The West Australian Symphony Orchestra has announced that it will return to the concert hall in October with a remixed 2020 program, opening with Carl Orff’s ever-popular Carmina Burana.

Western Australia is in a very fortunate position, having effectively stamped out community transmission of the coronavirus. It has now been 100 days since anyone was diagnosed with COVID-19 from an unknown source. The 20 active cases in the State are all among returned travellers who are currently in hotel quarantine. Unless there is a second wave, the lifting of restrictions means that live performances will soon begin.

Jessica Gethin. Photograph supplied

Australian conductor Jessica Gethin, who is based in Perth but conducts widely across Australia and Asia, will conduct Carmina Burana on October 2 and 3, as well as Dvořák’s Symphony No 8 on October 9 and 10.

Principal Conductor Asher Fisch will return to the podium for the final two ticketed concerts in November featuring repertoire including Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 4, Bruch’s First Violin Concerto, Brahms’ Symphony No 4 and Beethoven’s majestic Emperor with pianist Konstantin Shamray.

The Remixed program will also include Last Night of the Proms conducted by Guy Noble on November 6 and 7, and the return of Christmas Symphony at Langley Park on December 12. WASO will also perform the music for West Australian Ballet’s Dracula in September (conducted by Gethin) and Così fan Tutte for West Australian Opera in October.

The concerts in the Remixed program will mark Gethin’s mainstage WASO debut, though she has previously conducted the orchestra in several different productions for West Australian Ballet. She also conducted WASO late last year when they recorded the soundtrack for a new Australian computer animated film called 100% Wolf.

Gethin was Chief Conductor of the Perth Symphony Orchestra from 2011-2019. Her international roster has seen her conduct the Dallas Opera in the US, Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, Auckland Philharmonic and Macau Orchestra among others. She was about to return to the Singapore Symphony Orchestra in March when the concert was cancelled because of COVID-19. Subsequent engagements in Macau and Taiwan also had to be postponed.

Happily, by having to remain in Perth, she finds herself in a place where orchestras and performing arts companies are preparing to return to the stage, unlike other parts of Australia and the world. “Sometimes there is a benefit to being one of the most isolated capital cities in the world!” she says with a laugh.

Gethin had already been in discussion with WASO about conducting some concerts for them in 2021, but with programs having to shift and change because of the impact of the pandemic, she was able to take a lead role in their 2020 Remixed program.

Gethin talked with WASO’s executive and artistic staff about what music the orchestra should play to launch the Remixed program, and believes that Carmina Burana was the perfect choice.

“I said it needed to be meaningful [repertoire] that showed a sense of community and collaboration – everything that Carmina Burana sums up with [its theme] of this ever-changeable wheel of fortune that spins, and the whole concept of fate and opportunity that it embraces. I think it is particularly apt. And it’s a wonderful opportunity to do something that the orchestra enjoys playing, that the audience love, and that the choirs enjoy. I think it is a fantastic choice.”

Carmina Burana will feature a line-up of West Australian talent including soprano Amy Manford, tenor Perry Joyce and baritone James Clayton, along with 130 voices from the WASO Chorus and UWA Symphonic Chorus. The concert will also include the Overture from Bernstein’s Candide and Grieg’s popular Peer Gynt Suite No 1.

A week later, Gethin will conduct a concert featuring Dvořák’s joyful Eighth Symphony, Mozart’s romantic Fifth Violin Concerto with young WA violinist Emmalena Huning (who was studying at London’s Royal Academy of Music when COVID-19 struck), and Mendelssohn’s The Hebrides.

The Dvořák 8 is one of Gethin’s favourite Dvořák symphonies. “To have something that is so beautifully lyrical and cheerful and optimistic, I think, is really important,” she says.

“The orchestra hasn’t played together on stage as a full symphony for so long. What Asher has done in the last 10 years or so to really shape this orchestra and their sound has been incredible, so I take my responsibility quite seriously. My role is not just relaunching the season but really pulling [the orchestra] back together and trying to find that sound that Asher defined – and to do it with a work like the Dvořák is perfect because it’s something that allows that beautiful lyrical playing. It’s cheerful and positive but it also has that intensity in some of it as well so it’s going to be a great one to work on.”

Prior to the concerts, Gethin will work with the orchestra for a few days at the start of August. “WASO has put a lot of thought into this. I’ve been really impressed about how this has been approached,” she says. “We are going to have a few rebuild days at the very beginning of August where I’ll go into the concert hall with them and read through a whole lot of symphonies. I’m doing Tchaikovsky 4, Elgar’s Enigma Variations, the Romeo and Juliet overture, Verdi’s Force of Destiny, and a new Australian work by Olivia Davies that we are going to workshop – so a whole lot of repertoire that both myself and the orchestra feel comfortable with just to simply play, no audience, but just to feel that sound and feel [being back in] the concert hall together,” says Gethin.

“[The musicians] have all been keeping up their individual playing and doing some chamber music but it will be really good to develop that rapport and comfort on stage again. I will also be working with WASO’s emerging conductors during that time, and then I go straight into recording a couple of ballets with the orchestra and then into the Dracula season. That closes on the Saturday night [September 26] and the following week is the Carmina Burana, then a week later the Dvořák so it is a fairly packed schedule.”

As you’d expect, Gethin can’t wait to be conducting a full orchestra live again. “I really miss that sound and that ability to collaborate and make music. So I think that it is going to be quite an incredible moment when we step back onto that stage,” she says.

She is optimistic that audiences will embrace the chance to see WASO on the concert platform again. “I think they are thirsty for it,” she says. “I think they have realised how much they need this music live.”

Full details of WASO’s 2020 Remixed program