PORT ANGELES — Port Angeles nurtured her appreciation of alternative, avant-garde art.
Bellingham affirmed her love of modern harp music.
And now Philadelphia has granted her the funds to produce a 14-hour piece that couples the epitome of “avant-garde” and modern with traditional liturgical music and harp-strumming angels.
Port Angeles native Elizabeth Huston won a $60,000 grant from the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage in June to execute a presentation of KLANG, Karl Stockhausen’s unfinished and final cycle of 21 compositions, in Philadelphia.
KLANG will be performed April 7-8 at FringeArts in Philadelphia.
German composer Stockhausen worked on the piece from 2004 until his death in 2007.
“It’s an interesting, introspective look at what life means and what mortality means to us all,” Huston said.
The 21-part contemporary piece has never been performed complete and in order in the United States because of its length.
But Huston is willing to put in the hours.
Each hour (metaphorical, since they add up only to 14) represents each of the 24 hours in the day. As time progresses, colors are associated with the hours’ change to reflect the sky.
One of Huston’s challenges will be transitioning seamlessly between the hours to maintain the impression of linear time, she said.
No matter the subject matter, 14 hours is a long time. So Huston has tasked herself with the challenge of making the performance engaging from hour one to hour 14.
Audience members likely will be able to come and go as they please — including trips to a nearby bar. Huston also has plans for the other neighboring rooms at FringeArts, where KLANG will be performed.
She’s tossed around the idea of inviting scholars to come talk about Stockhausen and screening a documentary about his life and work.
KLANG will be the largest project of Huston’s career.
Huston experienced a range of emotion — much like the movements in KLANG — when she heard the news about the grant.
“I had very mixed feelings. I was elated, mostly,” she said. “I was also surprised because it’s a competitive grant, and I thought there was no way. I feel like a small player in a big pool.”
Huston grew up in Port Angeles with the maiden name Morgan-Ellis. Her parents, Phil and Debra Morgan-Ellis — both musicians in their own right — kept Huston busy with artistic endeavors starting from an early age.
Huston participated in the North Olympic Youth Symphonies, Franklin Elementary’s performing arts and Port Angeles High School’s jazz band and orchestra programs.
She reserves a particular fondness for the Juan de Fuca Festival of the Arts, where she was exposed to music and dance that set high standards for what an engaging performance looks like, she said.
“I learned what’s possible through those programs — about what music could be. That’s led me to be discerning in the music I create.”
As she hires musicians to perform KLANG, Huston will keep those high standards in mind, she said.
It would be too simplistic to say Huston is a product of Port Angeles, but she feels grateful for the opportunities she had to experience a wide swath of music and art.
“Unlike in most small towns, I never felt limited in Port Angeles,” she said. “Most small towns don’t offer a diversity of art.”
Attending Western Washington University in Bellingham affirmed Huston’s interest in modern harp music when she realized many believed the harp was incapable of contemporary music.
She aims to put that misconception to rest.
During KLANG, certainly a modern piece, a harpist must perform exceptionally well while singing exceptionally poorly, she said.
That requires some vulnerability, she said. The marriage of in-tune and out-of-tune creates an eerie effect. It’s intentionally unearthing, she said.
“It’s almost like being an actor more than a musician,” she said.
Reporter Sarah Sharp can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56650, or at [email protected] dailynews.com.