New symphony: Richard Wagner in Venice

New symphony: Richard Wagner in Venice


norman lebrecht

September 26, 2021

Exclusive report from Edinburgh Music Review by Mary-Ann Connolly:

Richard Wagner in Venice – A Symphony

World Premier by Mathew King

Performed by The Mahler Players

Saturday 25th September at 8 pm

Strathpeffer Pavilion

Entering the beautiful Pavilion at Strathpeffer one could imagine being present in 18 hundreds at the first airing of a new work by Richard Wagner. This Victorian building set in the spa town of Strathpeffer in the Highlands is based on the design of a casino in Baden Baden. This was itself based on the Festival Theatre at Bayreuth built by Wagner for the performance of his own works and which hosts the annual Bayreuth Festival.

My expectations were high and I was not disappointed.

The Mahler Players, created in 2013, have been described as ‘Scotland’s Best Kept Secret’. This chamber Orchestra. founded and lead by Tomas Leakey turned out an admirable number of players to tackle a superb programme including a world premiere. It was obvious that they all relished this opportunity to play live together with a real audience and their delight made the evening all the more pleasurable.

The programme opened with Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll acting as an introduction to the world premiere. Written as he approached the final decade of his life, he ventured into writing symphonic pieces. He secretly composed a piece with reference to his wife Cosima and her baby son. On Christmas morning 1876 he assembled 13 musicians on the steps leading up to their bedroom in Villa Triebschen and offered the score of the symphonic birthday poem. This lush swelling musical offering created just the right atmosphere and focus for the following piece. Tomas Leakey struck me as a fine conductor extracting just the right balance from the players in different sections of the orchestra.

With a short break a piano was hustled on stage and composer Mathew King stood before the audience. Described as one of Britain’s most adventurous composers he introduced us to the concept behind his work – Richard Wagner in Venice. He explained that towards the end of his life Wagner decided to leave behind operatic work and became preoccupied with instrumental composition. Cosima writes he desired to use the orchestra in many more things like the Siegfried Idyll. He had discussions with her father, the composer Franz Liszt and started to compose short fragmentary melodies and sketches. These were fated never came to come fruition as he died of a heart attack in 1883 in Venice.

Mathew King then proceeded to take the audience on a journey through the process of bringing these fragments into a cohesive single symphonic work. The orchestra then demonstrated the structure and the thinking behind his visions. He gradually took us on a musicians journey. The slow opening movement leading to a main theme in C major. Melancholic four-bar sketches and motif’s, murmuring strings, a scherzo motif leading to the final appearance of the Porazzi melody. A dazzling explanation for perhaps a less musically adept audience. It was an audacious move to bring to life something which only Wagner would have finally composed or even rejected! It questions whether this is an archaeological restoration or the real thing. Was it really Wagner? Or an imagining? For the the players I suspect was a moving and fascinating work to explore and play. An exciting new commission to be heard for the first time in the Highlands. For the audience it was well received. Not quite the real thing but close. A CD of this new work is available from22nd October.

After a short interval the concert finished with a rousing performance of the popular Mozart Symphony No. 40 in G minor. The orchestra played with familiar brio after the hard work of brining to life a new work in front of the composer.

This is a fine chamber orchestra with members who predominately live in the Highlands. Many perform full time and others teach. Conductor Thomas Leakey has charisma, and it is evident the players trust him. It would be unfair to highlight some, but mention should be made of leader Emma Donald whose broad smile won me over. The wind section should also be congratulated. A full and rewarding evening!



  • Novagerio says:

    Siegfried Idyll was first performed on Christmas morning December 25th of 1870!

  • Anonymous Bosch says:

    Uh, that would be Christmas morning 1870 at Tribschen. Jesus, can’t this woman use Google? She may also want to take a refresher course in English grammar.

  • John Borstlap says:

    There is nothing more daring than stepping into Wagner’s shoes. Much more daring than Schoenberg’s, or Stravinsky’s or Boulez’ daring.

  • Peter San Diego says:

    Another commentator on the site goes by Beckmesser, but perhaps it will be OK if I step into the role for a moment.

    “Founded and lead by Tomas Leakey…” The past tense of the verb “to lead” is properly “led”. Ms Connolly’s positive report on Leakey’s conducting suggests that she did not mean to imply that he wields a leaden baton. (And the missing h in his given name does not, I presume, imply that he is Czech, since the h shows up … eventually.)

    There are other opportunities to strike the chalk on the chalkboard, but let this two-for-one suffice.

    The opportunity to hear Wagner’s motifs makes me just slightly less uninterested in this forthcoming CD release than in the release of the AI “realization” of Beethoven’s sketches for the 10th symphony.

  • Hugh Kerr says:

    So we have a world premiere of a new work by Wagner and the comments are all rather petty about dates and grammar.No wonder you all hide behind pseudonyms !

    • Terence van Vliet says:

      Oh so many thanks to you, Mr Kerr, for saying precisely what needs to be said.

    • Peter San Diego says:

      Except that it’s a new work by Mathew King, not Wagner; he merely uses Wagner’s sketched themes. And if the review had had more substance, its errors might have been less galling.

    • Anonymous says:

      Perhaps this is because there wasn’t a lot of substance in the review of the work itself? It was also sad to read, in 2021, a comment about a physical attribute of an incredibly talented and hard working professional musician, Emma Donald. I think her smile is great too but it is her musicianship which is worthy of comment in a public setting.

  • Frank Rippenthorpe says:

    The Italians should have made Italianisized Wagners last name as well. Riccardo Wagnerino sounds fitting.