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Calendar, Music, November 19, Performing arts

Music: Verdi’s Requiem

29 & 30 November @ Perth Concert Hall ·
Presented by West Australian Symphony Orchestra

Operatic in its earth-shaking intensity, Verdi’s great sacred masterpiece is staggeringly beautiful, dramatically exhilarating and heartfelt in its outpouring of human grief and devotion. Join Asher Fisch, four world-class soloists plus the massed voices of three choruses for an incomparable concert experience.

VERDI – Requiem

Asher Fisch – conductor
Siobhan Stagg – soprano (2019 WASO Artist in Association)
Stefanie Irányi – mezzo soprano
Paul O’Neill – tenor
Warwick Fyfe – baritone
WASO Chorus
St George’s Cathedral Consort
Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra Chorus

More info

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Calendar, Classical music, November 19, Performing arts

Music: Discovery Concert: The Art of Orchestration

22 & 23 November @ Perth Concert Hall ·
Presented by West Australian Symphony Orchestra ·

In this illuminating concert, Principal Conductor Asher Fisch explores how great composers  transformed works originally conceived for solo keyboard into the orchestral masterpieces that we know and love.

The concert features Leopold Stokowski’s spectacular, “Hollywood” version of Bach’s famous  Toccata and Fugue. Australian soprano Siobhan Stagg performs sublime Strauss songs in both  their original and orchestral versions. Asher himself explores how the raw intensity of Mussorgsky’s most radical piano work was transformed into a sophisticated orchestral showpiece by one of the masters.

More info

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Features, Music, News, Performing arts

WASO’s 2020 vision

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.”

Asher Fisch and WA Symphony Orchestra. Photo supplied.

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.”

WASOs new recording of Tristan und Isolde for ABC Classic.

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.”

Grammy Award-winning violinist Gil Shaham. Photo supplied.

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.

The WASO 2020 program is available online.

Pictured top: Evan Kennea and Asher Fisch relaxed over coffee. Photo by Rosalind Appleby.

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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

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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

Pictured: Asher Fisch Plays Schumann

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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

Pictured: Szeps-Znaider Plays Elgar

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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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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

Pictured: Asher Fisch – Discovery Concert: The Classical Symphony

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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

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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