In 2019, Sasha Scott won the senior category of the BBC Young Composer of the Year, with an electroacoustic work titled Humans May Not Apply. The following year she composed a new work for the BBC Concert Orchestra, Nerve, though due to the pandemic its performance was delayed until August 2021.
Though short, the piece is impressive both for how it projects a coherent internal logic and in the way Scott teases the prospect of enormous pent-up power lurking beneath the surface. That sense of power is magnified due to the way it’s kept largely at bay; indeed, not only does Nerve begin with no hint of that, but even what is happening – a faint drone with light piano noodling, coloured by wavering little string notes – all seems to be taking place in the distance, making its intricacy feel all the more intriguing. The first signs of energy appear via a low string gesture, though they, and everyone else who joins in, start to sag. More energy gets thrown into the mix and everything begins to roil and move, and despite the fact that Scott keeps all this activity quite vague, its weight feels almost intimidating.
As it goes on the music increasingly falls back to a kind of default behavioural position involving rapid repeated notes in the winds and brass alongside slow violin movement. This is what follows both that first burst of energy, as well as the one that comes next, seemingly triggered by a chord progression in the strings serving as a catalyst for a general wake-up throughout the orchestra. All the muscular weight is instantly present again, tremulous and powerful, threatening to really let rip at any moment. It doesn’t, and having moved through that default position again, the texture afterwards, while cohesive, feels like different layers pushing and pulling against each other in a way that suggests, far from being an equilibrium, the music is still extremely volatile. The proof comes when the music ruptures open, though this time the energy dissipates, falling back to an echo of the soft violin while the soft repetitions gradually die out.
The world première of Nerve was given by the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Hugh Brunt.