Diving into Beethoven

Asher Fisch 11 credit Chris Gonz (2)

Over the next two weekends acclaimed conductor Asher Fisch is set to lead the Western Australian Symphony Orchestra through the massive challenge of playing all nine of Beethoven’s Symphonies.
Speaking to OUTinPerth Fisch described the event as a rare opportunity to take in the composers symphonies in one go.

“It’s a rare opportunity but lots of orchestras around the world have done this cycle. Like a string quartet will at some point in their career do a Beethoven cycle , I think it’s good for a orchestra to play his work in the context of the nine symphonies.” Fisch said.

The work will be presented in four concerts spread over two weekends, while this takes some commitment for audience, Fisch said it’s bound to be a rewarding experience.

Fisch admits he has some favourites among the nine pieces; “I love conducting the seventh, I love conducting the Eroica, and when you tackle the fifth again, for the hundredth time in your life you still say, ‘My God, it is a good symphony after all!’ We never think of the fifth.”

The appointment at the beginning of 2014 of Fisch as the WASO’s Principal conductor was a big coup for the orchestra. The renown conductor was previously the principal guest conductor of the Seattle Opera and served as the music director of the Vienna Opera and the Israeli Opera.

Upon his appointment Fisch said he wanted to work with the WASO because of the quality of our local orchestra. Fisch described the company as having an impressive calibre of musicians saying; “To me, this orchestra is a wonderful blend of British professionalism, American work ethic and German precision.”

Getting ready for the event is a big undertaking for the orchestra and one that requires some stamina from the orchestra and it’s conductor.

“I’ve discovered this week I’m completely exhausted,” Fisch laughs, “I’ve done some long Wagner operas, but this, everyone just has to be there and I think the biggest surprise for all of us is how much stamina it takes.”

“We’re getting ready for each concert with the same amount of rehearsal as we would for a regular concert, the only logistical challenge is that we now have to work for two weeks to prepare the majority of the symphonies, and then leave the last two weeks to prepare the final two. It’s a lot of work now, four rehearsals per concert.

“When you rehearse a few concerts in a row, it’s a bit like being ‘in a zone’, the language, the style is so similar, and then we start to develop our own orchestral language in playing the symphonies.”

For people who haven’t been to see a symphony concert before Fisch recommended this program as a great place to jump in the deep end.

“Who’d be better the Beethoven,” Fisch exclaimed, ‘You don’t do a Mozart cycle because there are too many, 41 symphonies! But with Beethoven you finish with the ninth, which is a very popular one, but all the rest at the same time, it’s very good for beginners.

“There’s nothing in common between the first symphony and ninth”, explains Fisch noting that the composer had a huge range of creativity across is work. “You can recognise Beethoven throughout, but the first and second is of the same production, then the third is a big revolution, and the fifth is another revolution and ninth with it’s singers at the end is another huge development, it’s an amazing journey from one through to nine!”

The WASO Beethoven Festival is on from August 21-31. 

Graeme Watson

Image: Chris Gonz

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