A Glimpse into WASO Behind the Scenes
West Australian Symphony Orchestra will be very busy come February, performing in four separate Perth Festival events –
We asked Keith McGowan Executive Manager, Orchestral Management to explain some of the logistics that go into making it possible for the Orchestra to perform in all these shows:
The first week of Perth Festival is a big one for WASO’s orchestral management and production team.
There are nine rehearsals and four performances to manage between Tuesday and Sunday featuring 117 musicians and 10 staff split across three different venues.
We started looking at the details in September and October as our 2021 schedule was being put together. The musician requirement (instruments and number of musicians) for each activity had to be negotiated and fine-tuned so that we could deliver everything (including two shows happening at the same time) without having any crossover personnel. With all of this now sorted and the schedules (almost) finalised, we are now planning the operations for each production.
As far as the logistics go, we kick off the week with a truck and crew loading equipment into His Majesty’s Theatre and setting up the 31-piece orchestra and band for the first Tim Minchin rehearsal. Across town, at Perth Concert Hall we have another crew setting up an 86-piece orchestra for the first rehearsal of Dreams of Place. The performances are at Perth Concert Hall, so once we are set we can stay put for the week. The exciting part of this production will be hearing Barry McGuire and Della Rae Morrison’s stories and songs in an orchestral setting courtesy of Perth Festival’s own Iain Grandage. This is where the WASO Librarian, Leanne Puttick, will be working overtime to get the music in the folders before that first rehearsal as these pieces will be hot off IG’s press in the days prior!
After the second day of rehearsals for Tim Minchin Apart / Together, we load everything out of His Majesty’s Theatre and take it all up to Kings Park to set up for the Dress Rehearsal. This is where the music, audio balance, lighting and all the production elements come together to ensure that Friday night’s opening performance absolutely hits the mark.'
Being part of an orchestra that performs such a diverse program means you have to be a versatile performer.
Assistant Concertmaster Semra Lee-Smith took time out to answer some questions about being part of it all.
What do you enjoy most about playing across such a huge variety of performances? Do you think it’s important for an orchestra to be versatile (and flexible)?
I love that we get to play such a variety of concerts with WASO. It has thrown up unexpected challenges over the years and has helped me to develop all kinds of skill sets and opened my eyes to so many avenues of music making. I think it’s important to be a versatile musician, to be a chameleon of sorts, so that we can participate in all these different music genres, to enjoy new experiences and broaden our horizons.
WASO will be performing side by side with WAYO members for Dreams of Place, what’s that experience like?
I have played in a couple of concerts in the past involving side by side projects with WAYO. I remember having students playing alongside me and the excitement it gave both WAYO and WASO musicians. I think it’s such a valuable project, something I wish I’d had a chance to do when I played in WAYO as a teenager. There’s a buzz about my students who have auditioned for WAYO next year and they are super excited at the prospect of sitting alongside a WASO musician in a concert.
Can you describe what it’s like playing the music of living composers onstage with the actual artists?
Composers are the voices of our time. Once upon a time, Mozart and Beethoven were also ‘contemporary’ composers. I am a passionate supporter of new music because I think every voice is unique and deserves to be heard. I find the minds of composers endlessly fascinating and I derive great joy in working with composers and trying to find the best way of making their imaginations find their fullest expression. And when the composer or songwriter is performing onstage with you, that’s really the icing on the cake.
What do you enjoy more – performing one of the classics of the classical music cannon or tackling a new contemporary work?
There is great fulfilment in both. In the past few weeks we’ve performed some of the favourites of the orchestral repertoire and there is definitely much joy and comfort in familiarity, like rereading a favourite book or eating a favourite meal. But I always look forward to the discovery of a new composition – I love the kind of work that goes into unveiling new sounds, the freshness of a new perspective and the excitement of being the first or one of the first people who has been entrusted to bring the music to life.
WASO will be performing two shows inside and two outdoors. What are the big differences performing in a theatre or concert hall to performing outside? Do you have a preference?
I guess an obvious difference is that outdoor performances are always amplified but we don’t always play with amplification in a hall or theatre. I prefer indoor performances from a practical perspective – acoustics are better and you’re not at the mercy of nature! Being dive bombed by various insects is always a problem and being a string player, I always worry about my instrument being in the sun or rain. Rescuing music in windy conditions is also quite a tricky exercise. In fact, I remember one year during an Opera in the Park concert, I was nearly wiped out by an office chair that had been blown across the stage by a particularly powerful gust of wind!