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The Mahler Players return to live performance with a Wagner world premiere at Strathpeffer Pavilion this weekend

By Margaret Chrystall

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THOUGH The Mahler Players had ”a long gap” of silence during lockdown, a grand project – a world premiere – was being planned.

And on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon at Strathpeffer Pavilion, the musicians will return to the platform for the first time since 2019 with the first live orchestral performances in the Highlands since before the pandemic.

The Mahler Players who will play again for the first time in performance since 2019. Picture: Ewen Weatherspoon
The Mahler Players who will play again for the first time in performance since 2019. Picture: Ewen Weatherspoon

The music the chamber orchestra will be playing is Richard Wagner In Venice: A Symphony which has been written by composer Matthew King and brings to life for the first time many of Wagner’s late sketches, unfinished when he died in 1883.

The sketches had remained in the archive at Bayreuth for almost 150 years until now.

Matthew King had worked with The Mahler Players before, arranging the first act of Wagner’s Die Walküre for chamber orchestra with Peter Longworth for them in 2019.

Tomas Leakey conducting the Mahler Players. Picture: Ewen Weatherspoon
Tomas Leakey conducting the Mahler Players. Picture: Ewen Weatherspoon

Those performances in 2019, with soloists Peter Wedd, Claire Rutter and IestynEdwards was the first time a complete act from a Wagner opera had been performed in the Highlands.It was about a decade ago that Matthew first had the idea of bringing the archived sketches of Wagner’s together.

Matthew describes the creation as "a piece that plays with history, and tries to imagine something that never happened, drawing connections between tiny scraps of music which would otherwise remain forever separate and fragmentary".

Tomas Leakey said: “It’s the first time most of these sketches by Wagner have ever been heard, anywhere in the world, so it's a very special occasion and we're excited that it's happening here in the Highlands."

Strathpeffer Pavilion. Picture: Sam Leakey
Strathpeffer Pavilion. Picture: Sam Leakey

There is a curious coincidence that makes the choice of venue for the world premiere very appropriate.

“We recently discovered that Strathpeffer Pavilion has its own fascinating connection to Wagner,” said Tomas.

“It was opened in 1881, and its design was based on a casino in Baden Baden, which itself was based on the Festival Theatre in Bayreuth, which Wagner built in 1876 for the performance of his own works, and in which the annual Bayreuth Festival still takes place each year.

“So the pavilion in the beautiful Victorian setting of Strathpeffer feels as if it is the perfect place to give the premiere of Richard Wagner in Venice: A Symphony!”

Also in the concert is Wagner’s piece for chamber orchestra, originally titled Symphony and written for his wife’s birthday on Christmas Day in 1870, Siegfried Idyll. Completing a trilogy of symphonic works spanning over 230 years, is Mozart’s dramatic Symphony No 40.

And there is one more piece of evidence that the Mahler Players 18-month gap has been well-spent.

Their debut album, recorded earlier this year and featuring Richard Wagner In Venice: A Symphony and Siegfried Idyll, will be exclusively available for audiences on CD at these concerts, ahead of its wider release on October 22.

More information and to buy tickets for the concerts on Saturday (at 8pm) and Sunday afternoon (at 3pm), go to www.mahlerplayers.co.uk

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