WITH the announcement yesterday of the appointment of Finnish conductor Osmo Vanska as chief conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the final link in a strategic chain of development has been put in place which appears radically to change the fortunes of the orchestra.

Vanska, who is 42 and currently chief conductor of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra in Finland, and the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, joins a team that BBC Scotland has been slowly assembling in recent years.

The Russian-trained, dynamic English conductor Martyn Brabbins, who has worked with the SSO for three years, was yesterday promoted to associate principal. Jerzy Maksymiuk, the SSO's Polish former chief, is now conductor laureate for life. The team is completed by the charismatic and influential Chinese associate composer/conductor, Tan Dun.

At a time when the other Scottish symphony orchestras are confidently predicting financial crises and grave concerns about their future welfare, it begins to seem, paradoxically, that the BBC SSO might have shifted to a position of relative security.

Only a few years ago, it seemed as though the SSO was on the threshold of being swallowed up by Scottish Opera. During this period, there was a question mark over the orchestra's future, no conductors were appointed, vacant posts in the orchestra were not advertised, and an air of uncertainty pervaded the band.

Gradually, in the last year or so, things have begun to move: the orchestra has become busier, jobs were advertised, new contracts struck with the BBC gave the players more money, and there has been a definite lift in the atmosphere of the orchestra.

All that appeared to accelerate yesterday, at the launch of the SSO's new chief conductor, when BBC governors and management issued their strongest statement of support in some years for the orchestra.

BBC Controller John McCormick, describing the four conductors as a ``world-beating team'', said, of Vanska's appointment: ``It underlines the importance of the SSO to the life of Scotland and the cultural life of the BBC. Let there be no doubt about our commitment to this orchestra.''

Hugh MacDonald, head of music at the BBC, said that Vanska had consciously avoided the globetrotting lifestyle of most conductors, choosing instead to work consistently with an orchestra and develop its strengths. ``He's not keen on dotting around; he's very much a builder. And that appeals to us a lot.''

Vanska's three-year appointment, which begins officially after the summer with a concert at the London Proms, couldn't have fallen at a better time for the BBC SSO, in terms of publicity. Currently, the former clarinettist, who is a dynamic conductor, is making a big noise in the music business.

A number of recordings of music by his fellow countryman, and Finland's greatest composer, Sibelius, have won prestigious international awards. Next week the glitterati of the music world are flocking to Finland where Vanska will conduct the premiere of a major piece by Sibelius that has been missing, presumed lost, for almost a century.

Vanska, who has close ties with the Sibelius family, has already recorded the work - a symphonic poem called The Wood-Nymph, which was never printed or published - and has been given permission by the family to perform it. The recording will be issued in the summer.

The BBC's new chief conductor said yesterday that he considered the piece, which was discovered recently in the library of Helsinki University, was a better work than the Karelia Suite, Sibelius's most popular work. ``Some people thought that it had been lost because it was a student piece, or a bad piece,'' said Vanska.

``But I found out that Sibelius conducted it himself - twice. And if it was a bad piece, why would he do that?'' Vanska hopes to give the UK premiere of the piece with his new Scottish orchestra.

Vanska has also been asked by the Sibelius family to make recordings - some of them never heard before - of original versions of works by the composer that he later changed. The most sensational of these will be of his best-known symphony - the Fifth - whose original version, Vanska revealed yesterday, actually contains four movements, and not the three that are known.

Though he is an acknowledged Sibelius specialist, Vanska said yesterday that he was keen to avoid putting too much Finnish music into the SSO's repertoire. None the less, he has been specifically asked by his new bosses at the BBC to undertake a complete cycle of the seven Sibelius symphonies in his first season - these will be played at Glasgow's City Hall.

Vanska, who has conducted the SSO three times to date, clearly relishes the opportunities about to arise in Scotland. He is highly impressed by the BBC SSO's speed at learning new works - a characteristic of the broadcasting orchestra, which has a huge turnover of repertoire.

``And from the first time I was here, I felt the very fresh atmosphere in the orchestra, with the feeling that they are ready for hard work, and full of humour. For me, it feels very positive.''

Though he doesn't take up his new post until August, Vanska will be in Scotland to conduct the SSO in April. He will appear with them, conducting Sibelius, in Aberdeen and Stirling. Once he is in post he will work with the orchestra for about 12 weeks in their season. In 1998 he will take the SSO on a tour of Germany.