The WA Symphony Orchestra heads off on an international tour next week and I am feeling a pang of pride!

It is the orchestra’s first tour in ten years. Asher Fisch is conducting three concerts this weekend to showcase the tour repertoire: Mahler 5, Sulthorpe’s Kakadu, assorted Wagner repertoire and Saint-Saens.

Fisch conducts tour repertoire at the morning concert today.

The tour begins October 6th in the United Arab Emirates where WASO has been invited to open the Abu Dhabi Classics Season, the first Australian major arts organisation to perform in the UAE. The tour continues to Beijing and Shanghai and is reminiscent of the 2006 trip to China when I accompanied the orchestra as a critic. Jean Yves Thibaudet is obviously still popular with Chinese audiences and will be soloist again in Saint Saens’ Piano Concert No 5. The Chinese publicity folk have again been prescriptive with their repertoire advice; Shostakovich 10 has been swapped for the more traditional Mahler 5 which the orchestra performed last tour. And again a film crew is travelling with the orchestra, but this time the focus of the documentary seems to be the cultural rather than the business exchange.

The China leg also includes two school concerts and a masterclass. The tour is expected to build on the growing partnership between WASO, the China Philharmonic Orchestra and the Australia China Business Council. I am relieved to see the emphasis this time round on the cultural aspects of the tour, over and above the business and trade relationships which were the overriding focus in 2006.

Colin Barnett and Asher Fisch, with three Chinese musicians in WASO

The 2016 tour seems like a good fit for an orchestra who boasts less these days about their enviable sponsorship and business foundation and more about the quality of the music making. It’s been a subtle shift over the past few years with the gradual change of administrative staff and under the leadership of Paul Daniel and now especially Asher Fisch. For people like me who love their orchestra it has been welcomed with a sigh of relief.

 In 2006 the cracks in the orchestra showed as administration fired conductor Matthias Bamert at the commencement of the tour, overlooked basic musician requirements like access to safe drinking water, and where the musicians played to empty concert halls.

I believe the orchestra is the strongest and most balanced it has ever been musically, administratively and financially. I don’t envisage any of the dramas of the last trip. I wish them well and look forward to hearing of their international success.