Nashville Symphony Performs Beethoven and Mussorgsky at the Schermerhorn

Asher Fisch
Nashville Scene

The Nashville Symphony Orchestra has something of a Down Under thing going on at the Schermerhorn this weekend. Asher Fisch, principal conductor of the West Australia Symphony Orchestra, is on the podium, leading the ensemble in music by Beethoven and Mussorgsky. Jayson Gillham, a terrific young Australian pianist known for his recent stellar performances at the Leeds and Chopin international piano competitions, is the program’s soloist.

Opera is one of Fisch’s specialties — he was Daniel Barenboim’s assistant at the Berlin Staatsoper and later was a conductor with Seattle Opera and the New Israeli Opera. So it was no surprise to hear him at his best on Thursday night in the opening work, Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 2.

Fisch’s interpretation was full of supple phrasing and exquisite detail — the dynamic contrasts in the opening chords were amazing. More amazing still was Fisch’s ability to elicit such nuanced playing with his often over-the-top, aggressive stick technique. More than once I heard Fisch whack his baton on the top of the music stand (it’s a wonder he didn’t break it in two).

Gillham and Fisch were of one mind in their interpretation of the Beethoven concerto, which made for a fine, cohesive performance. They approached the concerto’s fantastic slow movement, surely the most dramatic utterance in the entire concerto repertoire, like a Greek tragedy. Pathos and passion were everywhere. Gillham launched into the quick finale with gusto, and keeping up with him must have been like chasing a jackrabbit. To their credit, Fisch and the orchestra flew in tight formation with this soaring soloist.

Without question, the most impressive thing about Thursday’s performance was the sheer beauty of the ensemble’s sound. Fisch is conducting Maurice Ravel’s prismatic orchestration of Pictures, and on Thursday the NSO explored every conceivable color and texture. That alone recommends this weekend’s program.  

Read the rest of the review here