The West

Asher Fisch. Picture: Robert Duncan/The West Australian

After two shows under the stars at Perth Zoo to open the year, the WA Symphony Orchestra gets down to business at the Perth Concert Hall this weekend to start the tenure of maestro Asher Fisch.

The WASO starts its season having emerged from a tough 2013 with what is expected to be a trimmed-down surplus of about $50,000 when the books are reconciled next month.

WASO reported a $288,423 surplus last year but warned of uncertain trading conditions and limited options to improve its income stream through extra performances.

"2013 was a tough, tough year," chief executive Craig Whitehead said. "We will be one of the only orchestras in the country which will come out with a surplus result," he said.

Fisch flew in at the weekend to take over an orchestra which has undergone some changes since he was here last year as principal conductor-in-waiting in September, when he launched the 2014 season and conducted two concerts.

Over the Christmas break, WASO Chorus director Marilyn Phillips was replaced by Perth Festival classical music programmer Christopher van Tuinen and opera singer and teacher Andrew Foote was appointed vocal coach.

Associate concertmaster Margaret Blades also left and the WASO has yet to replace concertmaster Giulio Plotino.

Whitehead said he had instituted the end-of-contract changes to coincide with the transition in leadership from former principal conductor Paul Daniel and Fisch had been briefed on the changes.

Whitehead conceded the decisions had some destabilising effect but had been made for the long-term benefit of the orchestra.

"Not always are those decisions that you make popular decisions but you don't make decisions based on popularity," Whitehead said.

"There will be some fairly challenging works over the next two or three years with Asher and that will certainly set them up to achieve great things."

Fisch will present two weekends of concerts in Perth after a recent season of commitments in Italy and Germany.

"I am very excited," he said. "It flew by since my last visit. Based on the prelude, I know that we are in for a great journey."

Wagner is on the first 2014 concert program (the suite from Die Meistersinger) after Fisch presented excerpts from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde on his last visit.

Fisch will conduct from the keyboard in Mozart's Piano Concerto in D minor. The program also includes the overture from The Magic Flute and Richard Strauss' Death and Transfiguration.

"We are opening with Mozart, Wagner and Strauss, three of my favourite composers, but that's it for me for Wagner for the year," he said. "It is enough to just have one work but it is a work which is hardly ever performed in the concert hall . . . so that's why I chose to include it in my first program.

"Opening with the Mozart overture is like the mother of all beginnings and the piano concerto allows me to play with the musicians in chamber-music style, getting to know each other in a completely different plateau and music-making style."

Next weekend, the 56-year-old Israeli-born conductor will open with Brahms' tribute to university student life in the rousing and lively Academic Festival Overture, followed by Tchaikovsky's powerful Fourth Symphony.

"The two weeks are cutting through different periods and different styles and giving the orchestra a chance to work on completely different things with me."

A keystone of Fisch's 2014 season is a two-weekend festival in August devoted to Beethoven which will feature all nine of his symphonies, specialist talks, chamber works played by UWA music students and child-friendly "jam" sessions.

The festival is a response to two imperatives: an increasing appetite by audiences around the world for special-event programming such as festivals and Fisch's desire to embed his playing style into the orchestra as soon as possible.

The West Australian

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