PORT ANGELES — Conductor Jonathan Pasternack and pianist Josu de Solaun have gotten to know each other’s artistic style well in the years since both were professors at Texas’ Sam Houston State University. Each time they collaborate together with an orchestra, the pair finds fresh inspiration in the music at hand — be it Rachmaninov’s ferocious piano works or Franz Liszt’s Romantic ones.
So when violin soloist Jesús Reina had to cancel his scheduled appearance this month with Pasternack’s Port Angeles Symphony Orchestra, he thought to invite de Solaun to perform in the violinist’s stead.
The pianist, who is based in Spain while performing across Europe and the United States, was already planning a visit to the area to work on music for a forthcoming recording project with Pasternack.
The symphony board of directors approved the change in guest soloist, having seen and heard de Solaun’s performances here in spring 2016 and fall 2018. The pianist then posted his Port Angeles date on his Instagram feed: This Saturday, he will play Liszt’s first and second piano concertos — music from the Romantic period of the early 19th century — with Pasternack and the 70-piece symphony.
The first full orchestra concert of 2020 will start at 7:30 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center at Port Angeles High School, 304 E. Park Ave., with Pasternack giving a short pre-concert chat at 6:40 p.m. Tickets start at $15 for adults while youngsters 16 and under are admitted free with an adult. To purchase, visit www.brownpapertickets.com or Port Book and News in downtown Port Angeles, or phone the symphony at 360-457-5579.
The public is also invited to the final dress rehearsal in the Performing Arts Center at 10 a.m. Saturday. Admission is $7 for adults and free for youths 16 and under.
Pasternack predicts a thrilling night, opening with Mozart’s “La Clemenza di Tito” overture, then de Solaun’s concertos and, to finish, Stravinsky’s suite from “The Firebird.” This work, composed in 1910 for the Ballet Russes in Paris, made Stravinsky famous with its lush orchestral color and powerful climax.
“The Firebird” is a stunning counterpoint, added Pasternack, to the Liszt concertos as interpreted by de Solaun.
“I continue to be astounded by the depth and insight Josu brings to the piano. He can play anything in the piano literature — and does — and somehow he makes it looks effortless,” said the conductor. Pasternack noted too that de Solaun learned from his Russian mentor, Nina Svetlanova, to play with minimal tension, positioning his body in a buoyant, ergonomic way not unlike Arthur Rubinstein or Vladimir Horowitz.
When it comes time for “The Firebird,” Port Angeles Symphony horn player Bruce Kelley of Marrowstone Island will have a long-awaited moment. He was a teenager in the 1970s when he first heard Stravinsky, and loved it for the same reason many kids went for rock ’n’ roll: The suite pushed the boundaries beyond his dad’s favorite Beethoven; it “felt very exotic.”
Kelley played the horn, aka the French horn, from seventh grade until college, but put it aside amid the demands of engineering school. He took it up again while working at Microsoft and joined the company’s orchestra.
Having left Microsoft to explore his passions for music and art, Kelley now works at Copper Canyon Press in Port Townsend. He joined that city’s community orchestra and the Eastside Symphony of Redmond, and is now in his third season in the horn section of the Port Angeles Symphony.
Kelley remembers the night in 1998 when Benaroya Hall had its grand opening. The Seattle Symphony played “The Firebird.” It was enough to make him swoon, but he didn’t figure he’d be performing the piece any time soon.
“At that time,” Kelley recalled, “it was far beyond my abilities.”
The first horn part is sometimes fiendishly complex, with fast, sky-high fortissimo passages, he said, while other moments are “delicate, lyrical and super-exposed.”
It’s 22 years of experience later now. Kelley has Stravinsky’s masterpiece on his music stand. Margaret Baker, the principal horn player who’s been with the Port Angeles Symphony 19 years, is stepping aside so Kelley can step forward. His remark on this is much like the Stravinsky suite: energized and dramatic.
“Thank you to Margaret and Jonathan for humoring my request to stretch my performance wings,” Kelley said, “to become the Firebird!”