Busiest orchestra meets busiest conductor when Asher Fisch rejoins WA Symphony Orchestra at Perth Concert Hall

David CusworthThe West Australian
Principal conductor Asher Fisch returns to WA Symphony Orchestra for three weeks of Romantic favourites.
Camera IconPrincipal conductor Asher Fisch returns to WA Symphony Orchestra for three weeks of Romantic favourites.

It could be billed as the world busiest orchestra meets the world’s busiest conductor when Asher Fisch reconnects with the WA Symphony Orchestra this month.

WASO won the accolade with audiences totalling 40,000 in the first three months of the year as other orchestras struggled to get back on stage, and now Fisch adds his own stats.

“I’ve been busy since October, which not a lot of my colleagues can say,” he says.

“I did two big projects without audiences in Italy, I’ve been twice to the States for streaming concerts, I was in Australia for quarantine and three weeks — two weeks with WASO and one week in Sydney — for concerts in March-April, then America again, Dusseldorf; and the last thing I did is reopen the State’s Opera in Munich with a concert performance of the first act of Walkyrie, with Jonas Kaufmann and Lise Davidsen, with Georg Zeppenfeld, so this was a great, great way to open and here I am.”

So how does WA compare with the rest of the world?

“There is no comparison, there’s one and there’s the other,” Fisch says. “In the rest of the world, every country is trying to deal with it, every opera house.

“All of this we were spared, we survived through it in a glorious way. And whether you like it or not, whether you approve of it or not, the Australian version of dealing with the corona is what enabled it to take place.”

Coming and going between Australia and the northern hemisphere has not been so different, Fisch says.

“I’m in constant contact with people in the office, I’ve seen the orchestra just a couple of months ago, I’m back now for three weeks, I’ll be back in August for three more weeks,” he says.

“Considering that I’m almost the only travelling international conductor who’s coming down to Australia this year, it’s pretty good that I get to see the orchestra.”

Asher Fisch and Elena Perroni in rehearsal. They combine for Brahms’ German Requiem with WA Symphony Orchestra.
Camera IconAsher Fisch and Elena Perroni in rehearsal. They combine for Brahms’ German Requiem with WA Symphony Orchestra.

And he says the absence of international talent has done WASO no harm.

“It’s the way sometimes that you deal with the situation and the outcome is better, because we would never have thought to make a whole year based on local talent,” Fisch says.

Fisch is conducting on three successive weekends with gems from the Romantic repertoire he excels in.

The first concert on June 18 features Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony and two works by Britten.

“The first concert was programmed for last year,” Fisch explains. “Beethoven for obvious reasons (2020 was the composer’s 250th anniversary), we’re playing two symphonies this year.

“Unfortunately we cannot do the piano concerto cycle but I am doing the Fifth and the Sixth (symphonies) this year and the Britten (Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, and Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra) is something I’ve always wanted to do for a very long time.

“The first piece is one of the greatest works for strings ever written and doesn’t get performed often because it’s quite long. Where do you stick it is always the question. If you’re not a chamber orchestra you don’t play it, but I think it’s a great work for our string players to deal with, and as a contrasting work to the Young Person’s Guide, we have a perfect first half.”

In the middle week, Brahms’ German Requiem is also a long-term project delayed from last year, featuring WA soprano Elena Perroni and visiting baritone Adrian Tamburini.

“This one I have not done for a long time, it’s particularly interesting. It’s Brahms’ first big attempt at a big orchestra, right away he could find his own sound, you just have to hear the few bars at the beginning, you know that this is the Brahmsian orchestral sound,” Fisch says.

Grace Clifford will tour with WA Symphony Orchestra in Sibelius’ violin concerto.
Camera IconGrace Clifford will tour with WA Symphony Orchestra in Sibelius’ violin concerto.

“The third week I took over from an international, non-travelling conductor,” he grins. “But it’s Mahler 5 and I’m especially happy for that because we did perform Mahler 5 in a farewell concert before we toured to China but we never included it in our series and this is a chance to now play it in the Masters series.”

That 2018 China tour features in a special video presentation at the Concert Hall on July 1, Harmony – The Missing Eighth.

Fisch will be back again in August, and highlights one special project – Holst’s Planets suite in collaboration with the Australian National Academy of Music.

“We have a very ambitious program, the Planets with both orchestras,” he says. “Again a piece that is not performed very often but it’s over 100 years old now and I think it’s time to consider it.

“It’s very important that we do this kind of music as well and for the young musicians from ANAM it’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime chance to play it. It’s a great chance to give them a glimpse into, let’s say, heavy duty expressionistic music.”

Interstate soloists will also figure, with violinist Grace Clifford joining WASO in the Concert Hall and on tour to the south coast in Sibelius’ violin concerto.

In September, pianist Jayson Gillham plays Mozart’s Elvira Madigan concerto, and conductor Paul Dyer presents Baroque favourites.

“In my concerts at the end of the year it’s local talent, so Perth orchestra members,” Fisch says.

“Both the Schumann Konzertstuck for Four Horns and Orchestra, of course played by our horn quartet in the orchestra, and the Sinfonia Concertante by Mozart played by (concert master) Laurence Jackson and (principal violist) Daniel Schmitt.”

All told, Fisch says the year has been an inspiring success.

“It’s a program that we wouldn’t plan under regular circumstances,” he says. “But as it turned out it’s a program that I’m very, very content with because we have lots of local talent, there’s no loss of quality, in any dimension, at the same time we get to do works that we don’t often do, so it turned out for me to be very, very exciting.”


Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails