PORT ANGELES — Following a months-long pause, the Port Angeles Symphony Orchestra will start rehearsals today for the first of five concerts planned for the season.
“Together, we will present an evening of music by Brahms and Mendelssohn, broadcast online and free to the public,” said Jonathan Pasternack, music director and conductor of the orchestra.
It’s been a lonely break. Symphony musicians have been seeing each other in casual Monday evening Zoom sessions, but they miss making music together, Pasternack said.
They also miss the sense of community they feel in a concert, he added.
To begin, Pasternack is assembling an octet of players from Port Angeles and Port Townsend. Violinists James Garlick and Jory Noble will share the role of concertmaster, while cellists Traci Winters Tyson and Karson Nicpon, violists Tyrone T. Beatty and Phil Morgan-Ellis and violinists Marina Rosenquist and Kate Southard-Dean will share the stage — socially distanced at least 6 feet from one another.
The guest soloists to join the ensemble are the Sempre Sisters, cellist Olivia Marckx and violinist Charlotte Marckx. The pair are from Bellevue, and they will be the first in a series of guest artists to appear during the Port Angeles Symphony’s 88th season.
“Symphony concert-goers will remember Charlotte’s stunning debut with the orchestra two seasons ago,” Pasternack said, “when she played Vivaldi’s ‘Winter.’”
Rehearsals will be held at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Port Angeles, which is opening its doors to an outside group for the first time since it shut down due to the pandemic, Pasternack said.
“Our good friends at Holy Trinity are making this exception for us, as long as we abide by their strict health protocols,” he said. “I am deeply grateful to them for their enduring support of the symphony and of the arts in our community.”
Pasternack has chosen an arrangement of Brahms’ Double Concerto that fits the soloists and ensemble, and he modified it to match the other piece he’s chosen: Mendelssohn’s Octet.
Both works, he said, are “gorgeous.”
Their free performance will be available online during the week of Nov. 9, while viewer donations to the Port Angeles Symphony will be optional. More information can be found on the orchestra’s website, Portangelessymphony.org.
Pasternack and Symphony board member Marc Sukolsky consulted with the Clallam County Department of Health & Human Services before slating the rehearsals and performances. Providing the symphony’s plan for safety protocols, including distancing and face masks at all times, they received approval to go forward.
A small ensemble of string instruments — and no wind instruments — can play together with spacing and masks, said Dr. Allison Unthank, the Clallam County health officer.
“It is very possible to do that safely” with appropriate protocols, she said.
Pasternack pronounced himself overjoyed — for at least three reasons.
“The players are tops; the soloists are wonderful,” he said. “The musical selections are filled with romance and energy. Plus: We finally get to make music for our community again, albeit virtually, after a seven-month hiatus.”
The octet and soloists will play the one-hour program with a small crew recording video and audio for broadcast online.
Next will be rehearsals for a planned Dec. 12 concert with a larger string ensemble and guest artist Alexander Tutunov.
An internationally known pianist who has played many times in Port Angeles, Tutunov will interpret a famous piece.
“The plan is to perform Beethoven’s majestic Third Piano Concerto, as part of our celebration of the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth,” Pasternack said.
The conductor has found a version for piano and strings only, instead of a full orchestra, and he will make a few changes of his own.
“We’ll follow the Beethoven with a performance of an audience favorite: Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings,” he added.
“You are making wonderful lemonade,” Tutunov said of December’s program.
The season will continue with concerts on Feb. 20 with guest artist Elisa Barston, principal second violinist with the Seattle Symphony; Virginia-based cellist Julian Schwarz on March 27 and soprano Kristin Vogel singing Wagner’s “Wesendonck Songs” on May 1.
As the season progresses, Pasternack hopes to get permission from county health officials to add more musicians to the ensemble.
All of the performances will be recorded and offered online until Clallam County moves into Phase 4 of the statewide Safe Start plan, Pasternack said.
Listening and viewing will be free; no tickets will be required, although donations will be welcome.
While season subscriptions aren’t being sold this year, music lovers can request a 2020-2021 newsletter to be mailed to them by phoning the Port Angeles Symphony office at 360-457-5579 or emailing [email protected]
Support for the Port Angeles Symphony has not flagged, Pasternack said. People have started sending donations, which is vital for the orchestra, he said. Even in normal years, ticket proceeds cover only 40 percent of operating costs.
No ticket revenue is expected this season.
Community support also funds the symphony’s flagship education program, Adventures in Music. This year, AIM will again provide educational performances — and classical music played by people who are passionate about it — to nearly 6,000 elementary school children.
For its season-opening program, AIM’s string ensemble — Noble, Beatty, Rosenquist and Tyson — appear in videos produced especially for the participating schools. Students from Neah Bay to Sequim to Brinnon will get to see them, while AIM Program Director Al Harris provides tailored curriculum materials for their teachers.
The Port Angeles Symphony, largely a volunteer orchestra, may be the only one in the region to present concerts this fall. The Port Townsend Symphony Orchestra, Sequim Community Orchestra and Victoria, B.C., Symphony have canceled theirs for the rest of 2020.
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.