Tuesday, 27 June 2017

When the kids joined in

“Would you like to join the orchestra?” Stan and Mabel asked the rabbit.

“Yes!!!!” cried a voice from the front row.

The enraptured child was one of 6355 audience members (young and old) who attended performances and events last week as part of the WA Symphony Orchestra’s Education Week.

The Beat of Your Feet on Sunday was one of 15 concerts WASO performed during the week. It featured the enthusiastic educator and composer Paul Rissmann who introduced the orchestral instruments, taught the audience some songs and then narrated Jason Chapman’s book Stan and Mabel, a story of two animals who travel to Italy to audition for the orchestra. The illustrations were projected on screens, vocalist Libby Hammer helped with the songs  and Benjamin Northey conducted the 50 plus orchestra.


The child in the front row wasn’t the only person getting swept up with the excitement. Children and adults were singing, doing actions, delighting in the instrumental solos and completely enthralled. There’s something so decadent about having literature, art and music brought to life by such talented professionals!

The day before we attended a Cushion Concert where the story of The Lion of Loved was brought to life in a similar manner by Rissmann and the11-piece EChO ensemble.

Paul Rissmann and the EChO musicians

This smaller scale concert was held in the more intimate Wardle Room of the concert hall. Even in the back row we were close enough to feel the reverberations in our chests from Andrew Sinclair’s marvelous double bass evocation of an elephant. Again Rissmann’s warm welcome and lively interaction with the music had the children captivated. The advantage of the back row was that my four year old daughter could dance her heart out. Or snuggle up when things got a bit tense as the jungle animals tried to rescue Leo the lion from the raging river.

Libby Hammer’s bubbly personality and warm vocals were an asset to both shows. And the "have-a-go" on the instruments at the end is always popular. But the real success lay in Rissmann’s compositions, which captured the zesty energy of the picture books and also the moments of sweet pathos while featuring specific instruments and some very singable tunes.

A few nights later my children randomly began singing “We’re going to Italy to audition in a competition”.

It was a busy week for the orchestra who performed The Lion Who Loved and The Beat of Your Feet during the week to school children, along with Sir Scallywag and the Golden Underpants. There was also a conducting masterclass, the Rusty Orchestra concert, Harmony Music performances for children with special needs, the Hospital Orchestra Project at PMH and the Composition Project Final Showing.

 WASO's next children’s concerts is November 5th when ABC favourites Lah-Lah and Buzz join the orchestra.

Monday, 26 June 2017

July Gig Guide

The month kicks off with French/Canadian pianist Louis Lortie playing Chopin’s Piano Concerto No 1 with the WA Symphony Orchestra on June 30/July 1st. Dvorak’s Symphony No 7 is also on the program.

The following weekend WASO will celebrate their 30th Anniversary with conductor laureate Vladimir Verbitsky with a grand Russian concert. The concert will include Tchaikovsky Manfred Symphony and Rachmaninov’s massive Edgar Allan Poe-inspired choral symphony The Bells.

WASO will end the month with a tribute on the 28/29th to the greatest film composer of all time: John Williams. The music will include soundtracks from Star Wars, ET, Superman and many others  WASO concertmaster Lawrence Jackson will step out from his orchestral activity on July 3rd for a concert with St George’s Cathedral organist Joseph Nolan as part of the Cathedral Music Series.

On the 9th July the Perth Symphonic Chorus, directed by Margaret Pride, will perform music to make you swoon, featuring a jazz trio and drawing on traditional and contemporary repertoire from Allegri to Ellington.

Musica Viva will bring the Sitkovetsky Trio to Perth on the 11th to perform piano trios by Mendelssohn, Rachmaninov and Shostakovich, PLUS a world premiere by Perth’s Lachlan Skipworth AND a preconcert talk by Rosalind Appleby. What a combination!

The WA Opera’s season of The Merry Widow opens on the 15th, set in 1920's Paris with a sizzling young cast including ex-Perth singers Taryn Fiebig and Alexander Lewis as Hanna and Danilo, young Perth soprano Emma Pettemerides as Valencienne and Opera Australia’s John Longmuir as Camille. Come dressed in the style of the 1920's for this brand new Opera Conference production directed by Graeme Murphy.

On the 16th the Robert Zielinski Trio will breeze through some traditional Irish Scottish reels as part of the Darlington Chamber Music Series and on the same night WAAPA’s week long International Art Song Academy will culminate in a gala concert with singers from around Australia accompanied by acclaimed English pianist, Dr Graham Johnson.

The Fremantle Chamber Orchestra will accompany Emily Leung in Bruch’s Violin Concerto on the 22/23 plus perform Mendelssohn’s Symphony No 3.

Freeze Frame Opera will dabble in some more creative opera with a concert on the 29th at Brans Antiques, Mosman Park. Proceeds will go towards the production of their next opera.

The month closes with the Perth Symphony Orchestra’s decadent Serenades in the City at Government House Ballroom including a champagne brunch, Tchaikovsky’s Serenade, Margaret Sutherland’s Concerto for Strings and stories from well-known author and journalist Rosalind Appleby. I suspect this will be more like a treat than a concert!

I hope to see you at some concerts soon!

Sunday, 25 June 2017

The Eisteddfod's messy lives are deeply loveable

The Eisteddfod was the work that really kicked off the career of Melbourne-based playwright Lally Katz over a decade ago and its Perth debut by the Black Swan State Theatre Company directed by Jeffrey Jay Fowler is well overdue. Katz’s opera The Rabbits premiered in Perth a few years ago so it was good to see Katz in her home territory.

The Eisteddfod is a multi-layered work that depicts the claustrophobic lives of two orphaned children trapped in their memories and fears of the outside world. Or as Katz puts it in an authorial voice over that accompanies the work, it shows ‘their happy lives alone and afraid of the world together.”

Natalie Holmwood, Brendan Ewing. Photos by Daniel James Grant.

Katz’s script is loaded with this kind of sardonic melancholy, a humour that having no time for pathos cuts straight to the quick. She is OK with scenes twisting uncomfortably in and out of humour and pain as the siblings Abalone and Gerture play out their memories and longings through various fantasies.

Tyler Hill’s set was a large grimy room with a bunk bed, some wardrobes and a filthy toilet. Boxes litter the room packed with items of nostalgia and bringing a sense of temporary stasis, arrested development. Lucy Birkinshaw’s flouro lighting was overwhelming artificial, with no sense of daylight or fresh air. Brett Smith’s unobtrusive sound design included retro pop songs and a sweetly naive piano melody.

The plot revolved around Abalone’s desire to compete in an Eisteddfod together playing Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Shakespearean soliloquies were rehearsed in thick Scottish accents, including a hilarious scene where Lady Macbeth invites Macbeth to dance and a small disco ball appears from under a box, accompanied by an eighties love song.

Brendan Ewing was a lanky, fragile Abalone. His large twitching hands and flexibly expressive face reminded me simultaneously of Johnny Depp, and also Garry McDonald in his moments of pathetic Mother and Son self interest. The ‘History of the Eisteddfod’ scene was delightful, Ewing revealing more through his body language about the characters than the competition.

Natalie Holmwood as Gerture was diminutive in every sense of the word, pining for her masochistic lover Ian, desperately seeking refuge in mediocrity and weary with frustration. Her warped understanding of life and love (“How can you not love someone after all the times you’ve touched arms in the ad breaks?”) begins to make sense as the fantasies are played out. “Be Ian”, she begs her brother, a little while later taking on the role of “Mum” for her brother in a world where hovering memories continue to break in, pinning and trapping them.

The performance in the Eisteddfod wasn’t the moment of dramatic triumph Abalone was hoping for, neither does it return his sister to him as he had planned. A quote from Macbeth “All our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death’” foreshadows the sad end.

It sounds grim, but it wasn’t. Katz has a Winton-esque ability to create characters whose messy lives are deeply loveable. Ewing and Holmwood give gripping, multi-hued portrayals for 70 minutes of deeply enthralling theatre.

The Eisteddfod by Lally Katz will run at Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre of WA until 9th July.

This review first published Limelight Magazine, June 2017.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Steampunk Mozart full of creativity

The Midland Railway Workshops stretch for a kilometre in the heart of Midland’s old industrial area. The enormous warehouses now house among other things the WA Police Operations Centre and medical centre as part of the Midland redevelopment. On Wednesday night one end of a vast still-vacant warehouse was cordoned off to become a venue for Perth Symphony Orchestra’s Steampunk Mozart.

Perth Symphony Orchestra in the Midland Railway Workshops. Photo Richard Jefferson

The smell of Viennese schnitzel, a life size steampunk dalek and remnants of machinery set the scene. Beneath the hum of voices could be heard thuds, blips and the rush of steam; a sound installation evoking the industrial sounds of days gone by.

The mission of PSO Director Bourby Webster and her creative team is to bring classical music into unexpected settings and to people in all walks of life. In this instance the pairing of Mozart with the sci-fi fashion genre of steampunk was marketing genius. The sold out audience of loyal fans, Midland locals and art lovers (many decked out in neo-Victorian hoop skirts, boots and top hats) wandered the space in delight, taking in the industrial history, the coloured spot lighting, the Mozart-inspired Viennese food and, of course, the music.

And the music is where PSO unfailingly gets it right; with clever programming and world class playing this concert moved well beyond gimmicky ideas. The program opened with a classical flourish with a movement of Mendelssohn’s Octet led with boisterous energy by Paul Wright on violin, followed by the immense calm of the Adagio from Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto. Hugely popular yet never sounding tired, the Adagio was played (despite the odd memory slip) with poised serenity by clarinettist Catherine Cahill. A Mozart duet for violin and viola was less memorable – a lack of clear pulse made the dialogue between the two instruments difficult to follow.

Jessica Gethin leading a chamber version of the Perth Symphony Orchestra

The program moved into eerie territory with Schnittke’s Moz-Art á la Haydn, conducted by Jessica Gethin with Wright and Lucas O’Brien as soloists. Schnittke’s montage of Haydn and Mozart quotes mashed with discordant harmonies was the perfect soundscape for the building. The swaying gothic skirts of the orchestral players, the dim lighting and the chords echoing beyond the spotlights into the long warehouse added to the slightly macabre edge.

Two movements from Shostakovich’s String Quartet No 8 (arrranged for string orchestra) followed on beautifully. Gethin drew out an intensely melancholic Largo and the Allegro molto movement had a visceral energy. The program took another twist to include Albinoni/Giazotto’s Adagio for Strings. Again a well-known work sounded fresh with a relentless pizzicato bass line and lyrical melody generating heart-tugging climaxes.

Jessica Gethin and the PSO. Photo Richard Jefferson

The final surprise on the program was three percussionists who literally played the building, starting in the scaffolding and working their way to the front of the stage for a train inspired adaption of Argenziano’s Stinkin’ Garbage. Industrial noise mingled with whistles and shouts to reconstruct the sounds of the venue in its workshop days. The evening closed with Mozart’s Divertimento in D, directed with finesse by Wright. The sparse phrases of the slow movement in particular can be so unforgiving but they were immaculately contoured - the epitome of elegance and the sign of a tight ensemble.

It was an impressive night, full of creativity and multiple opportunities to connect. Another indication that if you dig below the surface in Perth’s classical music scene to the small-medium arts sector you will discover the future of classical music is in very good hands.

This review first published in Limelight Magazine 2017.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Voyces concert a window into fabulous Aussie music

Voyces is a group of 30-or-so young things directed by Dr Robert Braham and dedicated to high quality choral music. Five years in and Voyces has the hallmarks of a well-established group with a loyal following – their Saturday night concert at Government House Ballroom sold out! What really sets them apart is their emphasis on music by Australian composers and their concert was a window into the fabulous music currently being written for choral groups.

Vocyes. photo Nik Babic

The concert opened with a lively version of Waltzing Matilda by Ruth McCall, of Song Company fame. A chant in Aboriginal dialect set up a rhythmic dance feel which contrasted with spooky harmonies for “And his ghost can be heard...”. The choir sang with energy and proved themselves adept at harmonic overtone singing, a vocal technique requiring the singer to manipulate their vocal cavity to produce multiple sounds from the harmonic series. It gave an otherworldly feel and was part of the melting pot of ideas McCall drew on in this quirky piece.

The concert covered a wide variety of poetry including Henry Lawson’s On the Night Train, set by Joseph Twist who also wrote an haunting Lament using Latin text from Giacomo Carissimi’s oratorio Jephte and underpinned by a rhapsodic cello solo performed by Anna Sarcich.

Poetry by Perth’s Kevin Gillam was the inspiration for Iain Grandage’s Wheatbelt, a depiction of the troubled beauty of a rural landscape. The use of percussion and onomatopoeia to depict insects, wind and birds created an evocative sound world offset by the denseness of close harmonies. Printing Gillam’s lyrics in the program notes would’ve deepened the experience even further. Hush had similarly clever use of vocal percussion with Grandage’s characteristic fast rhythmic text settings bursting into soaring lyrical melodies.

As the program continued it became clear that the choir have a penchant for strong, enveloping soundscapes. Dan Walker’s Vast Sea. Sleeping Mother had a rocking string quartet accompaniment amplified by percussion, piano and long unsion vocal lines to create the vast rolling of the sea. Walker’s Hooves of Fate was the group’s first commission in 2015 and Walker’s bold nine-part choral writing and the pounding of hooves conveyed by the percussion packed a hefty dramatic punch. Until now the choir had been singing with a clean, contained quality but after interval the repertoire demanded more and Braham drew a broader, more symphonic choral sound from the group.

Ben Van Tienen’s accessible harmonic language in Across the Dark matched the direct whimsy of Leunig’s poetry. A tongue in cheek tango about the dangerous animal known as Australian politics (excellent piano accompaniment by Ann Clarke) had the audience chuckling while the thick homophonic sound of Lonely Mother Earth made a powerful lament. Van Tienen’s I Carry Your Heart With Me and Matthew Orlovich’s effervescent Butterflies Dance (which suffered occasional pitch issues) were gentle interludes. The concert concluded with the choir at full throttle for Orlovich’s dense setting of Judith Wright’s poem Night. A didgeridoo solo by Steve Richter established a weighty pulse and the piece unfolded with the ponderous density of Wright’s ‘great tree’ as four percussionists added their layers to the choir, creating a stunning orchestral density.

Voyces debut album Hush 

It’s clear Voyces like their concerts to be a vivid aural experience and the good news is now you can take it home with you; the concert marked the launch of their debut album Hush, featuring the all-Australian repertoire we heard at the concert in a crisp, warm recording.

The Hush album is available from www.voyces.com.au, iTunes, Spotify and Google Play.
Voyces next concert is Tundra on September 16th. 

Monday, 5 June 2017

Celebrity Soft Spot Robert Braham and Voyces

Robert Braham has been conducting Perth choirs for decades with the kind of magic that can extract joyful, enthusiastic singing even from teenage school boys. His new ensemble Voyces is attracting attention for its clean, fresh sound. They have performed at the opening of the 2016 Perth International Arts Festival,  collaborated with artists the calibre of Emma Matthews and Sara Macliver and built a reputation for commissioning Australian composers. Voyces' debut album will be launched this week at a concert called Hush.

Robert Braham. Photos Nic Babic Photography

What music gets your heart racing?

Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto springs to mind but virtuosic jazz playing is just as good. Wycliffe Gordon on trombone is a current favourite but I always come back to Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Centre Orchestra where everyone is a virtuoso player.

What calms you down?

There are some wonderful current composers of choral music and vocal solos. Henryk Gorecki’s  Symphony of Sorrowful Songs (No. 3, Op. 36) for soprano and orchestra is just the ticket but on the a cappella choral side the works of Ola Gjeilo, Paul Mealor and others are both rich and calming at the same time. These and other modern choral composers know how to write so expressively for choir. Voyces will do some Ola Gjeila in their September concert.

What do you sing along to?

Symphonies mainly. I think this comes from my time as a horn player, especially the Romantic repertoire. Of course I cannot help but sing along with the symphonic choir repertoire; Handel’s Messiah, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, the works of Vaughan Williams. The list would be long. It is what I conducted for 14 years with the Perth Oratorio Choir.

What was your original vision behind the creation of Voyces choir?

The original vision behind Voyces was a youth aged choir who would sing a lot of contemporary classical music and especially Australian composers. After the WA Youth Music Association choir finished up a group of ex Trinity College boys who were members of the WAYMA Chorale wanted to start a new choir. It was based in St Joseph’s Church in Subiaco for a while and so was called the St Joseph’s Chamber Choir. Now we are based at Trinity College but still have our annual Christmas concert at St Joseph’s. The age of the choir has also expanded.

The choir membership has always been based on selecting highly trained musicians who get what it is to sing quality choral contemporary music. They don’t all have to be highly trained singers but they do need to have good musical skills and be quick learners. We love presenting quality modern choral works that our audience will enjoy. Sometimes that involves breaking down the traditional choir model of stand and sing. At our Spin concert, last year, we had several pieces where the choir moved around the stage while singing with images projected onto a screen and one piece where we started in the auditorium with a dramatized political narrative and ended on stage with some very intense singing. You can pretty well guarantee that the audience will hear works they have never heard before at a Voyces concert. Always interesting but also accessible. With our June 10 concert the program will be all Australian works including works for choir, percussion and strings. Every piece is novel and musically wonderful.

Voyces sing Night by Matthew Orlovich, 2016.

How are you preparing for the Hush concert on June 10th at the Government House Ballroom?

The preparation for the concert is tied in with the preparation for the recordings. The choir is doing such detailed work for the recording that it is ideal for concert preparation. The difference is we mainly sing concerts from memory but record with the scores so we have yet to test how the memorization is going. I am sure with all the recording time the memory work will almost take care of itself. Fingers crossed.

Voyces will also release an album as part of this concert – why did you decide to make an album?

Our public has been asking about a CD recording for quite a while now. It is time I think to put some of the repertoire down that we think defines who we are as a choir. We were also very keen to record ‘Hooves of Fate’, a work we commissioned from Australian composer Dan Walker as well as other pieces that we either premiered, or, were versions of compositions that have not been recorded.

Voyces has commissioned and performed a significant amount of new choral music in the five years since its inception. Why is it important to be singing music by contemporary Australian composers?

There are wonderful young and established Australian composers writing choral music. There are also a multitude of good choirs in Australia these days. They should be championing Australian music. I  love building the relationship between a choir and a composer. It is a very personal thing having music written for your choir. It also comes with great challenges and ultimately  (even with an open conversation between the composer and yourself) the end result can still be full of wonderful musical surprises. I have never been disappointed with a commissioned work. You have to trust but also be prepared to take a risk. 

At Trinity College we commissioned Paul Jarman to write a work for the Senior Chorale for our USA tour. Paul warned me that it was not what our original intentions had been but thought I and more importantly the boys would love it. He even left a section open to workshop with the boys over a weekend. By the end of the weekend the boys owned and knew the piece. It was a great hit. If anyone has a youth male choir try it. It is called ‘Let Go of My Hand’.

Mark Applebaum says music should above all else be interesting. What do you think is the most important role of music?

That is the million-dollar question. Music is tied up with life, with the evolution of humans since before language. It is a part of every culture. It represents the extremes of emotion, it lifts us and it calms us. It is a great discipline to be involved with for there are so many skills in the art of music making. It lights up more of the brain than most other human activities so it has to be mentally healthy as well. It is something we all should have in our lives at some level. I think it was the great conductor Zubin Mehta commenting on an orchestral concert in the middle east who said something like: while the audience is absorbed in the music they at least have peace in their lives. It is a nice thought.

Voyces with Sara Macliver at St Joseph's Church Subiaco

You have a soft spot for choral music – why the voice?

Choirs were not my first choice of music making. I sang at school but mainly played orchestral music through university. Eight years in the orchestral pit with the Western Australian Arts Orchestra playing for opera in particular was a great education watching conductors and singers interact. My first real conducting work was in music theatre. From there I took on the Perth Oratorio Choir and discovered a whole world of large-scale choral music. So getting into choral work happened slowly at first and was paralleled by conducting opportunities. 

Your day job is director of music at Trinity College. The only time most Aussies practice communal singing (!) is at the footy – how do you go about teaching school boys to sing?

There is a great culture of singing at Trinity established over many years. Boys need to be given the chance to sing with other boys and the more the merrier. If you can get them through the vocal transition successfully they progress from loving their treble voices to loving their mature voices. They love bold sounds, they love rich harmonies and they love rhythmic interest. And if they love it they bring their mates. If you can build a culture where the whole senior school sings then developing expressive choral singing in teenage boys is just a refinement. It is always hard work but once they are hooked with quality repertoire there is no turning back. We also make sure the younger boys get the opportunity to hear the older boys. Aspiration means a lot in a boys’ school and a bit of competition never hurts.

Voyces perform Tanguendo by Oscar Escalada with 
dancers Geoff Hendrikse and Jelena Martinovic, 2016.

The choir will be heading to Choralfest later this month. What will your role be there?

Voyces is a guest choir at Choralfest. It is our second venture to the Australian National Choral Association festival. We will sing two separate programs of Australian music from our CD along with other fine Australian choirs. It is a great chance to network for the choristers and conductors and there will be wonderful international people there to work with and learn from. It is not often that choirs of this level actually get together and sing to a choral community so it is a real buzz. Always a bit of pressure but that will sharpen the performance.

Where did you learn the skills to direct a choir?

On the job would have to be the best answer to this question. Attending master classes and symposiums, observing and discussing conducting with other conductors and then implementing changes to what you do over many years. It is an ongoing process. Recently I attended the Vancouver Chamber Choir conductors’ symposium working with Jon Washburn. It was an intense week working with a professional choir but it was highly motivating.

Can you describe the unique sound of Voyces?

It is the sound of young, switched on musicians who love what they do. It is fresh, clean and always exciting.

Robert Braham

What is your favourite place in Perth?

I love our back garden. It is such a calming place to sit and enjoy. I have always loved the view of the city from Kings Park. It must be one of the best city views in Australia. I also love the combination of the old and new in some of Perth’s architecture – like St Mary’s Cathedral and of course the Mt Lawley strip for Saturday morning shopping.

Do you have a soft spot for anything else in life or is it all about the music?

I love art especially pastels and used to do quite a bit of drawing. Maybe it is something I will get back to when life is not so hectic. The gym has become quite addictive in recent years. I am also a sucker for good Nordic Noir and BBC dramas. Of course there is always the cricket.

Thank you to Robert Braham for participating in the Celebrity Soft Spot series. Voyces will launch their debut CD at the Hush concert on June 10th. For more information about upcoming concerts go to the Voyces website or check them out on Facebook.

Monday, 29 May 2017

June Gig Guide

June is a rich month of music for all the ages; dive in and enjoy! 

It is particularly action-packed  for the West Australian Symphony Orchestra who will present four mainstage orchestral concerts plus the explosive energy of Education Week with its multiple concerts for children and their families. 

On June 2/3rd WASO have a colourful program planned with Stravinsky's Firebird Suite and Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun plus winner of the Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition Ayako Uehara  making her WASO debut performing Bartók’s Piano Concerto No.3. On the 9/10th the guest artist is Stefan Dohr, principal horn from the Berlin Philharmonic, performing Strauss' Horn Concerto - WOW! Then the world of jazz takes over with concerts on the 16/17th with leading Australian stage and screen stars in a modern and audacious take on all-time swing classics from Sinatra to Bublé. On the 30/1st Chopin expert Louis Lortie Plays Chopin’s Concerto no 1 in a program which also includes Dvorak's Seventh Symphony 

This year for Education Week (19-25th) WASO has invited award winning British composer and music educationist Paul Rissmann us for a week-long musical adventure exploring gorgeous children's books across a variety of  interactive programs. The concerts include school shows Sir Scallywag and the Golden Underpants, The Beat of Your Feet and The Lion Who Loved  plus a Conductor Masterclass with Ben Northey. The Rusty Orchestra is also back with a concert on the 24th June featuring community musicians playing alongside WASO players in a concert with the biggest amount of heart you're likely to hear.

If you have children come with us on Sunday 25th - we will be checking out the family concert The Beat of Your Feet, about a music-loving dog and cat and their musical adventure to find the Greatest Orchestra in the World. The concert is a mix of music, illustrated projections and audience participation, based on the book Stan and Mabel by Jason Chapman with vocals by Libby Hammer. 

Meanwhile the rest of the music community has some lovely offerings this month, including two particularly stunning vocal concerts: the Giovanni Consort singing French Chansons on the 4th, and   Voyces on the 10th celebrating their fifth anniversary with a concert of all-Australian music and the launch of their debut album Hush.

On the 11th there is a a triple whammy with the Darlington Trio offering Brahms, Musica Viva launching their national tour of the Pacifica Trio (including a world premiere by Nigel Westlake) and the experimental trio The Necks presented by Tura New Music.

Perth Chamber Orchestra (the little sister of Perth Symphony) is performing an intriguing concert in Midland on the 14th called Steampunk Mozart, which promises industrial-inspired music, food, wine, a sound installation and the magic of Mozart conducted by Jessica Gethin. Then in larger form the Perth Symphony Orchestra will also perform on the 27th with the WA Academy of Performing Arts Gospel Choir in a concert dedicated to the music of George Michael.

Also on at WAAPA this month is the second and third year students performance of 42nd Street opening on the 17th. 

Friday, 26 May 2017

Freeze Frame debuts with nineties grunge La Boheme

I just had to squeeze in one more review this month to make sure everyone heard about the debut opera by Freeze Frame Opera. WA’s new opera company promises to be to opera what 20/20 is to cricket: shaking up the opera experience with shorter, more accessible and exciting operas. The company, founded by soprano Harriet O’Shannessy, has generated much attention in Western Australia and tickets to their debut production of La Boheme sold out before the four-night season opened. Judging from the response on Thursday’s opening night the audience were not disappointed.

Puccini’s verismo opera depiction of 1830’s Parisian Bohemian life was condensed to 90 minutes and updated to the nineties. Director Rachel McDonald emphasised the grittiness and grime of the world of Mimi and Rodolfo.

Paul O'Neill (Rodolfo) and Harriet O'Shannessy (Mimi).
Photos c John Marshall, Terriffic Pictures

 Designer Robbie Harrold’s apartment set was filthy with its pizza boxes, dirty dishes, microwave popcorn and a derelict plastic Christmas tree taking me back to the student common room during my university days. The banter between Rodolfo and his three student flatmates involved food fights, beer, and bongs. Every inch of the small stage at the Camelot Theatre was used and the action often spilled into the audience. In Act 2 the theatre was transformed with a disco ball and fairy lights (Geoff Glencross) into Cafe Momus where Musetta was a singer and Rodolfo and his friends made a rowdy audience, provoking the owner and graffitiing obscenities on the chalk board. Musetta poured an entire bottle of champagne over herself during her titillating ‘Quando me’n vo’, much to the disbelieving delight of the audience and the agony of her ex-lover Marcello.

Lachlan Lawton (Schaunard)

Large sections of the opera were cut by music director Tommaso Pollio including the street scenes from Act 2, the orchestral opening to Act 3, the role of Alcindoro and most of the repeats within arias. But the relationships remained intact, and that is the edifice on which La Boheme hangs. Pollio performed Puccini’s condensed score from a baby grand piano, sounding clean, bright and with moments of real tenderness. I admit to being surprised by how well this worked; rather than feeling like the orchestra was missing, the piano instead enhanced the intimate cabaret/music hall feel.

Within all of this colour and energy the tumultuous relationship of Mimi and Rodolfo took centre stage thanks to immersive performances by Harriet O’Shannessy and Paul O’Neill. O’Shannessy’s Mimi was shy, sweet and sung with creamy depth, although her diction was missing some consonants. Her whisper-soft phrases in the tragic final act were golden hued. O’Neill also made great use of the intimate acoustics, reining in his quite voluptuous tenor for moments of candid vulnerability, particularly in his duet ‘O buon Marcello’. The famous tenor aria ‘Che gelida manina’ was sung with seemingly endless breath supply and magnificent lingering top notes.

Sam Roberts-Smith conveyed a tormented Marcello with a relaxed vocal delivery and mellow buttery tone. Naomi Johns was a gutsy Musetta, stealing the show in all the right ways whenever she was onstage. Paull-Anthony Keightley’s philosophical Colline was a grounding presence and foil to Lachlann Lawton’s drugged, somewhat callous Schaunard.

The cast and director took many liberties with the libretto but the condensed form and colloquial translation did the job of keeping the audience abreast of the banter and poetry unfolding onstage. And the poetic moments were heart wrenching, as out of the filth and anarchy shone humour and compassion, sung with immense beauty and committed acting. Opera at its best!

This review first published in Limelight magazine May 2017.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Trouble in Tahiti up close and personal in Perth's western suburbs

There was a moment on entering Lost and Found’s production of Bernstein’s Trouble and Tahiti when I hesitated. I was walking through a stranger’s house and instinctively turned to greet Dinah in the kitchen preparing breakfast. Then I remembered this was just a set and hurried past a boy at the kitchen table to take my seat in the patio.

This is the magic of Perth opera company Lost and Found: they present opera so physically and emotionally close to the audience that the work takes on an (often uncomfortable) personal resonance. Director Thomas de Mallet Burgess likes to plumb the psychological depths of opera and so Bernstein’s exploration of a loveless marriage is set in a suburban home in Perth’s affluent western suburbs where the lure of white goods and ‘silver screens’ is just as potent as it was in 1951.

Sam and Dinah have a picture perfect life but despite their possessions and accomplishments they are trapped in a dysfunctional marriage. From my seat on the patio I could see wilted roses in a vase, Junior (Rory McLaughlin) immersed in headphones and a screen and Dinah in the kitchen, the squeak of her sneakers on the polished floorboards the only noise in the otherwise deafening silence.

Helen Sherman (Dinah) with Christopher Tonkin (Sam) in the background. All photos c Kristoffer Myhre

Tyler Hill’s set design included stacks of removalist boxes - a catalogue of unused possessions and also an innovative backdrop for the vocal trio (Bernstein’s “Greek chorus born of the radio commercial”) who functioned as removalists. Kieran Lynch, Curtis Novacsek and Rachel Singer were dressed as tradies and crooned close harmonies, jazz rhythms and sugar-coated lyrics with velveteen smoothness while ticking off items required to live the American dream: ‘Sheridan sofa, Chippendale chair, bone chinaware, real solid silver’.

The entire 45 minute opera unfolded in the living room which converted to Sam’s office, the street and a cinema. Pianist Christopher van Tuinen accompanied from the adjoining lounge, his clean technique and tender phrasing creating subtle background atmosphere. The audience sat in raked seating in the patio with the double doors to the starkly lit home (lighting by Devon Lovelady) creating a cinema screen of sorts.

One of Lost and Found’s strengths has been its casting of local world class singers. This year the company has toured a production to Victoria (and Paris in 2018) and seems to be spreading its wings, which perhaps explains the use of internationally-based singers for this show. It is disappointing for the local talent but there was no argument that Sam and Dinah were magnificently cast.

Sam was sung by Australian baritone Christopher Tonkin who is resident principal with Hannover Staatsoper and Dinah by mezzo soprano Helen Sherman who splits her time between the UK and east-coast Australia. Tonkin’s creamy baritone and sweet falsetto were a treat to listen to in close proximity while his chiselled features and contemptuous body language gave an extra arrogance to ‘There’s a Law’, sung after winning a hand ball tournament and while leaning against the patio door dressed in nothing but stars and stripes swimmers.

Tonkin (Sam) singing There's a Law

Sherman’s secure delivery, crisp diction and fast vibrato could also melt into moments of tearful fragility. Her Island Magic tribute to the Pacific islands was sensational, sung cabaret-style in a camilla dress complete with a bubbling volcano (courtesy of a champagne bottle and some aspirin) around which she sashayed with riotous extravagance.

It was unclear whether Sam and Dinah were moving into or out of their house; rather they seemed to be waiting in between. The coldness of their home with its stark lighting and boxed possessions was a powerful metaphor of the uncertainty of their relationship. The kernel of the opera thus became the ‘talk’ Sam initiated in the final scene, where any hope of resolution was quickly avoided by his suggestion they go to the movies. Sam’s silver screen substitution for intimacy couldn’t be clearer to the audience watching with voyeuristic fascination from our cinema seats on the patio.

Trouble in Tahiti runs until May 20th. Tickets are sold out.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Women of Note at Bassendean Library and RTRFM

The public speaking gigs just keep rolling in and I'm loving it!

Bassendean Library have asked me to present at their Literary Salon on Wednesday 17th May - think musical soiree with High Tea, stunning music and scandalous stories from Australia's women composers. It's the perfect event to take your mother to for Mother's Day! I have also invited some local friends as Bassendean is just down the road from us in Guildford.

I'm heading into RTRFM tomorrow, book under my arm, to promote the Literary Salon. Tune in to 92.1FM at 10:10am to hear me chatting on Artbeat about Women of Note and why women composers are so inspiring and intrinsic to Australia's music history.

"Everything I've ever wanted to do would've been easier... had I been a boy. But never mind, I never paid much attention to it, I just marched in and there I was." Peggy Glanville-Hicks

"The world at large thinks a woman can't be creative. A woman can contribute in a special way. I don't think women want to write the same type of thing as men, but their contribution is no less important."  Margaret Sutherland

The Literary Salon is 6-8pm Wednesday 17th May at Bassendean Memorial Library. This is a free event but places are limited. Go online to book or contact baslib@bassendean.wa.gov.au 9279 2966 

Saturday, 6 May 2017

The surprise highlight of the St George's Cathedral Choral Classics

St George’s Cathedral was strung with microphones for the first of four concerts throughout the year which will be broadcast on ABC Classic FM. It’s a testimony to director Joseph Nolan and the Cathedral Consort’s national reputation as a world class choir grounded in the crisp purity of the English choral tradition. The 21-piece Consort performed a program of choral classics spanning the 16th to 21st centuries with Faure’s Requiem as the centrepiece. The pews were reversed so the ensemble could perform from the Narthex on Friday night in close proximity to Stewart Smith in the organ loft.

Two 16th century works opened the program: Victoria’s Alma Redemptoris Mater with its intervals of open fourths and fifths so perfectly tuned the harmonics prickled my skin, and the dense polyphonic energy of Gibbons’ O Clap Your Hands.  Nolan conducted with pulsing energy although the section entries were not as precisely in unison as usual.

Smith’s striking organ chords gave a Gothic darkness to the opening of Faure’s Requiem and the work was rich with dramatic poise, notably the velveteen smoothness of the Amen concluding the Offertorium and the swell of sound to illuminate ‘et lux perpetua luceat eis’ in the Agnus Dei.

But the work wasn’t the musical centrepiece I was expecting. I missed the warmth of the orchestral accompaniment; the organ registrations were brittle, phrases clipped short and the rippling accompaniment to Sanctus (famously scored for harp and violin) felt too fast and mechanical. The soloists were tentative: baritone Andrew Foote warmed into the baritone role in his second solo and Edward Micro’s treble was pure and rounded but on the edge of cracking.

Instead William Walton’s The Twelve emerged as the highlight of the program. The biting harmonies and dramatic word painting of Walton’s anthem and mini cantata were sung with vigour and unity. Foote delivered a splendidly declamatory solo and Smith exploded into brillante organ arpeggios. The Consort sung with immaculate diction and rhythmic precision and the ensemble soloists were excellent, particularly the beautifully delivered soprano duo.

The spotlight on individual Consort singers was also the highlight of Charpentier’s Te Deum, providing a rare chance to hear the different timbres within this well-blended ensemble. The organ sat more organically in this arrangement. In fact the entire second half of the program was pristine, concluding with a setting of Ubi Caritas by Perry Joyce (a tenor from the Consort) which was a warmly mellow contrast to Handel’s Zadok the Priest where the choir sang with enormous volume underpinned by Smith’s virtuosic organ semiquavers.

Tune in to ABC Classic FM to hear the broadcast of this concert on Friday 12th May at midday.

This review first published in Limelight Magazine May 2017.

Friday, 28 April 2017

May Gig Guide - A massive month!

Welcome to May and a massive month of gigs.

The focus this month appears to be new music, kicking off with the Moscow Contemporary Music Ensemble who are currently giving a national tour. They perform a program of Russian composers and a new work by Aussie composer Michael Smetanin on May 2nd at the Subiaco Arts Centre.

The new music continues on 4th – 6th with Defying Gravity percussion ensemble from the Academy of Performing Arts in collaboration with Kaboom percussion. Also at WAAPA on 8-12th is the Sound Spectrum Festival, the first of two festivals celebrating the composers and performers from WAAPA including an audio visual concert on the 10th titled Video Killed the Radio Star.

Meanwhile on May 5th the St George’s Cathedral Consort will perform Faure’s Requiem and Walton’s The Twelve and on the 7th the prodigious 14 year old Shuan Hern Lee will give a piano recital at 4pm as part of UWA's Keyed Up! series.

The Perth Symphony Orchestra are presenting Bach by Candlelight on the 6th at St Matthew's church Armadale with a sumptuous program full of surprises including Bach's double violin concerto led by Paul Wright and Jasmin Parkinson-Stewart, plus a guest appearance by jazz musician Jamie Oehlers and complimentary wine, tied together by narration from Chris Isaacs!

This month the WA Symphony Orchestra will perform in some special events including a concert with The Whitlams on the 3rd as part of the band's 25th Anniversary Tour and performances on the 5/6th of John Williams' live soundtrack to Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. On the 28th the WASO Chorus under Christopher van Tuinen will perform Faure's Requiem at St Mary's Cathedral (yes that's the second performance this month!).

It's also an exciting month for opera. Lost & Found opera company's much-anticipated first production for the year will be a novel presentation of Trouble in Tahiti running from the 12-20th May at a suburban house in City Beach. And Freeze Frame opera make their first whole opera debut with an abridged version of La Boheme running the 25th-28th at the art deco Camelot Theatre, Mosman Park.

On the 14th the Darlington String Quartet will perform their first concert for the year featuring Shostakovich, Webern, Haydn and on the 21st the Perth Symphonic Chorus perform classics by Bach and Lauridsen's Lux Aeterna feautring Sara Macliver and Paull Anthony-Kneightly under the direction of Margaret Pride.

Alexandra Da Costa will feature in repertoire by Beethoven in concerts at WAAPA from the 19-20th while at UWA on the 22nd UWA students will compete at the Perth Concert Hall in the grand final for the Vose Concerto Competition.

Guitarist Slava Grigoryan joins the Australian String Quartet for a national tour kicking off in Perth on the 23rd and also that night Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt will perform Bach and others as part of a Musica Viva national tour. I recommend attending the fascinating and incredibly witty pre-concert talk for this concert which will be presented by yours truly ;-)

The month ends with some more new music with Tura new music presenting the GreyWing Ensemble (includes Lindsay Vickery, Jameson Feakes and Catherine Ashley) in a Scale Variable concert built around the music of Brazil.

Happy listening!

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Celebrity Soft Spot Shuan Hern Lee

Shuan Hern Lee's life with music began when he was two years old. Now at age 14 the pianist, composer and singer is studying a voice degree at the University of Western Australia. Last year he made his debut with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra and won the San Marino International Piano Competition and the International Piano Competition for Young Musicians (Netherlands). He also loves nerf guns. Meet Perth's teenage prodigy.

What music gets your heart racing?

All types of  Classical Music, especially music of Chopin, Liszt and Rachmaninoff.  Pieces such as Hungarian Rhapsodies by Liszt and Spanish Rhapsody by Liszt, and also Islamey by Balakirev.  Basically all virtuosic pieces make my heart race fast.

What calms you down?

Slow pieces by Chopin such as slow movements of sonatas, nocturnes, Barcarolle and other slow pieces of other composers calm me down. 

What do you sing along to?

I sing along to all the pieces I practice as this helps me feel the cantabile style in music and tonal projection. 

You made history last year when you were the youngest person to be awarded the Fellowship in Music Australia (FMusA), the highest and most prestigious award offered by the AMEB. Do you consider yourself to be a musical genius?

I don’t believe in the word genius. It is all about working really hard. I took the exam as an experience and did not bother about the result. I enjoy performing a lot and especially solo recitals and therefore the full 80 mins program requirement for the F.Mus.A diploma exam gave me a platform to perform many pieces which I thoroughly enjoyed. It is certainly an honour to obtain such a prestigious award and all the hours of practice made it possible.

Shuan Hern Lee on The Voice (kids)
Your incredible career has so far included a performance in Carnegie Hall (aged 7), a concert with the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra and starring on the Voice Kids show in Delta Goodrems team. What has been the highlight of your musical career so far?

I have performed concerto works with many professional orchestras in various countries but I really enjoyed performing Grieg’s piano concerto with the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra in the Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow and also Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto with WASO last year because it is a really great orchestra and the acoustic of Perth Concert Hall is fantastic. 

How are you preparing for your UWA Keyed Up concert on May 7th?

I choose pieces that I really enjoy performing and practice really hard and many hours daily. I work out details of each piece and search for the meaning of each work and prepare technical and musical aspects of the pieces. To perform for the audience is such a joy for me and to bring them into a musical journey filled with many variety of pieces, moods and styles is what I aim to present for this concert. 

You do a lot of performing how do you deal with nerves and performance anxiety?

I never become nervous or have performance anxiety.  I have been performing since 3 and it has become a natural thing for me to do. I always pray before each performance that I will perform very well and communicate with my audience and I prepare and practice really hard before each performance so I have no regrets. 

Watch excerpts from Shuan Hern Lee's winning performance at the San Marino International Piano Competition 2016

American composer Mark Applebaum says music should above all else be interesting. What do you think is the most important role of music?

I totally agree that music should be interesting. The most important role of music is that of a language that is universal and it surpasses all nationality and race. It is most important that music speaks to us and the musician communicates to us through the tool which is the music. By speaking to us, music should make us feel different emotions at different periods of time.

You have been homeschooled and began your music education at the age of two and a half, studying piano, voice and composition with your dad. What is it like having a dad who is also your music teacher?

Shuan Hern Lee with parents
I am very fortunate to have been born into a musical family and also with my dad as my music teacher.  It is certainly very handy as you get 24 hours advice and I believe that many famous musicians come from musical parents too.  I have always enjoyed lessons with dad and also with him practicing with me, because he has always made the piano like a toy for me.  Having lessons with dad was always wonderful and it is a huge advantage because I could have as many lessons as I want. During the lessons, we discuss about music, historical aspects of piano playing and he incorporates all sorts of fun games when teaching me and practicing with me. For example he uses stuffed toys as puppets to make my practice fun and he incorporates running for 15 seconds after I have managed a part musically and then get back to the piano again.  Sometimes he makes me sit on a gym ball while practicing Chopin etudes. Therefore we have sport and piano practice simultaneously.  It was so fun!

This year you have begun a degree at UWA studying voice. What is it like being a university student?

It is very enjoyable to be a university student and good to meet different students, lecturers and discuss music as our common interest.  It is rather strange for me as a 14 year old to be amongst the older tertiary age students. My mum has to drive me to UWA and accompany me to lecturers and tutorials for the reason to provide duty of care.  But I feel really honoured and privileged to be at a tertiary institution and the youngest at the UWA school of music.

What do you enjoy most about music?

I enjoy being able to communicate with the audience and to be able to interpret various styles when learning.  Also I enjoy taking up the challenge to master a piece of sophisticated music. 

You have a soft spot for the voice. Why have you chosen to pursue voice above all your other musical interests at university level?

I have always liked to sing since from a very young age. I sing in church and attends my dad’s Bridge Choir and our local church choir regularly. My dad has taught me singing for many years and I would like it to compliment my piano performance. But of course I may end up being both a singer and a pianist professionally in the future. Chopin always wanted his students to take up singing lessons, so I strongly believe that it will help me with my piano performance. I have perfect pitch and I memorise pieces and songs quickly, so I thought singing would be the most appropriate subject for me. I also played the violin and cello for a few years but I still prefer singing and obviously top of the list is still piano.

Shuan Hern Lee aged 8.

Where did you learn the skills to practice for six hours a day?

To practice six hours a day is a discipline that I have developed since young and anyone could do it with determination. I find it the same thing as how a runner prepares for a cross country marathon race. The amount of spirit and motivation it takes for one to run from the beginning to the end of a race, is similar to the motivation that it takes to complete a 6 hour practice. I break up the 6 hours into a few slots, with breaks in between. I think that practicing many hours is very essential, due to the large amount of repertoire I want to work on.

What would you say to young children who are learning a musical instrument?

I would say that besides having the love to play the instrument, you need to be committed to practice it. Without practice and hard work nothing is possible. You must be able to transfer the love for the instrument into the motivation of mastering the instrument. Sometimes, music can also be fun, so try to find and incorporate different ways of practicing that will inspire yourself to practice and love the instrument more and more.

What is your favourite place in Perth?

My favourite place in Perth is the area around Riverside Drive and Elizabeth Quay. I go there quite often. I love to cycle down Riverside Drive then take relaxing walks around the quay. I also love to go down to beaches. I find it so soothing around rivers and beaches. The waves and currents calm me down and I always feel nostalgic around beaches.

Do you have a soft spot for anything else in life or is it all about the music?

I think no matter how much one practices piano, one will never perform well unless one has other experiences in life which will then enhance one’s performance. So even if I find myself very busy, I still find time for fun things like table tennis and nerf guns. I also like taking walks in parks, going to beaches, watching opera and playing archery. Sometimes I invite friends over for a nerf gun battle or a table tennis game. I hang out with my friends at church sometimes and I attend concerts with my dad’s students too. I like to travel on the plane and visit different airports all over the world. But eating is definitely on the top of my soft spot list. I love all kinds of cuisines especially Japanese. 

Thank you Shuan Hern Lee for participating in the Celebrity Soft Spot series. Shuan's next performance is at the UWA Keyed Up! concert on May 7th. For more details about Shuan go to his website and you can watch more performances on his YouTube channel.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Asher Fisch and WASO: what is the magic formula?

It's Friday morning and the West Australian Symphony Orchestra are in rehearsal. Principal conductor Asher Fisch arrives at the podium and picks up his baton, which has been accessorised with a ping pong ball. He holds it up for the orchestra to see and joins in the general laughter.

It is four years into the maestro's contract with the orchestra and the relationship has produced quite incredible results. Fisch has an obvious camaraderie with the orchestra, but there's also a marked improvement in the string blending, a more cohesive warmth from the winds and brass and profound detail in the musical interpretation. In a recent Limelight review Fisch was credited with transforming the orchestra into the best interpreters of German romantic repertoire this side of Germany. How has he done it?

WASO tuning up for their Friday rehearsal.

I sat in on a rehearsal this week to discover the magical formula. The concert this weekend includes Mozart, Stravinsky and Sibelius, a welcome relief for those of us who have found Fisch's programming focus on Beethoven, Brahms and Wagner a little conservative. It was the final rehearsal but there was still time for Fisch to relate the last time he was on the receiving end of an orchestral prank: his baton was substituted with a sausage during a performance of Manon and he used the sausage to conduct the remainder of the opera. More laughter from the orchestra and then the rehearsal began.

Mozart's Symphony No 29 took up most of the session. Much of it was nuts and bolts; correcting bowing and articulation, checking balance. Fisch often deferred to assistant conductor Elena Schwarz who was sitting in the auditorium following the score. The assistant conductor position was created under Fisch's tenure and the Swiss/Australian Schwarz is the second recipient following on from Christopher Dragon. Fisch turned often to look for her nod of confirmation: "Can you hear the violas?"; "How is the volume here?"

assistant Elena Schwarz
Fisch's direction was energised and even-handed, leaping lightly from his rehearsal stool to give direction to a phrase. At times he would try out an articulation with the orchestra before marking it in their parts and there was a sense of working it out together. "Yes that is better don't you think? Write it in." He used words sparingly and effectively: "Don't take this personally but it (the andante movement) sounds like Versailles and the nobility are eating chicken. Too relaxed. Which is how it was back then, but I want more."

Fisch listened to the opening of the symphony from the auditorium before asking for two-thirds less volume from the second violins, viola and cellos. The tempo was already quite moderate and the softer tone gave a hushed expectancy before erupting into the fully fledged theme, exploiting the pristine acoustics of the Perth Concert Hall.

The opening eight bars of the Minuet and Trio were worked over in detail to get the exact rise and fall. At bar 26 he stopped again: the violins needed to take time on the dotted rhythm before landing on the trill. They played it again and this time it had lift and elegance. "Perfect". Gradually the often lightweight minuet movement was transformed into a deftly elegant dance. Again in the fourth movement a simple request for a more energetic upbeat from the violins meant the whole phrase bristled with energy.

Slowly the symphony took on a distinct shape. The clean simplicity of Mozart can be unforgiving but FIsch's attention to detail was paying off. This was Mozart so distilled so that, like a miniature painting, the impact was compact and vivid.

Rehearsing Sibelius Symphony No 2

During the break I chatted with assistant concertmaster Semra Lee-Smith who confirmed that the orchestral players are just as delighted as the audience.

"I've been here 14 years and the last six or so years have been amazing. Now the emphasis is more on the music."

She describes Fisch's opening concert with the orchestra when he performed as a soloist in a Mozart piano concerto as a turning point.

"He started as one of us. I have so much respect that he performed as a pianist with us first. It feels like he is one of us. And he allows us to make mistakes and will laugh with us. That is really important."

After the break the rehearsal continued with a
top-and-tail of Stravinsky's Violin Concerto featuring concertmaster Laurence Jackson as soloist (a little hard to recognise casually attired in jeans and sneakers!). Jackson's incisive rhythm and bright sound gave a shining clarity to the rarely heard concerto. The ex-Birmingham Symphony Orchestra concertmaster joined the orchestra in 2016 and is no small part of WASO's transformation. Quietly spoken, unassuming and with faultless musical intuition he is respected and admired by the players. They warmly applauded him at the end of the rehearsal.

There was just time for a few touch ups to Sibelius' Symphony No 2. This is the first time Fisch has performed a Sibelius symphony and it marks a departure away from standard German romantic repertoire. Fisch has often commented about the chemistry he felt with WASO from the beginning and the more adventurous programming makes it is clear that now there is also trust.

His approach to rehearsing Sibelius showed the same detailed faithfulness to the score with an instinctive ear for balance and dynamic contrasts. Nothing that magical then. But combined with a world class concertmaster, orchestral players who feel like they are integral to the team and an organisational structure that puts the emphasis on the music the results are consistently outstanding. Later in the year the focus will be on Wagner's symphonic repertoire and there is a Tristan und Isolde planned for 2018. But I hope Fisch continues to expand his repertoire choices because as far as I can see the sky is the limit.

WASO will give their final performance of the Sibelius, Mozart and Stravinsky program tonight at the Perth Concert Hall.