Conductor Asher Fisch seated at piano
August 19, Calendar, Classical music, Performing arts

Music: Schumann & Strauss

30 & 31 August @ Perth Concert Hall ·
Presented by West Australian Symphony Orchestra ·

Maestro and soloist trade places.

In an unmissable trading of places WASO Principal Conductor Asher Fisch and  Danish violinist Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider switch roles as Maestro and soloist! One of the world’s finest violinists, Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider is now also a much sought-after conductor, while our very own Maestro, Asher Fisch, is also renowned as a sensitive and stylish pianist. Schumann’s rapturous Piano Concerto is the perfect vehicle for Asher Fisch’s boundless musical passion, and Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider and WASO will positively revel in the swaggering orchestral sound of Strauss’ Don Juan.

MENDELSSOHN Ruy Blas: Overture
SCHUMANN Piano Concerto
STRAUSS. R. Don Juan
STRAUSS. R. Death and Transfiguration

Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider, conductor (2019 WASO Featured Artist)
Asher Fisch, piano

More info
W: www.waso.com.au/concerts-tickets/whats-on/concert/Schumann-Strauss
E:  waso@waso.com.au

Pictured: Schumann & Strauss

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Conductor Asher Fisch seated at grand piano
August 19, Calendar, Classical music, Performing arts

Music: Asher Fisch Plays Schumann

29 August @ Perth Concert Hall ·
Presented by West Australian Symphony Orchestra ·

A profoundly personal piano concerto.

In an unmissable trading of places WASO Principal Conductor Asher Fisch and Danish violinist Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider switch roles as Maestro and soloist! Schumann’s rapturous Piano Concerto is the perfect vehicle for Asher Fisch’s boundless musical passion. Nikolaj  Szeps-Znaider then leads the Orchestra through the intense poetic visions of Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration.

This concert commences at 11 am Thursday 29 August

SCHUMANN Piano Concerto
STRAUSS, R. Death and Transfiguration

Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider, conductor
Asher Fisch, piano

More info
W: www.waso.com.au/concerts-tickets/whats-on/concert/Asher-Fisch-Plays-Schumann
E: waso@waso.com.au

Pictured: Asher Fisch Plays Schumann

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Man playing violin
August 19, Calendar, Classical music, Performing arts

Music: Szeps-Znaider Plays Elgar

16 & 17 August @ Perth Concert Hall ·
Presented by West Australian Symphony Orchestra ·

An exceptional concerto. An extraordinary instrument.

Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider is one of the most sought-after violinists in the world. He returns to WASO to perform Elgar’s Violin Concerto on the same extraordinary instrument – the 1741 Guarnerius del Gesù – that the great Fritz Kreisler used for the Concerto’s premiere over a century ago.

Asher Fisch proved himself a  brilliant interpreter of Brahms when he led WASO through its first-ever Brahms symphony cycle in 2015. He now returns to the music of this great composer and leads his Orchestra through Brahms’ glorious Second Symphony.

“Occasionally, a recording comes along which radically changes a great piece: Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider’s amazing account of Elgar’s Violin Concerto is revolutionary.”
– The Guardian

ELGAR Violin Concerto
BRAHMS Symphony No.2

Asher Fisch, conductor
Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider, violin (2019 WASO Featured Artist)

More info
W: www.waso.com.au/concerts-tickets/whats-on/concert/Znaider-Plays-Elgar
E:  waso@waso.com.au

Pictured: Szeps-Znaider Plays Elgar

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A man conducts with both arms raised and an animated smile
Features, Music, News, Performing arts

The sound of the symphony

Whether you’re curious, fearful or an expert on classical music, Asher Fisch has the perfect concert for you. The principal conductor of the WA Symphony Orchestra chats to editor Rosalind Appleby about bringing the drama back to the symphony.

There is something contagious about Asher Fisch’s enthusiasm, the way his eyes crinkle with a smile and his arms wave in the air as he talks.

The Israeli maestro is discussing the West Australian Symphony Orchestra’s new Discovery Concert series which kicks off this weekend with “The Classical Symphony”. Fisch’s vast knowledge and love for the symphony will be on display as he takes the audience on a journey through the classical era discovering how it has paved the way for the symphonic music of today.

“I’m not trying to educate, I’m trying to illuminate,” Fisch explains when we meet backstage at the Perth Concert Hall. “Trying to give the audience a special, good kind of experience. It is a concert still.”

Since the Israeli maestro joined WASO as principal conductor in 2014, his musical authority and charisma have cemented a significant relationship not just with the orchestra but with audiences too. Fisch, one of the top conductors on the international circuit, has made a particular effort to connect with the audience from the podium, an uncommon habit in Europe but one that is building him a loyal following in WA.

“I notice when I speak to the audience – Australian audiences are much happier to be spoken to than European audiences – they like the fact that the conductor turns around and speaks to them in normal day-to-day language. They like it and they react to jokes very well.”

Asher Fisch working with the WA Symphony Orchestra. Photo supplied.

Fisch honed his speaking skills during four years of conscription in the Israeli Army where he worked as a radio journalist. He brought those skills to the concert hall in 2017 with WASO’s  “Wagner and Beyond” series where his teaching from the podium was a huge success with both the live audience and those who heard it via the ABC radio broadcast. This time Fisch will tackle the music of the great symphonic composers Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.

Illuminating the drama

“What I want people to understand is that they are hearing a tale, and a drama. The drama is not between characters but it is between scenes, and harmonic changes. If you are really into it you can go and hear a Mozart symphony and enjoy it as much as you enjoy a Mozart opera, minus the characters. Just try to find drama and a story. So you’re not just sitting there to be entertained, try to follow the symphony as if it were a tale and a drama.”

Fisch will use a string quartet and early symphony from Haydn to demonstrate the origins of the symphony, followed by some Mozart – but with a twist.

“I will experiment by playing the ‘Paris’ Symphony No 31 with Mozart’s ‘dream orchestra’. There is a letter he writes about his dream orchestra and he imagines 40 violins. The Australian Chamber Orchestra play with six violins and say that is the authentic way (which it was), but that was not Mozart’s dream; he wanted 40 violins. So we will play a movement of the ‘Paris’ with a fuller section to hear how it sounds.”

The second half of the concert will be dedicated to a full performance of Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony, which Fisch says is the perfect prototype of the classical symphony.

The Discovery series will continue with a second concert in November, the “Art of Orchestration”, where Fisch will demonstrate how composers transformed works for piano into orchestral masterpieces. The program will include a Bach Toccata performed on organ followed by Leopold Stokowski’s arrangement for orchestra, made famous in the Disney film Fantasia. Siobhan Stagg will sing some Strauss songs with Fisch at piano, followed by an arrangement for orchestra. Rounding out the program will be Ravel’s arrangement of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, which Fisch describes as ‘the best orchestration of all time’.

“The beauty of these concerts are they are for anybody from your young musician son or daughter, through to audiences who are interested but didn’t dare yet, or weren’t sure because they didn’t know what was going on, to very established audience members who want something different. These are the two concerts in the season that are open to everybody.”

A concert facelift

Fisch’s vision isn’t just about audience education. With classical music audience numbers dwindling worldwide he says it’s time to do something different.

“I’m concerned about the structure of the regular concert program; the overture, concerto, symphony. You have to vary, do something a little different. This is my attempt to break from the mould. We cannot have an overture, concerto, symphony in every concert.”

“In Germany there is a big chunk of the population who really like to go to concerts. But even there audiences are dwindling. Not in opera but in symphonic concerts. We are constantly fighting. In theatre you get a new production, you don’t get the same thing. In Europe audiences go to see the same opera again and again to see different singers, and a new production. But we have nothing parallel in the symphonic world to offer them. What they hear at home on their CD’s and what they hear in the concert is exactly the same. So you have to try and enrich this with something different.”

The sound of the symphony. Asher Fisch and WASO. Photo supplied.

Expanding the mould been a consistent message during Fisch’s tenure with the orchestra, which last year was extended until 2023. Fisch’s programs have included a Beethoven Festival (the complete symphonies across two weekends in 2014), a Brahms Festival (across two weekends in 2015) and opera in concert (the much-lauded Tristan und Isolde in 2018). Next year he will conduct a family concert. This democratic, broad-sweep approach to sharing classical music is what has endeared him to audiences. And he can trace it back to his first exposure to the classical repertoire, as a child in Israel.

“My parents took me to the Israel Philharmonic every time they came. We sat very close in the 3rd row. I was always fascinated by the conductor because I was sitting right behind him and watching what he was doing. But for me it was the sound. I was playing the recorder and then piano and a bit of mandolin, but the symphonic sound…just the sound…”

For a moment he is lost for words. How does one articulate the glory of a full orchestral sound?

“That’s why I am a sound conductor, rather than rhythmic or shaping or phrasing” he concludes. “For me it’s all about the sound.”

Asher Fisch presents Discovery Concert: The Classical Symphony on June 28 & 29.

Pictured Top: Asher Fisch conducts the West Australian Symphony Orchestra.

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Man conducting orchestra
Calendar, June 19, Lectures and Talks, Music, Performing arts

Music: Discovery Concert: The Classical Symphony

28 & 29 June @ Perth Concert Hall ·
Presented by West Australian Symphony Orchestra ·

A new way to experience classical music.

This concert is the first in a series exploring the evolution of the core of the modern orchestra’s repertoire – the Symphony. Join Principal Conductor and presenter Asher Fisch as we go right back to where it all began, with the music of the “Father of the Symphony”, Joseph Haydn, and his illustrious successor, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Share Asher’s own insights into the music of the Classical Era and discover how its greatest masters paved the way for all symphonic music that followed.

The concert concludes with a complete performance of Beethoven’s spirited Fourth Symphony. His last “Classical” Symphony, the Fourth is Beethoven’s final glance back to the sophisticated elegance of Haydn and Mozart, before his very next Symphony ushered in the ambitions, drama and passions of the early Romantic Era.

More info
W:  www.waso.com.au/concerts-tickets/whats-on/concert/Discovery-Concert-The-Classical-Symphony
E: waso@waso.com.au

Pictured: Asher Fisch – Discovery Concert: The Classical Symphony

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Man playing violin
Calendar, Classical music, June 19, Music, Performing arts

Music: Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto

20, 21 & 22 June @ Perth Concert Hall ·
Presented by West Australian Symphony Orchestra ·

Asher Fisch leads a trio of richly melodic works.

Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto is one of his finest creations, combining sublime lyricism, yearning Russian wistfulness and thrilling virtuosity. To perform this perennially popular masterpiece we welcome back to Perth the great Russian violinist Vadim Gluzman, whose recording of the Concerto was described by ClassicsToday as “jaw-droppingly spectacular”. The concert concludes with another favourite, Mendelssohn’s sun-kissed Fourth Symphony – a beguiling musical postcard inspired by his travels to Italy.

“Gluzman is the perfect balance between confident showman and reserved perfectionist, radiating both a quiet, sincere charisma and a wonderfully unselfconscious reverence for the music.” – Limelight Magazine

Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto will also be performed in a one-hour morning symphony concert on Thursday 20 June at 11am.

More info
W: www.waso.com.au/concerts-tickets/whats-on/concert/tchaikovskys-violin-concerto
E: waso@waso.com.au

Pictured:
Vadim Gluzman – Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto

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Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Good times ahead

Review: West Australian Symphony Orchestra, ‘Symphony No 40’ ⋅
Perth Concert Hall, March 15 ⋅
Review: Rosalind Appleby ⋅

As the summer festival season fades into the background local arts organisations are ramping up their seasons. On Friday night the Perth Concert Hall was buzzing with enthusiasm as the West Australian Symphony Orchestra welcomed new CEO Mark Coughlan (complete with a brass fanfare!) and principal conductor Asher Fisch took to the podium for his first concert in 2019.

The program included Poulenc’s lesser-known Stabat Mater alongside Mozart’s popular Symphony No 40, a hint of things to come according to Fisch who is interested in introducing forgotten gems of the repertoire to Perth audiences. The concert also featured 2019 artist in residence soprano Siobhan Stagg singing Ravel’s Shéhérazade. The Australian soprano (hailing from Mildura) is building a successful international career and will juggle her commitments as principal soloist at Deutsche Oper Berlin to return to Perth for performances of Strauss’s Orchestral Songs and Verdi’s Requiem.

Stagg’s luminous voice found the perfect vehicle in Ravel’s three songs inspired by the exoticism of the east. Shéhérazade sits at the lower end of the soprano range and Stagg’s creamy bottom register suited Ravel’s languid writing. The orchestra seemed to enjoy shaping Ravel’s colourful orchestration, with some darkly glorious low string and percussion timbres in Asie and moments of smouldering warmth in L’Indifférent. But the moment that will remain with me was Andrew Nicholson’s flute shimmering and sighing in a mesmerising duet with Stagg in La Flûte enchantée.

Poulenc’s Stabat Mater, written in 1950 after the death of a friend, took us down a darker road. The solemn opening soon gave way to spitting vehemence as the WASO Chorus, supplemented by the St George’s Cathedral Consort, sang with grim intensity. The two choirs were mostly well blended and their delivery of the line ‘dum emisit spiritum’ had a hushed glow however the exposed a capella sections were less successful with drooping pitch creating uneasy transitions. In the centre of proceedings was Stagg, her crystalline top end radiating light. Poulenc’s unexpected mood changes were cleanly conveyed by the orchestra.

Opening the concert was a crisp Symphony No 40, with the orchestra immaculately navigating Mozart’s deceptively simple transparency. Whiffs of opera buffa and opera seria mingle in this symphony in Mozart’s darker than usual musical elucidation of humanity. Fisch captured the mix of buoyancy and fragility with thrilling contrasts between elegantly poised phrasing and dynamics so soft you could hear the scratch of bow hairs.

The concert, with its inclusion of less familiar repertoire, a sensational artist in residence and an orchestra in good form bodes well for the year ahead.

Pictured top: soprano Siobhan Stagg.

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Gun Brit Barkmin
August 19, Calendar, Music, Performing arts, Vocal

Music: An Evening with Gun-Brit Barkmin

23 & 25 August @ Perth Concert Hall ·
Presented by West Australian Symphony Orchestra ·

West Australian Symphony Orchestra 2019 Gala Event.

We have created an evening of operatic and vocal masterworks from Beethoven, Strauss and Wagner to shine the spotlight on Barkmin’s phenomenal talent. And being renowned worldwide as one of the finest exponents of Salome, we are thrilled that she concludes this gala event with the dramatic final scene of Strauss’ extraordinary opera. Don’t miss this opportunity to experience one of the most remarkable voices of our generation with Asher Fisch leading ‘an orchestra at the top of its game’.

“She gave an extraordinarily complete portrayal… It’s always a joy to hear a singer in their native tongue, and [Barkmin’s] linguistic authority made every syllable count.”
– Limelight Magazine

“Gun-Brit Barkmin… was a revelation.” – The Australian

Friday 23 August at 7.30pm
Sunday 25 August at 5.00pm

More info
W: www.waso.com.au/concerts-tickets/whats-on/concert/an-evening-with-gun-brit-barkmin
E: waso@waso.com.au

Pictured: An Evening with Gun-Brit Barkmin

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Calendar, Classical music, March 19, Music, Performing arts

Music: Mozart Symphony No 40

15 & 16 March @ Perth Concert Hall ·
Presented by West Australian Symphony Orchestra ·

Principal Conductor Asher Fisch opens the 2019 Masters Series with a concert of dramatic and enchanting works. Mozart’s  penultimate Symphony is among the most enduring and popular of all his works. Exceptional Australian soprano Siobhan Stagg brings her luminous tone to Poulenc’s moving work and to Ravel’s sumptuous song cycle, Shéhérazade.

More info
W: www.waso.com.au/concerts-tickets/whats-on/concert/Mozart-Symphony-No.40
E:  waso@waso.com.au

Pictured: Siobhan Stagg

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Classical music, Music, News, Reviews

Beyond the bombast

Review: West Australian Symphony Orchestra, “Grieg’s Piano Concerto and Dvořák’s New World” ⋅
Perth Concert Hall, November 16 ⋅
Review by Jonathan W. Marshall ⋅

Australian symphony orchestras only rarely premiere new work. The West Australian Symphony Orchestra‘s premiere of Lachlan Skipworth’s Hinterland was therefore an anticipated and revealing event. Australia’s orchestras are conservative in the precise meaning of the term: their aim is to conserve a musical tradition which began in 17th century Europe and which arguably reached its apotheosis at the start of the 20th century. This does not imply slavish reproduction, but rather an alternative definition of modernism where progress is defined less in terms of radical new discoveries and more in terms of reworking known forms into new configurations.

Employing these criteria, Skipworth’s Hinterland was a triumph. It is a rousing, fundamentally neo-romantic work. Melodramatic, rhythmically strong crescendos and rattling bass kettle drum moments define its structural units, this kind of material bookending both the first movement, and then exploding out in the finale. The WASO’s placement of this premiere alongside Antonin Dvořák’s Symphony No 9 From the New World (1893) and Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor (1868) was instructive in this sense because, despite popular terminology, WASO and its peers are less committed to properly Classical composition, and instead tend to highlight the emotionally rousing approach which the Romantics developed in 19th century Europe.

Perhaps unsurprisingly therefore, quite a bit of Hinterland feels rather like one of John William’s works (Star Wars, etc), a composer well known for producing a modern, digestible form of neo-romanticism. Skipworth’s materials are a bit darker, and certainly there is a tendency to dwell in the deeper tones of the orchestra more than what Williams’ lighter touch tends towards, but there is a clearly shared approach to blending between the two.

Hinterland is basically a three part work. It starts dirgy and heavy with massed strings and ends in much the same place only much more aggressively and powerfully. As Skipworth puts it, the “dense chordal mass of the opening returns to build a powerful climactic peak.” For those such as myself, who dream of finding the radical potential of that wonderfully conservative machine that is the orchestra, I did find some such elements in the interregnum. Hinterland is essentially a piece of what was once called “program music”: material designed to evoke a narrative about how the landscape changes over time. The middle section relates how “shimmering strings capture sparks of [morning] sunlight in shallow rock pools.” Because of this, there is true attention to not just rhythm and harmony, but sound qua sound. The sharp clack of the rocks briefly used by the percussionists, the rich, colouristic quality of the horn peals, and other gestures, come out here and rest in their own sonic world. The audience is encouraged to listen and attend to the specificity of these modest, subtle but wonderfully beautiful acoustic events. For those such as myself whose allegiance lies more with Morton Feldman and Xanis Xenakis than John Williams or Georges Bizet (whose work is also evoked here), it was deeply disappointing that the most exciting element of this performance came across as little more than a diversion from the true melodramatic focus of this neo-romantic work. Still, of course, different strokes for different folks, and while the WASO certainly could have used a lighter touch, Skipworth’s challenge for the performers was well handled.

Much the same was true of the program overall. Pianist Andrey Gugnin played Grieg’s extremely varied and at times fiendishly complex Piano Concerto from memory, ably supported by the orchestra. For my taste, the final solo piano section is by far the most interesting, the harmonic richness of the rest of the work here constrained into a very jazzy, finger-plucked section that sits well amongst piano works of the late twentieth century.

Dvořák’s New World symphony concluded the program in a commemoration of the foundation of WASO, which began with a performance of this piece in 1928. Dvořák’s composition is an intensely interesting one which I do not know well. It is at times sparse, with a real sense of urban drive, recalling what America once represented to nineteenth century Europe: the “New World.” There are hints of (now considered ill-informed) attempts to evoke American Native chants (taken from unreliable sources of white American poetry about Hiawatha), of folk-like music (Dvořák’s own speciality in his native Czechoslovakia), of calmed and modified jazz and African-American music, as well as the sweeping Romantic motifs that tended to define music of the period as a whole. Dvořák apparently found the US both scary and bracing, and the music certainly evokes this.

There was a sense that WASO was if anything too Romantic in its interpretation. Having hit the crescendos and crashing strings so early, it was not clear where the orchestra had to go when it came to the finale. But then to some degree this is the point of such music. It is composition with the volume turned up to 11 out of 10 (to quote Spinal Tap). The aim is for an ever more overwhelming explosion of musical force and its corresponding affective impact. If the concert was not quite able to deliver here, this was, I would suggest, at least as much a consequence of the musicological bombast which WASO bravely broached as it was that of the performers. Skipworth’s own contribution then can only be read as a canny compromise. He neither rejects these musical approaches, nor does he slavishly devote himself to them. I look forward to his next endeavour.

Pictured top: Asher Fisch conducts the WA Symphony Orchestra.

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