IN stark contrast to the pristine new home for the RSNO that has been built next door, the backstage areas of Glasgow Royal Concert Hall are – even more than the shabby public spaces – distinctly down at heel. Although the orchestra has been rehearsing in the RSNO Centre, it has been decreed that the recording of its new disc of the music of composer John Adams for the Chandos label will be made in the acoustic of the big hall, so orchestra and conductor have decamped next door. Music director Peter Oundjian has, however, been on the road as a player and conductor for much too long to worry about the state of the decor in dressing rooms he finds himself in.

Allocating his interrogator the comfier chair, Oundjian is a man happy to immerse himself in discussion of the music that he is recording, and the programme that he will overseeing during his final season with Scotland's national orchestra. It will be a turning point for the conductor, because he demits office in Canada at the same time. His tenure as music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra is a decade longer than the time he has spent at the helm of the RSNO, and, at fourteen years, the second-longest in its history.

It would be foolish of us Scots not to recognise which departure will be more of a wrench. Oundjian was born in Canada, the son of an Armenian father and an English mother (his cousin is Monty Python's Eric Idle, with whom he has collaborated) and he takes some pride in having built the status and reputation of the orchestra of the city where he was born. But although, unlike his predecessor Stephane Deneve, he has never made a home in Scotland (and his successor Thomas Sondergard, the orchestra's current principal guest conductor does not intend to either), he has proved equally popular with the devoted subscribers and has done much to spread the name of the RSNO internationally. Under Oundjian, and the chief executive appointed from the US during his tenure, Dr Krishna Thiagarajan, the orchestra has made international touring more central to its agenda, at the same time as it has expanded its audience base at home, with popular concerts of film music for example.

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At the start of 2013, when the conductor was not long in post, I accompanied the RSNO on its first visit to China, a trip that bristled with excitement from start to finish. Earlier this year I joined them on a tour of Florida that was a much more relaxed affair, and paved the way for a forthcoming visit to the West Coast of the US, of which Oundjian says it is right that Sondergard should take charge.

"There is a great investment of time with the musicians on tour and when you leave it is important that you make the break. I have made a conscious decision that I am going to stay away completely for a year and a half and let the organisation re-shape. So it will be 2020 before I am back."

If that tactic is intended to entice music-lovers to make sure they buy tickets for the concerts Oundjian takes charge of himself in the upcoming season, it is probably unnecessary. His programme is indeed made up of the "blockbusters" flagged on the orchestra's website. The season-opening concert on October 7 has him conducting Stravinsky's Rite of Spring with the RSNO for the first time, and in a concert that also includes Nicola Benedetti playing Elgar's Violin Concerto.

"The rhythm of this orchestra is so tight, I knew I had to do the Rite with the RSNO once," he says. Oundjian suspects that the famous riot that greeted the premiere of the piece in 1913 had less to do with Stravinsky than what was happening on stage. "I'm sure that people couldn't even hear the music. It was the performance that caused outrage because the audience was expecting Swan Lake." But the contrast with what had gone before was in the music as well, even with something like Stravinsky's own Firebird, he adds.

"It was in a register never heard before, bass clarinets like gurgling water. And there was no way they could play it as well then as we hear it now."

There is also a sense of filling a gap with Oundjian's November concert, as Beethoven's Sixth "Pastoral" Symphony is the one of the major Beethoven symphonies that he has yet to do with his Scottish orchestra. In another big concert it comes teamed with two works for violin and cello soloists (Mira Wang and the season's artist-in-residence, cellist Jan Vogler) – the Scottish premiere of Wolfgang Rihm's Duo Concerto and the Double Concerto of Brahms. The latter paves the way for Oundjian’s December epic – and his only concert of the coming season with the RSNO Chorus. The German Requiem is the work of a younger Brahms, composed after the death of his mother, and Oundjian says he has always found consolation in the piece since he was a teenager himself. The performance features baritone Roderick Williams, hugely popular with Scottish audiences, but with whom the RSNO’s music director has not previously worked himself. The choral piece is preceded by Dvorak’s Violin Concerto, with Augustin Hadelich as soloist, beating by three months the SCO’s performance of the same work with Christian Tetzlaff, which is part of their departing conductor Robin Ticciati’s focus on the Czech composer. (It is a curiosity of the RSNO season, in fact, that it contains the violin concertos of Elgar and Dvorak, both rather less well known than their cello counterparts, in the year that the orchestra has a cellist as artist-in-residence.)

The big music continues in the New Year with Bruckner’s last symphony, a work, like Brahms’s Requiem, that Oundjian directs in both his Scottish and Canadian last seasons. He is a composer that Oundjian believes is often much maligned.

“He was not a cultured man, but he was not the buffoon he is sometimes portrayed. The spirituality in his music is deeply felt, perhaps naive, but pure – and the Eighth is his final complete statement of that. It is music that takes one to another place, and takes me back to singing in church choirs as a kid.”

In fact the performance will be a premiere of sorts in both countries, as the conductor is introducing the orchestra to a new edition of the first version of the symphony, which Oundjian prefers, with its opening movement coda and longer slow movement. The new edition is the work of musicologist Paul Hawkshaw of Yale University, where Oundjian teaches and is principal conductor of the student Philharmonia. That orchestra’s new season kicks off this coming Friday at the Woolsey Hall on campus in New Haven, Connecticut with, perhaps unsurprisingly, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.

In April Oundjian conducts the RSNO in the “spellbinding” Leningrad Symphony of Shostakovich, the work famously broadcast to the besieging Nazi army in 1942. Then he sets off on his final tour as music director. With Benedetti and Vogler on board to play the Beethoven Triple Concerto with pianist Martin Stadtfield, and a couple of Brahms symphonies under the orchestra’s arm, the tour visits four countries in six days in May, playing concerts in Bregenz, Innsbruck, Bergamo, Ljubljana, and Dresden.

Oundjian’s choice of valedictory statement to Scottish audiences also features in a full week of farewells in Toronto later in June of next year, where Mahler’s Symphony No 9 is then followed by a concert of Shakespeare-related music with the actor Christopher Plummer and a Beethoven 9 (which Oundjian has already conducted for the RSNO audience).

“Mahler 9 is the last great Romantic symphony, but also a farewell to tonality and to symphonic form,” he says. “Mahler knew he didn’t have long to live and this is his vision of something surreal and transformational. It has an eternal quality and doesn’t really end, just reduces and then waves to us from a great distance.”

If Oundjian’s own farewell to the two orchestras that have been his main concern in recent years holds no fears for him, it is because he has faced more serious enforced career change in the past. A virtuoso violinist, who stepped into the leader’s chair with the world-famous Tokyo string quartet virtually straight from the Royal College of Music and post-graduate study at Juilliard in New York, he was forced to give up his performing career in 1995 due to repetitive strain injury.

“This is nothing compared to when I had to stop playing,” he says. “But looking back, now that seems like an inspiring time, because I had to reinvent myself.”

Continuing to be based, with his wife Nadine, near New York, and teaching at his alma mater as well as Yale, Oundjian's guest conducting will continue to transport him across the world as he takes the podium in Switzerland, New Zealand and Armenia, which he has not visited since the mid-1990s. And just as Deneve left a legacy of French music on disc in the RSNO’s catalogue of recordings, Oundjian has added some American composers, including that of his friend John Adams, whose Absolute Jest, with the Doric String Quartet, and Naïve and Sentimental Music will feature on the new Chandos disc.

Having performed the composer's characteristically rhythmically complex City Noir at the 2013 Edinburgh International Festival early in Oundjian’s tenure, these equally stretching works had been intended for this year’s programme as a nod to the composer’s 70th birthday. For whatever reason, that Usher Hall concert did not happen, although the RSNO was still very present in Edinburgh, for a sensational performance of Wagner’s Die Walkure and a somewhat odd joint concert with Valery Gergiev’s Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra.

For those of us who would very much like to have heard the Adams in Edinburgh, the preparation the musicians put into that will at least be preserved in the recording made in Glasgow as this year's Festival fireworks fizzled out. And it will be just one part of Oundjian's RSNO legacy.

The RSNO season begins at the start of October. At the end of this month, conductor Gilbert Varga directs a gala concert of music by Chinese composer Xiaogang Ye at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. Tomorrow afternoon Thomas Sondergard is on the podium for the final of the Scottish International Piano Competition.