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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Classical music, Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Stepping outside the box

Review: West Australian Symphony Orchestra, ‘Cédric Tiberghien Plays Rachmaninov 3’ ·
Perth Concert Hall, 25 August ·
Review by Tiffany Ha ·

Sergei Rachmaninov’s third piano concerto (“Rach 3” for short) begins like a lot of other canonical piano repertoire from the late-Romantic era: with a simple, unadorned melody. Visiting French pianist Cedric Tiberghien played the opening subject in cleanly articulated octaves, with an understated piano dynamic that shone through the swirling textures of the orchestra behind him. In such a dense and challenging work, each iteration of the main melodic material becomes a beacon of light to the listener – guiding them through the landscape, unifying the events of the piece through the lens of a kind of hero’s journey. Tiberghien was a captivating, capable hero. He certainly looked the part: young, tall and fit, with a blonde, Luke Skywalker-esque mop of hair. Indeed, as he grappled with the immense technical and expressive demands of the twenty-five minute concerto, displaying remarkable physical and mental stamina, he was reminiscent of a troubled Skywalker in Return of The Jedi, dressed in black, having to recall all his previous training and experience to conquer some of the biggest challenges of his life. And when you see Tiberghien execute those fierce double octave runs at break-neck vivacissimo, it’s hard to believe that he’s not using “the force”.

At the conclusion of the third movement, Tiberghien released the final thundering chord with a dramatic upward swing of the arms, his head and torso recoiling. He sprung from his seat to give conductor Asher Fisch a warm embrace – a refreshing, endearing alternative to the traditional handshake. You could tell they had good chemistry; Fisch seemed to regard the young soloist as both a teammate and a protégé. After several rounds of applause and some scattered ovations, Tiberghien returned to the stage for his encore: a transcription of a Bach prelude, arranged by Alexander Siloti – Rachmaninov’s piano teacher and first cousin. The prelude – with its slow harmonic progression and sparse, transparent texture – served as a lovely palate cleanser after a heavy first course.

The second half of the concert featured two works by Hungarian modernist composer Béla Bartók: the orchestral Dance Suite and The Miraculous Mandarin: Suite. The 1923 Dance Suite was commissioned by Budapest municipal authorities to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the union of Buda, Óbuda and Pest. The suite’s six contrasting movements flow on from one another, weaving in threads from Hungarian, Romanian and Arabic folk tunes to create what Bartók described as “a kind of idealised peasant music”. The orchestra, led by Fisch’s animated yet measured baton, played with their usual level of musicianship – cut-offs were crisp, the sound was unified, they were true to the score. It was also exciting to see the not-so-common instruments featured, such as the celeste, harp, bass clarinet and contrabassoon. The orchestra’s enjoyment of this piece was evident in the joy and vibrance of their performance.

The Miraculous Mandarin ballet, which Bartók scored, first premiered in 1926. His orchestral suite version – essentially a collection of musical scenes from the ballet – premiered two years later. The ballet depicts the tale of a girl and three ruffians who attempt to swindle unsuspecting passers-by, through seduction and violent robbery. The rather taboo subject matter and the often jarring musical style of The Miraculous Mandarin is reminiscent of Stravinsky’s work with the Ballet Russes (most notably The Rite of Spring). While the orchestra did well to evoke a range of moods and scenes – sleazy trombone slides, heart-fluttering flute flutter-tonguing (try saying that quickly three times!), clamouring percussion – it can be hard to understand and fully appreciate the music without the visual element of the ballet. It’s akin to listening to the soundtrack for a film you’ve never seen. However enjoyable it may be, you can’t help but feel that you’re missing part of the package. As a fan of Bartók, and as someone who will read the concert program cover to cover, I still struggled to fully engage with this suite.

Nevertheless – I love that WASO are taking chances with their programming and stepping outside the box.

Pictured top: Cedric Tiberghien. Photo: Benjamin Ealovega.

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Calendar, Classical music, Music, November 18, Performing arts

Music: Asher Fisch Conducts Dvorak’s New World

15 November 11am @ Perth Concert Hall ·
Presented by West Australian Symphony Orchestra ·

Dvorák’s earthy and dynamic Ninth Symphony, his musical love letter to the New World, was performed at WASO’s very first concert in 1928!

Ninety years later, it is still adored for its youthful energy and wistful Largo movement, simultaneously joyous and profound.

The concert begins with an exciting world premiere from award-winning West Australian composer Lachlan Skipworth.

More info
W:  tickets.waso.com.au/single/PSDetail.aspx?psn=9954
E:   waso@waso.com.au

Pictured: Asher Fisch Conducts Dvorak’s New World. Photo: Sara Hannigan.

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Asher Fisch Masters 7
Calendar, Classical music, Music, November 18, Performing arts

Music: Asher Fisch Conducts Strauss & Bruckner

9 & 10 November @ Perth Concert Hall ·
Presented by West Australian Symphony Orchestra ·

Bruckner’s last-completed symphony is a work of breathtaking magnificence, a monumental “cathedral of sound”. Asher Fisch and WASO take you on an astounding journey from its tremoring, misty beginning through grand themes and gorgeous chorales to climactic elation. To hear this immense work performed live is an awe-inspiring experience.

Metamorphosen is Richard Strauss’ anguished response to the wartime destruction of Germany’s culture. Composed for 23 solo strings, its unfolding complexity and elegiac beauty make this heartfelt expression of collective sorrow one of his very greatest works.

More info
W:  tickets.waso.com.au/single/PSDetail.aspx?psn=9969
E:   waso@waso.com.au

Pictured: Asher Fisch Conducts Strauss & Bruckner

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Classical music, Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Snippets of musical conversation

Review: WASO Masters Series – Asher Fisch Conducts Debussy & Ravel ·
Perth Concert Hall, 24 March ·
Review by Tiffany Ha ·

This was my first WASO concert for 2018, and it was a nice way to ease back into my role as Symphony Patron and Reviewer of Serious Music. The program, which featured three of my favourite twentieth-century composers – Sibelius, Debussy, and Ravel – plus a seldom-performed flute concerto, seemed right up my alley.

Fisch and the orchestra began with Tapiola, a nineteen-minute tone poem composed in 1926 by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. Tone poems emerged as a popular genre in the late-Romantic and early-Modern eras; composers no longer felt tied to traditional musical forms as they began to write longer, single-movement works with freer and narrative-driven structures. Some composers even added prose to their scores, assigning motifs to certain characters, evoking scenes of conflict, adventure or romance through the musical language.

Sibelius’ Tapiola tells the story of Tapio, the forest god of Norse mythology. It begins with rich, dark, and low textures, suggesting the undergrowth and the forest floor beneath ancient, looming trees. Under Fisch’s baton, the cellos, double-basses, violas, and bassoons painted thick, woody swashes of musical colour. At this point, only half of the orchestra (stage-left) were playing, in an unusual but beautiful combination of sounds. Gradually, the soundscape shifted to stage-right; the higher-pitched violins, flutes, piccolo and clarinets emerged, rising up to create bright, delicate musical textures. There were twittering bird calls and rustling leaves, recalling the excited energy of springtime. Eventually, the orchestra came together in a rising chromatic frenzy punctuated by frenetic pizzicato strings and whirling glissandi. It was as if Tapio himself had arrived, stormy, vengeful, and frightening. Insistent pedal points from the lower half of the orchestra gave the piece a sense of weight, timelessness, and a grounded coherency. It ended unexpectedly with an ambiguous cadence – soft and high, ascending from the chaos – awe-inspiring and inexplicable, just like nature itself.

While I was looking forward to Carl Nielsen’s Concerto for Flute and Orchestra, I did have my reservations. The flute is a stalwart of the symphonic orchestra – sparkling in moments of joy and gaiety, soaring atop luscious harmonies, lamenting with its texture-piercing cry, whispering with a breathy, wavering vibrato – but how does it stand up as a solo instrument with an orchestra behind it? WASO’s principal flautist, Andrew Nicholson, gave a stellar performance. He switched effortlessly (sometimes within single phrases) between florid legato runs and smatterings of whimsical staccato. He and Fisch led the orchestra through calm, idyllic, pastoral musical sections into more adventurous and contrasting episodes: brusque fanfares, determined marches, fast rhythmic humoresque passages set against backdrops of bitonality (having more than one key, simultaneously). The concerto is a lively piece, and it was enjoyable to witness Nicholson’s much-deserved time in the spotlight – particularly in moments of spontaneous musical conversation between the flute and other instruments, such as the trombone (which was one of the instruments Nielsen played throughout his life). But even as a fan of Modern classical music, I found this concerto hard to get into. Perhaps the extra-musical ideas that inspired it (Nielsen’s memoir, and the mythical Greek land of Arcadia) are somewhat unclear or underdeveloped.

The second half of the evening featured two French favourites – Debussy’s orchestral Nocturnes (1901) and Ravel’s choreographic poem La valse (1920). It was a treat to have the orchestra expanded to include two harps, a full brass section, and more percussion. The Nocturnes were a lovely complement to the imagery-laden pieces of the first half of the evening, although the wordless womens’ chorus during the third movement, Sirènes, did not seem to blend well, and were somewhat lost in the texture – perhaps because they were positioned up the back, next to the horn and percussion sections.

Ravel’s rollicking and extravagant waltz, intended for ballet but more often performed as a stand-alone musical piece, was a fun way to end the evening. Maestro Fisch and the orchestra took us back to the opulence of pre-war Vienna, leading us through the grand ballroom confidently and swiftly, but not without moments of repose in which we were allowed to eavesdrop snippets of intimate musical conversation.

WASO’s 2018 calendar promises a host of exciting and varied concerts. Check it out and support your local symphony here.

Top: Asher Fisch. Photo: Sara Hannigan.

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