was spent watching a professional orchestra doing what they do. I got to see how they work, what annoys them, and how to achieve the results you want in the most respectful and successful way. And you learn what not to do as well. It was a very valuable year.”

His time as Conducting Fellow also includes touring with the CBSO, and as such he saw concert-halls that he was destined never to play as a cellist.

“There was one massive tour we did in Europe that was about 15 concerts in 17 days, and during that I sat at the back of the stage in Vienna’s Musikverein controlling the dynamics of the thunder in Wagner’s Parsifal. That was my Musikverein performance debut.

“I recently sold my cello with a really heavy heart. It was a modern instrument and it needed to be played. I was its first owner and it changed so much with me, but it was more sad that it sat there gathering dust. I have sort of kept it in the family, though, because it is with another student of my cello teacher.”

When he completed his post-graduate studies, Chauhan slipped into the post of assistant conductor at the Birmingham Orchestra, when Latvian Andris Nelsons was music director. That grounding gave Chauhan a taste for some of the bigger works of the repertoire that sometimes seem daunting to young conductors, if they are offered them at all.

“It was a great experience all round, to see how Andris Nelsons worked, not from a technical point of view, but from a musical perspective. The orchestra would always want to play well for him because he had that natural way of bringing them all together.”

References to what he learned from Nelsons recur in Chauhan’s story. As with many a conductor at the start of a career, Chauhan’s first opportunity in Parma arose when an older conductor cancelled a commitment because of illness. Japanese Kazushi Ono was a popular musician with the Filarmonica Arturo Toscanini, but Chauhan was confident with the programme he had been bequeathed.

“Beethoven’s Eroica is for me the greatest symphony ever composed, and I like to hear what Andris would call a ‘non-vegetarian’ version. The other thing in the programme was the Schumann Piano Concerto and I’d just been assisting on that with the CBSO. So although I didn’t have any Italian and it was just four days’ notice, I went for it.

“In the final rehearsal I still wasn’t getting quite the sound I wanted on a passage in the Beethoven, so I used the language of wine and asked the Italian musicians to play it less ‘Merlot’ and more ‘Amarone’ and they knew exactly what I meant!”

When it came to the invitation to step in for Donald Runnicles at the BBC SSO, Chauhan had to be brave.

“My first concert with the SSO had Janacek Sinfonietta and Shostakovich 15. I had assisted with the Janacek at the CBSO, and I remembered some great secrets Ed Gardner had about the piece, but the Shostakovich I’d studied as a student but never conducted.”

In fact The Herald’s Michael Tumelty, recommending that the young assistant conductor at the CBSO be booked for a return visit immediately, found his interpretation of the symphony “taut and extremely stylish” with a “multi-faceted perspective” on a complex work.

But commentators have not always been so kind.

“Some critics have said that I am a young guy doing old man’s repertoire but it is what I’ve grown close to, and if that is what you feel you understand then of course you should be doing that, and not doing the composers that maybe other young conductors approach first.

“It is about knowing what you are ready for and what is right for you. I disagree with a lot of my colleagues about this, but I think that Mozart and Haydn are so hard to do well - they really need experience. I’m not writing off colleagues who do these works, but for me I think I need to have more experience and more music under my belt.”

That means that when Chauhan works with young players it is often also on big music.

“Scotland is the place where I end up doing really big crazy programmes. My first concert with the Royal Conservatoire was Debussy’s La Mer and Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique in the same programme. And the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland was one of the most fulfilling musical experiences I have had. For Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet I chose my own extracts to preserve the narrative – I don’t get on with the suites at all. I wasn’t sure how that would work, but as soon as we started they were right there with all the emotion – more than with some professional orchestras I’ve worked with.”

With the professionals of the BBC SSO at the Glasgow concert next week, the epic Sibelius Second Symphony is preceded by the Dvorak Cello Concerto, played by Pablo Ferrandez, and Anna Clyne’s colourful Masquerade, which Marin Alsop premiered on the Last Night of the Proms five years ago. In Aberdeen the concert begins with Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kije Suite, which was included in that last Scottish concert programme featuring Chauhan, at the Conservatoire in April, when it was conducted not by him, but by the music school’s Conducting Fellow. There is perhaps a nice symmetry in that.

www.aberdeenperformingarts.com; www.bbc.co.uk/bbcsso