Harpist Elizabeth Huston, a daughter of Port Angeles who’s returning home this week, and James Ray, a performer and music educator for flocks of students here, are the featured guest artists in the Port Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s season-opening concerts tonight and Saturday.
For these performances Huston, a lover of the classic and the contemporary in harp music, chose a piece from each genre: Debussy’s “Two Dances” from 1904 and Einojuhani Rautavaara’s 1981 “Ballade” for harp and strings.
To start each evening, Ray, the guest conductor of the concerts, picked Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s “Novelette” in A minor, a piece he calls “achingly beautiful.” For the finale, it’s Haydn’s 104th “London” Symphony, which he describes as “dessert for dinner.”
The 31-piece chamber orchestra, with its full section of woodwinds, brass and timpani, strings and two guest performers, will take the stage at two venues:
• Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, 301 Lopez Ave., Port Angeles, at 7 tonight.
• Trinity United Methodist Church, 100 S. Blake Ave., Sequim, at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Tickets are $15 for adults, while those 16 and younger get in free when accompanied by an adult.
“I’ve been making it a practice to invite people who are from this area and are now enjoying musical careers to come back and share their artistry,” said Jonathan Pasternack, music director of the Port Angeles Symphony and Chamber Orchestra.
Huston, the daughter of well-known performers and educators Deborah and Phil Morgan-Ellis of Port Angeles, has played the harp since she was a girl of 8.
At first she traveled to lessons in Seattle, and then switched to a teacher in Victoria.
She joined the Port Angeles Symphony, then led by the late conductor Nico Snel, as a teenager.
All of this was inspired by a book Huston discovered circa age 3: “Gwinna” by Barbara Berger.
The book had a harpist in it, so young Liz began pestering her parents; they were reluctant since the harp is such a huge, heavy thing.
They came around, though, and their daughter has been toting harps ever since.
After graduating from Port Angeles High School in 2005, Huston went to Western Washington University in Bellingham, where harpist Jill Whitman, who’s also performed with the Port Angeles Symphony, was her teacher.
These days Huston is busy playing in Los Angeles. She brings her harp to concerts with various regional orchestras, private parties and even studios where hip-hop artists make their recordings.
“The value of live, orchestra instruments is starting to make a comeback,” she said, as the sound of a real harp, for example, “makes your music stand out.”
The life of a harpist means “I never do the same thing twice,” added Huston, who’s just been named executive director of Synchromy, a performing arts group presenting concerts of contemporary music around Southern California.
Guest conductor Ray, it turns out, has left his longtime post teaching music in the Port Angeles School District — most recently as director of orchestras at the high school — to become a professor at Western.
This week’s concerts will be his last with the Port Angeles orchestra, at least for a while.
“It’s hard to overstate how bittersweet it has been to leave Port Angeles after nine years,” Ray said.
He added that he and his wife Heather, who served as concertmaster and violinist with the Port Angeles Symphony, moved to the Olympic Peninsula from Seattle just two years into their marriage. They’ve since welcomed two daughters.
Ray said his family will cherish the friendships they built in the musical community here.
“I’ll miss the students most of all, for more reasons than I can list,” he added.
“However, one thing I’ve learned is how small the world is … I’m always up for an excuse to visit what I consider my ‘other’ hometown.”
In addition to Huston and Ray, this week’s two Port Angeles Chamber Orchestra concerts will have Huston’s dad, violist Phil Morgan-Ellis, plus guest principal cellist Jesse Ahmann.
Two new members will appear: violinist Marjory Noble and bassist Judith Hanna, who performed with the Chicago Symphony and other illustrious ensembles before moving to Washington state and joining the Port Angeles Symphony.
For more about the coming season of performances in Port Angeles and Sequim and about audition opportunities for orchestral musicians, see portangeles symphony.org, call 360-457-5579 or email PA [email protected]