reviewed by Neville Cohn
WASO Holdings Pty Ltd
rrp $49-95 plus $8 postage and packing
telephone (08) 9326 0011 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Although, compared to earlier times, Western Australia’s music flagship currently sails in relatively tranquil waters, this was far from the case when what was to become the West Australian Symphony Orchestra was first launched. Over three-quarters of a century, this was a craft that, particularly in early days, almost foundered in turbulent weather, might well have been withdrawn from Service – even scuppered – by those of little faith who held the purse strings. It survived a near-mutiny by crew intensely dissatisfied with its captain/conductor, weathering these and other squalls and sails today with a ship’s company that is as dedicated and skilled as at any time in its eventful three-quarters of a century.
Marcia Harrison’s carefully researched chronicle of the WASO’s 75 years makes absorbing reading for the most part. Brimming with figures and facts about an orchestra at work and play, it abounds in photographs that will take many an older musician or concertgoer on a journey down memory lane. And younger readers will find abundant information about pioneering days when the WASO travelled often terrible roads to far-flung outposts of the state to bring good music to many who would otherwise have gone without the experience of live music.
This is a book that, while fastidiously marshalling the details of what was played by whom and where, focuses no less minutely on the extra-mural activities of those who made up the orchestra. Many a musician in early days had to resort to moonlighting to keep body and soul together. Tony Federici was a case in point. The WASO’s principal trombone, he was also a barber who made a specialty of cutting the hair of the children of his many WASO colleagues. He could, also, double on mandolin. Another versatile figure was violinist Paul Spittel who could, when needed, also turn his hand to clarinet – and play bassoon parts on bass clarinet. And long-time principal clarinet Jack Harrison was no less virtuosic on harmonica.
In the WASO’s earlier days, there were subscription series – sadly no longer that were offered beyond the confines of Perth, such as in Albany. Especially in early days, the significance of the WASO to the state could hardly be exaggerated. It was not until 1962, for instance, that Perth concertgoers had their first chance to listen to an overseas orchestra, in this case the London Philharmonic.
Harrison’s chronicle provides a refreshingly warts-and-all survey of the many who guided the destiny of the WASO, their failings and foibles as carefully and entertainingly described as their more attractive attributes.
But in a book of this nature, it is for the most part impossible to do more than make passing mention of the pageant of characters who crowd its pages. Yet, many of these musicians, past and present, have professional and personal stories that are variously novel, tragic, inspirational and/or sensational. They deserve to be placed on the record – and this could well be fertile fare for a fascinating afterword for future editions of this splendid book.
© October 2003