The Israeli conductor spills on moulding the West Australian Symphony Orchestra.

What kind of repertoire do you plan to be working on with WASO?

For me it starts with Haydn – everything starts with Haydn. String quartets, symphonies, piano trios, concertos, you name it. Mozart as well of course. I play piano, so Mozart is very important for me. And Beethoven. We’re doing a Beethoven symphony cycle because it’s great for everybody – for me, for the orchestra, for our marketing department, for the Perth public.

What is so important about Beethoven’s symphonies for you?

Beethoven is the perfect way for me to get results quickly – especially if I work on the entire cycle rather than spreading the symphonies over the years. The basis of Romantic German playing is Beethovenian playing. You cannot do a Mozart cycle – it will not get you anywhere. If you do all Beethoven’s symphonies you can set a style very quickly – and I have to work quickly because I’m not here for enough weeks in the year. I want us to be able to do it American style – put a concert together in two rehearsals, dress and concert – efficiently, quickly, but maintaining a standard of playing that is never compromised.

You opened by conducting and playing Mozart. Was that a tough one?

I never suggest that I play myself – I’m a little humble on this. I’m a conductor who plays piano. On the other hand, it’s a great way to establish a relationship with an orchestra. You can ‘cut air’ very efficiently but they always suspect you don’t know what you’re doing. Until you sit down and play a phrase on an instrument they don’t really trust you. So it was part for them and part to introduce myself to the audience. I’m not going to sing though!

What were your first impressions of the orchestra?

Here’s an orchestra where you can do anything. They can play anything; they are open; they want to know what your style is and what you expect from them – and technically it is all there. I remember hearing the celli at the beginning of my first Verdi Requiem – I said, “yep, I can do anything here”.

And what are your ambitions for WASO?

It’s an opportunity for me to put into practice everything that I’ve learned from great orchestras, great conductors, and from studying over the years. A chance to see if I can shape an orchestra to be my ideal sound. Technically they are capable of doing it. Let’s be very honest: I had an orchestra in Israel. I could do whatever I wanted with them, but they didn’t have the level of playing to really create something exciting. And maybe I was too young. I work a lot in Italy. They’re great; they’re very warm; but they don’t deliver the goods – they can’t. In Germany, I find them very good musicians, but they’re not pliable. In America they’re snobbish and in England they think that they know best. And so at the tender age of 55, I can finally work with an orchestra and shape them to be my ideal. 

Asher Fisch conducts Rossini and Mahler in Perth, June 6-7 and 13-14.