WHEN north ensemble the Mahler Players made their debut last year with a series of concerts dedicated to the German composer, the reaction from audiences showed that there is a demand for classical music around the Highlands.
That seems to be even more true as the Mahler Players prepare for their second outing of 2014 when they bring a programme including works by Wagner and Schoenberg, as well as Mahler’s songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, to Dornoch, Strathpeffer and Nairn.
"The bigger orchestras, especially the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, are reducing the number of concerts they do up here," Tomas Leakey, the Mahler Players founder and conductor explained.
"It’s something of which there is a bit of a shortage in the Highlands at the moment, which we are trying to address with these concerts."
Gustav Mahler is famous for the ambition of his larger works, but it seems these can be cut down to size for a more modest ensemble like the Mahler Players.
"We are very lucky in that the arrangements we use have already been completed," Leakey explained.
"They are by a German composer and musicologist called Klaus Simon and very skillfully done. For us the main challenge is not so much to reproduce the sound of a full orchestra. It’s to make it as much like chamber music as possible. Even though Mahler wrote for very big orchestras, he wrote them in a way that was very much like chamber music.
"He never used the whole orchestra at the same time and that’s why they are well suited for these arrangements.
"With the songs we are doing from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, Mahler himself liked to use a small orchestra, even in the original versions, so these are particularly suited to a smaller arrangement."
To help him bring Mahler’s work to Highland audiences, he has assembled a group of players which includes music teachers with Highland Council, former professionals who have now had a change of career or retired, and gifted amateur musicians, together with guest singers mezzo-soprano Laura Kelly and baritone Douglas Nairne.
"It’s a very good level that we have," Leakey added.
"There are some really good things up here like the Highland Chamber Orchestra and lots of smaller groups, but we are offering something quite different, providing more opportunity for individuals to be almost soloists. At the moment we are only using one string player for parts, which is an interesting challenge."
The Mahler Players also take their music into schools as well as concert venues, having performed Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale at a number of schools and at Inverness Town House.
A follow up schools project is planned for next year, this time William Walton’s Facade, but the Mahler Players has plenty more works from the pen of the Romantic composer who gave them their name to bring to Highland audiences.
"There are at least four more concerts we can do from Mahler," Leakey said.
"It’s going to continue for at least the next couple of years, then we will see what we can do beyond that."
• The Mahler Players can be seen at Dornoch Cathedral on Wednesday; Strathpeffer Pavilion on Thursday and Nairn Community and Arts Centre on Friday 19th September. All shows begin at 8pm.
Tickets are available to buy online at www.mahlerplayers.co.uk and also available on the door and in person at Strathpeffer Pavilion and Leakey’s Bookshop and Cafe, Church Street, Inverness.