For a group of budding classical music composers, Saturday’s concert by the Southern Maine Symphony Orchestra at Gorham Middle School affords a rare opportunity.

The orchestra will perform compositions written by three students at the University of Southern Maine’s School of Music: Aaron Pettengill, a junior violin performance major from Saco and Lewiston; Timothy Burns of Buxton, a graduate student studying composition; and Nicholas Merriam, a third-year music student from Bucksport.

The three won the first-ever composition competition at USM, said Robert Lehmann, director of strings at the college. The university is bursting with composers, he said, making the timing perfect for the new competition. The School of Music received six scores for consideration.

“Ninety-five percent of the work we do at music schools and conservatories focuses on the study of music of the past, written centuries ago by long-since-dead composers. As important as the re-creative process may be, it is essential to encourage and showcase the creative process as well,” Lehmann said.

“It’s an extremely useful and rare experience to have an actual orchestra play your piece,” said Merriam. “I’ve written orchestral music before, but have only heard it played back from a computer with MIDI instruments, which, as you can imagine, is not so similar.”

Burns agreed. Computers are great, but devoid of the human element. “We can finally hear what might not be the easiest thing to play, and sometimes, if we are lucky, the players will say, ‘I can’t do this. But this is something that could work just as well,’ ” Burns said.

Daniel Sonenberg, USM’s resident composer, praised Lehmann and the Southern Maine Symphony Orchestra for taking on the challenge of performing new works for the first time.

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: pphbkeyes