Taking Mahler back to the Alps
In 2017, OFE made history.
They took Mahler’s music back to the three Alpine towns where it was composed, the first time these locations have ever been connected by any single orchestra. They stunned local audiences with a series of performances of the Ninth Symphony, and have returned every summer since. Like many composers, Mahler took great inspiration from the natural world, and the three ‘composing huts’ at the heart of the tour are situated in remote mountainous locations of outstanding beauty. Each year OFE brings a new programme of music by Mahler and other composers who loved this region, visiting places that were special to them. The tour’s principles of connecting music with its environmental roots remain the central inspiration for all our work.
Want to know more? Check out this article by our founder, John Warner, about what the tour means to him.
Watch: a clip from our 2021 tour programme, featuring Mahler's Resurrection Symphony in a visceral, virtuosic arrangement for septet. With our thanks to Frank Scheffer for creating this beautiful film:
Gustav Mahler's Field of Flowers
As well as being a unique artistic endeavour, the Alpine Tours also have an important environmental purpose.
OFE is working together with the Naturpark Attersee Traunsee to create a new nature reserve in Mahler's name. 'Gustav Mahler's Field of Flowers', which was made open to the public in 2019, is a meadow near Mahler's summer composing residence in Steinbach am Attersee, Austria.
By reconnecting this music with the Alpine settings that inspired it, we are helping to build vital cross-community support for environmental protection and climate action in these areas. Funded by donations collected at OFE's Alpine Tour concerts, the meadow helps the special biodiversity of Mahler's beloved countryside to thrive, allowing future generations to benefit from it. It features information boards so that visitors can learn about the various native flora and fauna that Mahler loved, and that are in ever-growing need of our protection.
Another vital part of our touring vision is working with children. In Toblach, the little town in the Dolomites where Mahler wrote his last works, we host an outdoor mini-concert for local children at the hut each year, featuring a group cycle ride through the mountains, open-air music, and some green-fingered fun. Together with the landowners, we're working to restore the hut and habitats surrounding it, planting trees and allowing space for nature to regenerate. Not only is this a fun and unique setting for a concert but also a perfect opportunity to give young people a hands-on experience of conservation.
Touring is one of the most powerful ways we can spread our message, work with communities abroad, and reach a wide variety of audiences. But it also comes with the potential for huge carbon emissions, so from our very first tour we have been committed to pioneering a sustainable approach to touring that we hope will form part of a broader cultural shift. We believe these methods not only minimises our impact on the planet but actively improve and enrich the tours themselves.
One of the simplest ways we do this is by touring with a small orchestra of around 25 players, often less. This immediately eliminates per-capita emissions. Far from being an artistic compromise, this allows us to perform in small, regional venues that are usually situated in remote areas of outstanding natural beauty. Such places often play host to composers, but rarely to orchestras playing their music. For projects requiring larger numbers, we love teaming up with local orchestras, creating a hugely beneficial cultural exchange. We also don't bring our own crew or technical equipment, but prefer instead to work with local technicians and stage managers.
When it comes to transport itself, our policy is simple: we don't fly. The carbon impact of air travel so far exceeds equivalents by land and sea that its use is unjustifiable, no matter how high quality our international concerts and conservation projects are. Besides, Europe has an outstanding network of railways and roads that come with none of the logistical complications of getting instruments like timpani and double basses onto an airplane. Travel by train and coach is also sociable, relaxing, and affords us the chance to see the landscapes we traverse much more than we could by air and reach locations far from the usual airport circuit.
We plan our routes with great care, keeping the overall geographical area small and eliminating unnecessary travel to ensure maximum efficiency. This creates a win-win because shorter travel times between venues are much less tiring for our musicians, allowing us to be on top form for every concert. We also frequently perform more than one programme in each location and engage in our various environmental and community projects, making the most of our visit.