2021 has been a massive year. From 60% capacity concerts and snap lockdowns to packed out AFL Grand Finals and concert halls, it’s been a year like no other.

We asked some WASO staff members to share their highlights from this unforgettable year.

Semra Lee-Smith, Assistant Concertmaster

Mozart and Bruckner was a huge highlight for me because I was soloist in a mainstage concert for the first time in my 18 years at WASO. I got to wear a pretty dress, got given flowers, my whole family came to support me and everyone was very nice to me, so winning all round!  Seriously, it’s a huge honour to be entrusted to play a solo so I’m very grateful for the opportunity and for the positive reviews. 

Another highlight was when my brother Shaun Lee-Chen directed WASO in Baroque Favourites. That concert was so joyful and I was so happy to share the stage with him. So proud of Shaun.

Semra Lee-Smith and Daniel Schmitt perform as soloists in Mozart and Bruckner

Robert Gladstones, Principal 3rd Horn

For me the obvious highlight was when the horn section took to the front of the stage and starred in Schumann’s Konzertstück! A very rare opportunity to play one of the jewels in the horn repertoire. 

Playing Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony the following week was also fun. Playing any Bruckner is fun!  

L to R: Francesco Lo Surdo, Julia Brooke, Robert Gladstones and David Evans perform as soloists in Miracles and Triumphs

Liz Chee, Associate Principal Oboe

The highlight of my year is always the tours. I often try to tack a few days on to the start and end so I can do my own road trip, usually with Adam Mikulicz (bassoon). 

This year we went to Esperance and Albany so I was able to go to Cape Le Grand National Park the day before the orchestra arrived. It was a tricky but satisfying program for me on Principal Oboe, with Brahms Symphony No. 1, Sibelius’ Violin Concerto and Fauré’s Pavane. We cleared out the op shops in all the country towns! 

WASO performing at the Albany Entertainment Centre

Hannah Verkerk, Orchestral Coordinator

There were so many highlights from this year, especially because I know how lucky we were to be performing given the constantly changing circumstances with the pandemic. But one performance for me which was a career highlight was performing at the AFL Grand Final with Birds of Tokyo. The atmosphere was insane and being part of something that may never happen again was a surreal experience. We had 11 minutes in total to get the stage, instruments and musicians on, perform, and get them off again. We had to dive under the stage during the performance because we didn’t have time to get off the pitch!

WASO performs to 60,000 people at Optus Stadium alongside Birds of Tokyo. Photo Credit: AFL Media.

Evan Kennea, Executive Manager, Artistic Planning

Asher Fisch’s performance of Alban Berg’s Three Pieces for Orchestra was absolutely masterful. WASO may have waited 106 years to give its first performance of this richly complicated, deeply expressive work, but this mesmerising rendition made the wait worthwhile. It is just such a pity that the young musicians from the Australian National Academy of Music couldn’t travel from Melbourne to join us as planned.

Former WASO violinist Shaun Lee-Chen jumped in at pretty short notice to conduct a concert of Baroque Favourites when border issues meant that Paul Dyer was unable to travel from Sydney. Featuring as director and soloist, Shaun showed everyone why he is regarded as one of Australia’s foremost exponents of baroque music. One of the most musically inspiring, exciting and purely joyful and uplifting concerts of the year.

And I couldn’t not mention Sara Macliver’s exquisite performance of Osvaldo Golijov’s Three Songs for Soprano and Orchestra. Supported by conductor Dane Lam, who stepped in for Dalia Stasevska when she couldn’t travel from Finland, Sara brought all her incredible imagination and musicianship to these beautiful works. As I said at a post-concert talk (with Sara sitting beside me on stage), there is no other soprano in Australian I would rather hear performing this music.

Sara Macliver performs Golijov’s Three Songs for Soprano and Orchestra

There is more incredible music to look forward to in 2022. Check out our upcoming season here.