PORT ANGELES — There’s one great thing, Charlotte Marckx said, about wearing a mask and making music.
“I can grin at my sister” while the two women play one gorgeous piece: the Brahms Double Concerto.
Charlotte, 18, and her 21-year-old sister, Olivia Marckx, have brought their energy across the water from Bellevue to the North Olympic Peninsula.
Together with a Port Angeles Symphony ensemble, the pair — known as the Sempre Sisters — will give the symphony’s first concert in 8½ months.
“The orchestra sounded amazing. It’s absolutely incredible that it’s coming together,” Charlotte said after she and Olivia finished rehearsing.
Jonathan Pasternack, the symphony’s music director and conductor, has prepared since last spring for the presentation of the concert online, free to the public, this week.
The premiere date will be announced within the next few days.
The hour-long video production, featuring Brahms’ concerto plus Felix Mendelssohn’s Octet for Strings, will be presented on YouTube with links provided three ways: at www. portangelessymphony.org, on the symphony’s Facebook page, and via email to those who request it at [email protected]
While there’s no charge to watch and listen, donations to the nonprofit community orchestra are welcome. Information is also available by phoning 360-457-5579.
Longtime members of the symphony from Port Townsend, Sequim and Port Angeles will appear: violists Phil Morgan-Ellis and Tyrone T. Beatty, cellists Traci Winters Tyson and Karson Nicpon, and violinists Marina Rosenquist and Kate Southard-Dean.
Symphony Concertmaster Jory Noble will complete the violin section along with James Garlick, an internationally known guest artist who grew up in Port Angeles.
The players will be spaced 6 feet from one another, yet “it feels like an intimate performance,” Charlotte said.
With the grand concerto scaled down to this ensemble, “you get to experience Brahms in a whole new way,” she said.
The concert video, recorded Saturday at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, is produced by Port Townsend’s Al Bergstein and Michael Delagarza of Champion Video and George Rezendes of Toolshed SoundLab.
The Port Angeles Symphony is the only Peninsula-area orchestra to offer such a thing in late 2020; the community orchestras in Port Townsend and Sequim have canceled theirs for the rest of the year.
Pasternack invited the Sempre Sisters to be the soloists long before the pandemic. They began re-learning the Brahms Double Concerto, a piece they’d long loved — not knowing if this concert would happen at all.
“For a lot of it, we were just shut up in our rooms,” Charlotte said.
Walking into Holy Trinity to join the ensemble, she added, was “so transformative.
“Music is meant to be played with other people.”
While Charlotte debuted with the Port Angeles Symphony in 2018, performing Vivaldi’s “Winter” at the holiday concert that year, this is Olivia’s first visit.
Both of the Sempre Sisters juggled rehearsals with their online classes at Los Angeles’ Colburn Conservatory, where Charlotte is a sophomore and Olivia a senior.
Pasternack first learned of the duo a few years ago; since then, Charlotte won the gold medal and the Bach Prize at the 2018 Stulberg International String Competition and a $50,000 Davidson Institute fellowship in 2019.
The Sempre Sisters, whose motto is “playing music we love for people who love music,” have appeared on NPR’s program “From the Top” and performed at the Northwest Folklife Festival.
Rounding out this Port Angeles Symphony performance is the 195-year-old Mendelssohn Octet, which the composer wrote when he was a teenager. Garlick will serve as guest concertmaster for the piece.
“It’s so fortunate for us that he’s local, presently, and was available to play,” Pasternack said of the violinist.
“James is such a wonderful artist and friend of the symphony,” he added, “and it’s very special to have him involved.”When Garlick was a teenager here, he won the Nico Snel Young Artist Competition several times. He remembers his first win the best: Snel himself called with the news. Garlick was in seventh grade.
Garlick went on to the Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio and the Juilliard School in New York City, and he has since performed with orchestras across the United States and in Cuba and South Africa, and he co-founded the Music on the Strait chamber music festival in Port Angeles.
Garlick and his high school orchestra music-stand partner, Emily James, married and moved to St. Paul, Minn., where she taught at the University of St. Thomas and he at Macalester College; he also played in the Minnesota Orchestra.
When the pandemic began, they and their young son moved to a small Port Angeles cabin, where Garlick and James are both teaching online at least through the new year.
Come mid-December, these Port Angeles Symphony players hope to perform in a larger chamber orchestra, when Pasternack conducts a concert of Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto — to celebrate the composer’s 250th anniversary — and Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings. That online presentation will feature the symphony ensemble and pianist Alexander Tutunov as guest artist.
As for this week, Nicpon, 19-year-old cellist and more recent winner of the Nico Snel Young Artist Competition, encourages music lovers to immerse themselves in the Brahms and Mendelssohn — just as they would a live concert.
“Close your eyes,” he said.
Turn the lights down and the volume up, for “this is something we haven’t been able to experience for a while.”
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.