Having studied trombone and piano from a young age, I always thought it was funny that I hadn’t attended a Western Australian Symphony Orchestra performance till my second year of university (In a music degree!) They performed Gershwin and Bernstein’s West Side Story and it was riveting! That same year, I attended the Beethoven Festival with my mother and at this particular concert, they happened to be selling Asher Fisch CDs, including the 2004 Adelaide Ring Cycle. I bought a copy and put it on in the car, listened to Ride of the Valkyries and then proceeded to abandon it in my bottom drawer with all my other classical CDs… I forgot that I owned this CD of Asher Fisch conducting the likes of Lisa Gasteen and Stuart Skelton and It wasn’t until 2016 when I prepared to see my first Ring Cycle that I found it again.
… For those that might not know, Opera Australia’s 2016 Ring Cycle was a bit of a game changer for me in terms of my ability to listen, understand and love music. It seemed crazy to hear this music, written 150 years prior, producing sounds that I imagined accompanying great films like we hear today (Need I mention Apocalypse Now?) As a young audience member, I find it absolutely thrilling to be listening to this music for the first time and it creating such genuine and overwhelming reactions. When you’re listening to a piece for the first time, you’re not aware of all the little details the composer has written. You’re just judging the piece for what it is in that moment with untrained ears that are leading you in the adventure. Sometimes when listening to something, it can take multiple listens to understand where the composer is going… I’ve always found this with Britten: There’s a code you must break and once the code is broken it is the most sensational music! However, with Wagner, it’s like beginning an epic movie: It’s the opening to Star Wars or the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. It begins and you just know you’re in for an epic treat!
So… When you’re local Western Australian orchestra decides to perform this music under the baton of one of the world’s greatest Wagnerian conductors, you don’t exactly shy away from the experience! I was broke and I had to buy the cheapest tickets in the house – but I got there.
Asher Fisch’s enthusiasm for this music is evident from the moment he steps on the stage to conduct the first pieces. As well as excerpts from the Ring Cycle tonight, we were charmed by Marschner’s The Vampire Overture, Robert Schumann’s Scenes from Goethe’s Faust (Overture) and Liszt’s Mazeppa. Between each piece, Asher explained his reason for programming each number, creating links and educating the audience on this music and the instruments that it features. He played excerpts and leitmotifs, explaining every melody and theme that he thinks will intrigue and prepare the audience. This includes an explanation (and audience participation!) on polyrhythms for Forest Murmurs (From opera no 3 of the Ring Cycle, Siegfried). As he begins the opening of Das Rheingold (an extra treat for the audience – not in the program!), he explains Wagner’s use of instrumentation to create the sound of the Rhine.
Later on after interval, it becomes clear why Fisch has added the excerpt from Das Rheingold originally not noted. He warns the audience to keep an eye out for the Rhine theme during the performance of Siegfried’s Rhine Journey and then begins the piece. It takes about 8 minutes of Siegfried travelling before we reach this spine tingling moment in the music and when it arrived, it soared! A clear picture of Siegfried standing at the river became so evident to us, climaxing into this beautiful music that immediately brought tears to my eyes and goosebumps down my arms and spine. By introducing this theme to us earlier, we have a connection and understanding of this music that we would usually only receive if we were watching the actual opera live. This performance was the highlight of the evening for me and was played so beautifully by WASO.
The concert finished with the majestic Ride of the Valkyries (Is it really a Wagner concert if we don’t hear this piece?) and although played magnificently by WASO, I always feel the orchestral version is lacking without the cries of the Valkyries: Hotojoho!
Out of context and without the singers, these operatic excerpts need to be given a background – Not because they aren’t epic by themselves but because Wagner believed in Gesamtkunstwerk: A total work of art where everything is equally important from acting and sets to the music. Inspiring Wagner was an incredible opportunity for Perth audiences to see Asher Fisch in his best light: he not only spoke intelligently, but with such enthusiasm and excitement for this music. In occasional moments during the concert, Fisch’s microphone was left on and you could hear him singing along to the orchestra – An experience that just makes you smile! If you wish to have a glimpse of this wonderful conductor in action with a fabulous composer, there is still an opportunity to see WASO performing Wagner on Saturday night with Wagner’s World. This will feature bass-baritone Shane Lowrencev singing excerpts from Die Walkure, Die Meistersinger and Parsifal and is bound to be another great night of music – I’ll see you there!
Wagner’s World is on Saturday 9th September and 7:30pm in the Perth Concert Hall. Guest speaker Dr Sally Kester will be giving a pre-concert talk about Wagner and the music in the Terrace Level foyer which is apparently not to be missed! (I unfortunately missed it due to university commitments on Wednesday night…) Buy tickets here.
Note: For those wondering what might have happened to my Ring Cycle CDs, anyone who has ever been in my car will know that I play them on repeat. I apologise to anyone whose ever been in my car during the Immolation Scene, forced to sit there until it finishes… But yet again #sorrynotsorry
Written by Katherine Goyder