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The Mahler Players return to premiere composer's Seventh Symphony in Inverness and Strathpeffer on Saturday and Sunday

By Margaret Chrystall

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The Mahler Players return to performing music by the composer they are named after when they perform the Highland premiere of his Seventh Symphony on Saturday and Sunday (June 18 and 19) in Inverness and Strathpeffer.

The Mahler Players in performance at the Strathpeffer Pavilion where they will return to play on Sunday afternoon. Picture: Sam Leakey
The Mahler Players in performance at the Strathpeffer Pavilion where they will return to play on Sunday afternoon. Picture: Sam Leakey

Mahler Players musical director Tomas Leakey said: “We’re very excited to be returning to play Mahler’s music after a gap of almost five years.

“But although we performed a lot of his music – most of it in fact – in the days of our Mahler In Miniature project (2013-2017), we never actually performed the Seventh.

“It’s one of Mahler’s more rarely played symphonies and our performance is actually the Highland premiere, but it has some of his most thrilling and enchanting music.

“One possible reason why it’s perhaps not played as often as the other symphonies might be that it confounds traditional expectations of Mahler the ‘tragic’ composer.

“Some parts of the symphony feature Mahler at play and joking around with us, as if we can never be quite sure what he means.

“The Seventh Symphony features some of the richest music that he ever wrote, with incredibly vivid and sometimes unusual orchestration.

“For instance we hear the sounds of the guitar and mandolin in one of the Nachtmusik (Night-music) movements and unusual brass instruments such as the tenor horn, not to mention a wide variety of percussion.”

Tomas Leakey conducting. Picture: Sam Leakey
Tomas Leakey conducting. Picture: Sam Leakey

The orchestra will be performing a chamber orchestra version for 35 players that has been adapted specially for the Mahler Players by Rob Farmer, an accomplished arranger who is also the orchestra’s principal horn.

Rob, who is a brass instructor and taught online during lockdown, explained that in his spare time he had completed the arrangement.

Asked if it had been a satisfying thing to work on, he joked that it would be even more satisfying to find out that it all works!

But six rehearsals with the Mahler Players between now and the two performances will no doubt put his mind at rest!

One of the more unusual aspects of a symphony Rob described as “nuts”, is the work’s five movements.

And Rob points to the striking timpani opening bars of the fifth movement created by Mahler, as another example of the composer pushing the boundaries.

“The first three or four bars of the movement are effectively a timpani solo and it elevates the drums to a melodic instrument.”

Rob commented that it was one example in this symphony of Mahler pushing orchestral writing forward.

Tomas Leakey said of the special arrangement of the symphony created by Rob Farmer: “Working directly with someone as close to the orchestra as Rob allowed us to make full use of the larger number of instrumentalists which we have now compared to when we first played ‘mini-Mahler’ years ago.

“At that time it was often with only about 15 players.

“This allows us to get closer to the sound Mahler would have intended, while still achieving the clarity and chamber music feeling that those early arrangements allowed.”

The Mahler Players at Inverness Cathedral. Picture: Sam Leakey
The Mahler Players at Inverness Cathedral. Picture: Sam Leakey

The Mahler Players perform Mahler’s Seventh Symphony on Saturday, June 18 at 8pm, at Inverness Cathedral.

The second performance is on Sunday, June 19 at 3pm, in Strathpeffer Pavilion.

The conductor will be Tomas Leakey.

Tickets are £18 standard, £16 concessions, £10 under-26s and are available via www.mahlerplayers.co.uk Any unsold tickets will be available to buy at the door for each performance. The Mahler Players point out that the concerts are generously supported by ASG Commercial and HRI-Munro Architecture. The Mahler Players is a registered Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (SCIO) Charity No. SC044711. More details: www.mahlerplayers.co.uk

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