THERE was an element of “coals to Newcastle” about the tour to America’s West Coast by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Superficially, it might sometimes seem as if a foreign tour by one of Scotland’s big bands does not really catch fire until the arrangement of traditional country dance music that is John Fahey’s Eightsome Reels is wheeled out as an encore, but - bulletproof though that gambit remains - it was a rarely-deployed part of the RSNO’s armoury this spring. That spoke of an integration into the global music scene that Scotland’s national orchestra may never have enjoyed before.

The transatlantic links of this orchestra go back a long way, but they have recently become particularly intriguing on the management side. With former RSNO chief executive Simon Woods now at the administrative helm of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and his successor in Scotland, Krishna Thiagarajan, replacing him in the post he vacated in Seattle, the orchestra now has US native Bill Chandler as its head of artistic planning and engagement, following his many years on the front desk of the first violins.

Chandler has also been sharing the job of interim CEO with finance director Angela Moreland, pending the arrival of Alistair Mackie this month to become the orchestra’s first Scottish boss in a generation.

The former first trumpet, chair, and MD of the Philharmonia, an orchestra that spends its life on the road, Mackie must surely look at the work that has been done by the RSNO in recent years as something to build on. And the presence at one to the Californian concerts of the LA Phil’s Simon Woods to hear his old colleagues spoke of connections being maintained.

But it was in the music that the orchestra was playing on this week-long visit that the sense of connection would be most apparent to its growing audience and band of sponsors and supporters in the USA.

It was Krishna Thiagarajan who commissioned A Matter of Honor from Seattle-born Japanese-American Paul Chihara, whom he met through the composer’s work with New York’s Orpheus Chamber Choir. Now in his 80s, Chihara was a toddler when the attack on Pearl Harbour brought the FBI to the door of the family home to arrest his father, on the basis of his ethnicity alone. For the rest of the war he was a prisoner of war in New Mexico, while his family were interned separately in Minidoka relocation camp. Of the 125,000 incarcerated, 65 per cent were US citizens, the composer included.

Chihara went on to a hugely successful career writing music for film and television as well as for the concert hall in Los Angeles with conductors including Sir Neville Marriner and Zubin Mehta, before becoming Professor of Film Music at UCLA.

If his political attitudes were inevitably shaped by those childhood experiences, they were later honed and debated with contemporary composers Toru Takemitsu and Peter Maxwell Davies, whom Chihara met when “Max” scored Ken Russell’s film The Boyfriend, and who later founded Scotland’s St Magnus Festival.

“I never spent time with him in Orkney,” Chihara remembers, “but I did visit a festival in Glasgow. I thought I’d freeze to death.”

That was likely the RSNO’s fondly-remembered Musica Nova event at Glasgow University, and there remains an audible kinship between the music of Maxwell Davies and the new work by Chihara, particularly in the snatches of appropriated melody that morph in an entirely different direction during A Matter of Honor. It is a trick both composers use to catch the ear of the listener by embedding the familiar in their own bracing new music.

The accompanying text, to be spoken by an actor, in a work that follows the model of Copland’s Lincoln Portrait or Schoenberg’s A Survivor from Warsaw, is also all too challengingly familiar. The words of President Roosevelt and the Supreme Court’s Earl Warren from the time are, as Chihara says “strikingly like those used by our present politicians.”

Speaking them in the premier performances of the piece was Clyde Kusatsu, a Hawaii-born character actor, whose resume of film and television roles understandably meant he was welcomed with some reverence onto the tour party by the musicians of the RSNO. Recently Vice Admiral Nakamura in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Kusatsu was also a regular on hit US television series M*A*S*H, Magnum PI, The Rockford Files, and All in the Family, and his film roles include Bruce Beresford’s Paradise Road with Glenn Close, Frances McDormand and Cate Blanchett and Sydney Pollack’s The Interpreter with Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn.

After 50 years in the business, Kusatsu told me he is drawing on his early experience of watching British actors John Mills and Alec Guinness in the 1960 screen adaptation of Scottish novelist James Kellaway’s Tunes of Glory for his delivery of passages of the Matter of Honor text.

“There will always be a place for people to be reminded,” says Kusatsu of the new work. “Intolerance of others and those who are different is very present again, and it is a threat to everyone.”

Chihara’s commission was premiered at a Japanese-endowed university within miles of America’s border with Mexico and all the current controversy around immigration that President Trump has created, but the other new piece in the RSNO’s tour book attracted even more people to the Soraya concert hall on another campus near Los Angeles.

Composer Danny Elfman, whose Hollywood soundtracks include Batman and Edward Scissorhands, draws people to the concert hall who do not regularly listen to orchestras and who gathered at the stage door looking for an autograph. His first violin concerto, Eleven Eleven, was recorded by the RSNO in Glasgow and was released coincident with this tour, with the remarkable Sandy Cameron as soloist. She is a compelling stage presence whom the composer discovered when both were working with international performance troupe Cirque du Soleil. Scotland will see her when the work is played in the orchestra’s new season, towards the end of the year.

Film-maker Tim Burton and Gene Kelly’s widow Patricia were among the host of Hollywood names at the Soraya performance of a work that the film score writer described as being “let off the leash” from the constraints of writing for the screen. Although it makes its most immediate connection with the audience through the charismatic Ms Cameron, it is a piece that the orchestra has come to love, and which the players and conductor Thomas Sondergard performed with the same panache they brought to Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony wherever they played it.

Between concerts, a few of the orchestra’s principals found time to share those skills with music students at America’s world-renowned Colburn School, opposite architect Frank Gehry’s beautiful Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. An afternoon watching musicians like orchestra leader Maya Iwabuchi, principal flute Katherine Bryan, and first trombone Davur Magnussen share their skills in details of technique, performance and intonation with some extraordinarily talented young people was an opportunity to appreciate, once again, the value of musical education at the very highest level as a global currency.

It has to be a matter of the greatest national pride that Scotland’s national orchestra is operating in this market. It is one where the concept of “coals to Newcastle” simply does not exist.