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Highland music group returns with ambitious new season

By Margaret Chrystall

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The Mahler Players on stage. Picture: S Leakey
The Mahler Players on stage. Picture: S Leakey

Classical musicians The Mahler Players have two Highland dates this weekend, performing some challenging work.

Musical director and conductor Tomas Leakey discusses this weekend's dates plus what else to expect from the coming season.

Q Was it difficult to choose your ‘dream’ 2023-24 season?

A Playing acts from Wagner operas in concert has been one of the most rewarding things we have done as an orchestra. Playing his music is a life-changing experience and also a great opportunity for us to bring it to the Highlands for the first time – so many of our audience write to us and say how much it has meant to them. Siegfried Act III is one of the most exciting sections of Wagner’s Ring Cycle and has been on the agenda since we first started thinking about doing Wagner in concert about five or six years ago. And we certainly have a ‘dream’ cast of singers! It’s also wonderful to continue with Mahler and Beethoven – both of their Sixth Symphonies – and make a return to Stravinsky. So programming is a joy – the only difficult thing is that there is far more music we’d love to play than we’ll ever have time to!

Q Are you happy with the mix of things you are offering for your now regular audience to feed their Mahler Players habit – and to entice newcomers too, of course?!

A We try as far as possible to maintain a mix of repertoire which is less often heard in the Highlands with crucial core repertoire. This is a good combination both for the audiences and for the artistic development of the orchestra. As long as people keep coming to the concerts and the players keep wanting to play, we must be doing something right! This season we also have a great scheme for young people – £5 tickets for under-18s and the option to bring along a free adult to accompany them. It’s always interesting talking to players and singers about their formative musical experiences and so often it started with going to an orchestral concert or opera at a young age. So we want to bring that within the range of as many young people as possible at our concerts too.

Q Would you talk us through the pieces people can hear you perform as a season-starter with your first concerts?

A The first concert will feature Mahler’s Sixth Symphony in a version for chamber orchestra reorchestrated by Rob Farmer, who is also our principal horn. The original version of the symphony uses a colossal orchestra but it has been reduced to around 35 players for our concerts. It’s a terribly exciting and moving work, often subtitled the “Tragic” Symphony. But although it ends with a Lear-like darkness it also features some of Mahler’s most beautiful and uplifting music. Over its approximately 85-minute span it really does take the listener on a voyage of discovery as well as anguish.

Q There is continuity this season – in December you will resume the gift of Wagner that you gave us, this time with Siegfried Act III and the return of legendary bass Sir John Tomlinson, Peter Wedd and Lee Bisset. Does it feel good to have the prospect of conducting these voices again?

A It’s a frankly almost unreal privilege to be making music with these artists again. They bring incredible artistry and decades of experience at the very highest level as well as a touching humility. It lifts us all as musicians and I have no doubt something special will happen in our performances of Siegfried in December.

The Mahler Players perform Mahler's Sixth Symphony at Inverness Cathedral on Saturday at 8pm and at Strathpeffer Pavilion on Sunday at 3pm. See here for ticket and further programme details

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