The West Australian Symphony Orchestra have launched their 2020 program. On the eve of their program launch Rosalind Appleby caught up with principal conductor Asher Fisch and Evan Kennea, executive manager artistic planning.
The program, as you would expect, is packed with international soloists and some of the greatest orchestral repertoire in music history. But the season also includes opportunities for local composers, new outreach initiatives and a depth that reflects the orchestra is taking seriously its role of building a musical community.
Over coffee Asher Fisch and Evan Kennea exuded the relaxed confidence of a team who have been working together for years. With immense enthusiasm Fisch revealed that he will be conducting a concert performance of another opera, this time Beethoven’s Fidelio in collaboration with the Perth Festival, starring German soprano Christiane Libor.
“I’m very excited about Fidelio, I want this to catch on and do [an opera] every year. It is so expensive but I think it is important and in the end it will be the best seller in our program. It might take a few years but I know from other opera concerts in America, Europe, Israel, they are the first best-seller in the orchestra’s program every year.”
The opera is part of a focus in 2020 on Beethoven, celebrating the 250th anniversary of his birth. The Beethoven-mania will include the mighty Missa Solemnis and Fisch will continue his tradition of cycles, this time dedicating a week to Beethoven’s five Piano Concertos performed by Behzod Abduraimov. It is part of Fisch’s vision to reach beyond the programming straitjacket of the overture/concerto/symphony, and to bring in particular new opera repertoire to Perth audiences.
“I must say the management is so understanding because every crazy idea I have had that is expensive and big and everybody was afraid wasn’t going to sell well, they went for all of them, they supported it. It proved, thank God, to be successful in each case. They said nobody is going to come to a Brahms cycle in Perth but we sold very well. These big projects, in the end, that is what pushes us.”
Fisch cites the orchestra’s 2018 performance of Tristan und Isolde which recently won two Helpmann Awards and was released as a recording by ABC Classic earlier this month.
“With Tristan we had two great concerts and we have a recording that is now out. There is no better way for us to herald our great orchestra than to put it on a Tristan recording because people in the U.S. and London will listen to it because there is a new Tristan recording – they don’t come out that often because it is a massive thing to do – and with Stuart Skelton who people know is one of the world’s best Tristan’s and deserves a recording.”
Supporting local artists
Kennea revealed with pride that the Beethoven focus is balanced with some exciting Australian repertoire.
The orchestra has commissioned Perth composer Olivia Davies to write a new work which will be premiered by conductor Cristian Macelaru, who will then give the work an international platform by performing it at the prestigious Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music in California, where Macelaru is the director.
Iain Grandage’s spectacular percussion concerto Dances with Devils, inspired by Australian gothic stories, will be performed by Claire Edwardes. And in a landmark event Deborah Cheetham’s groundbreaking 2018 work Eumarella, a war requiem for piece with its fusion of Western classical tradition and First Nations culture, will be performed in Perth with chorus, soloists and children’s choir.
The international contemporary repertoire includes Rautavaara’s Cantus arcticus and John Adams’ Absolute Jest, a witty concerto inspired by the ecstatic energy of Beethoven’s music, featuring the members of Australian String Quartet as soloists. British composer Anna Clyne’s This Midnight Hour, written for the Orchestre national d’Île de France balances out the gender parity in the contemporary repertoire nicely.
Building a musical community
WASO has expanded its efforts to reach new audiences in 2020 with the launch of two new concert series: Afternoon Concerts and Naked Classics.
“We are not sitting on our hands hoping an audience will develop somewhere, we are getting in there and trying to help build an audience in Perth.” Kennea explains. “When you finish work come to the hall, bring your colleagues, have a drink and enjoy a short, sharp, punchy concert that is done by 7:30, so you can head out for dinner.”
And for those who love WASO concerts but don’t always have someone to go with, Music for Every 1, a meetup at Perth Concert Hall connects solo attendees with others who share a passion for classical music.
Kennea also talks with excitement about the orchestra’s role in musical education. WASO’s Crescendo music education program was recently recognised with an Art Music award. Created by WASO in 2014 and inspired by the Venezuelan El Sistema, Crescendo delivers free, ongoing and regular music education to more than 400 students in Kwinana.
“Our education program is a crucial plank in the company. Simon Rattle when he went to Berlin [Philharmonic] said: ‘You have been the most phenomenal high priests of music, now you have to become the evangelists as well.’ It is true, you have to have a great orchestra, that is the basis of everything, but then you are part of a community. And particularly [WASO] is a critical part of a much bigger musical world, and how the orchestra helps keep the health of that musical world is a really important thing.”
The orchestra’s outreach into the community will unfold along several avenues, including a Discovery Concert, building on the popular series initiated in 2019, this time with Fisch at the piano and podium providing a guide through the concept of musical variation. Fisch will also conduct Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra narrated by Iain Grandage, and educator Paul Rissmann will return as artist in residence for a family concert.
The roster of soloists includes the star power of conductors Vasily Petrenko and Ludovic Morlot, Grammy Award-winning violinist Gil Shaham playing Brahms, Australian pianist Jayson Gillham performing Liszt, and Macedonian superstar Simon Trpčeski in Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No 2.
Returning seasonal favourites include another Easter collaboration with St George’s Cathedral (Bach’s Easter Oratorio); the ever popular Last Night at the Proms; Chris Dragon conducting Comic Cons, and WASO at the Movies performing the soundtracks to the next instalments of Star Wars and Harry Potter.
“We still have Asher doing his core repertoire,” Kennea explains, “Repertoire he has used to build the orchestra over the past five and a half years, so reinforcing that kind of playing. But [we are] pushing the envelope out a little bit which is good.”
It is good indeed.
Pictured top: Evan Kennea and Asher Fisch relaxed over coffee. Photo by Rosalind Appleby.