PORT ANGELES — Steve Schermer, the guest soloist in an unprecedented concert this weekend, is a native of Port Angeles.
His current work includes performing with the Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra; playing with the Ben Thomas Tango Project; running the Common Tone Music Festival in Idaho and teaching music at Tacoma’s University of Puget Sound.
He’s also a visual artist working in sculpture and ceramics — “it’s all intertwined,” he believes.
Schermer has cleared his schedule — all of the above — to be here Saturday.
He’ll join the Port Angeles Symphony to premiere the Concerto for Double Bass and Orchestra, a piece specially commissioned for the symphony’s 90th anniversary.
As the featured artist, he’ll step onto the Performing Arts Center stage at Port Angeles High School, from which he graduated 41 years ago.
In addition to the concerto’s world debut, festive music by Tchaikovsky, Dukas and Bach — arranged by William Walton — are on the program, as is Tyzik’s Chanukah Suite and Johann Strauss II’s “Emperor Waltz” as the finale.
Tickets are available at portangelessymphony.org, at Port Book and News in downtown Port Angeles and at the door of the venue, 304 E. Park Ave., Port Angeles.
Saturday evening will begin with a pre-concert chat with conductor and music director Jonathan Pasternack at 6:30 p.m.; the performance follows at 7:30 p.m. The public is also invited to the symphony’s full dress rehearsal at 10 a.m.
As with the rest of the Port Angeles Symphony’s concerts this season, those 18 and younger are admitted free with a ticketed patron. For information, phone 360-457-5579.
“This is our holiday gift to the community,” said Pasternack, adding that the centerpiece is the new concerto, a piece that blends rhythmic vitality and Romantic lyricism.
Sarah Bassingthwaighte of Seattle is the composer of the double bass concerto. She created three movements: the melancholy Lachrymae, the syncopated Scherzo and the high-energy Pesante feroce climax. All around Schermer’s bass are the winds, brass, strings, percussion and harp, expressing the range of human emotions.
“One cool thing about this concerto is that much of it was composed while I was on an island in the Baltic, as a composer in residence at the Visby International Composers Centre,” Bassingthwaighte noted.
For weeks, on the Swedish island of Gotland, she composed all day every day, looking out at the sea.
“I was able to compose with a focus and continuity that I have never experienced before, and I’m really happy with the piece that came out of it,” she said.
Bassingthwaighte, a flutist and a professor at Seattle Pacific University, added she was deeply inspired by both Pasternack and Schermer — “by Steve’s incredible virtuosity and expressiveness, and his infectious excitement about playing this piece,” she said.
Pasternack helped with adjustments and very fine details, “to make the piece better than it would have been without him.
“And this orchestra,” Bassingthwaighte said, made an enormous difference with its musicians’ enthusiasm.
“[Their] good-heartedness shows in everything that they play.”
Schermer, first drawn to the double bass when he was a 12-year-old at Lincoln Elementary School in Port Angeles, noted this is one uncommon experience.
“It’s so different being out in front, having the orchestra surround you with sound that way,” he said.
“It’s fantastic, and as a bass player, it’s so rare. This is only the fifth time in my 36-year career that I’ve had the chance to play in front of an orchestra.”
Typically the double bassist stands behind the rest of the players, with that big, tall instrument. For Schermer, the bass has always been the one.
“It was just about the sound. I loved the resonance of it,” he said.
After many years of lessons with Ron Jones, Schermer went on to Eastern Washington University and then to the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston for his master’s.
This Saturday’s performances promise a concerto that will appeal not only to the classical listener, he added, but also to the jazz listener. This is a musical conversation between soloist and orchestra — and the audience will feel a part of the whole experience.
“This is a chance to hear, for the first time, a brand-new piece of music,” Schermer said.
The concerto is laced with driving rhythms for his bass, and “gorgeous, melodic sections,” he added.
“It’s just going to be great to play with this orchestra. It’s a top-notch orchestra.”
Diane Urbani de la Paz is a freelance writer and photographer living in Port Townsend.