PORT ANGELES — This was a historic and strange year for the Port Angeles Symphony, but the 2021-2022 concert season turned out to be a rousing success, said conductor and music director Jonathan Pasternack.
At the nonprofit orchestra’s annual meeting May 16, Pasternack and the board officers reflected on the season, one with copious COVID test-taking, mask wearing and physical distancing, according to a press release.
It was also a season in which all five concerts were filled to capacity.
The conductor and the board are looking ahead to the next season which, amid the Port Angeles Symphony’s 90th anniversary, will expand to 13 concerts plus celebratory events.
During this past year, many things were cut back. There were no fall “Pops and Picnic” concerts nor any chamber orchestra performances.
The Port Angeles and Sequim churches where those were held are too confined, Pasternack said.
Yet the volunteer symphony orchestra did present full concerts, with guest soloists from across the country, in November, December, February, March and May.
All were at the 1,153-seat Port Angeles High School Performing Arts Center, with family and friend groups — “pods” — separated by buffers, and every other row of seats left completely open.
With morning and evening performances, a combined average of 620 people attended on each of those concert Saturdays.
Musicians came from across the North Olympic Peninsula — from Port Angeles, Port Townsend, Port Ludlow and beyond — to take the stage with Pasternack.
In February, oboist Anne Krabill of Port Townsend was a featured soloist with the Port Angeles Symphony Orchestra.
The May 7 performance featuring guest pianist Alexander Tutunov, like the four concerts before it, drew standing ovations from the capacity crowds.
Symphony fans not only bought season tickets, Pasternack said, they also made donations and voiced their support for the performing arts organization. Even with ticket sales limited by pandemic-imposed protocols, the symphony wrapped its season in the black, said board treasurer Chuck Whitney.
“I’m still so moved whenever somebody I have not met yet comes up to me because they recognize my haircut,” said Pasternack, “and tells me how fortunate they feel that we have such an organization as the Port Angeles Symphony Orchestra.”
It has not been easy for the musicians, he added. The string players — cellists, violinists, double-bassists, violists — wore masks through nearly all of the rehearsals and concerts. The woodwind and brass musicians didn’t mask, but they arrived early to every rehearsal to be tested for COVID-19 before they could begin playing.
“We did purchase tests in bulk,” Pasternack said, back before free rapid tests became available.
Another safety measure: Instead of 2 1/2-hour rehearsals with breaks for cookies and hot drinks, the orchestra members met for a straight-through rehearsal of 90 minutes in length.
A few musicians declined to play this season, Pasternack said.
“The reasons varied. Some were not in support of the health protocols we had in place. Others were not comfortable being around a group for an extended period of time. But I was encouraged to see so many people who wanted to participate. We were still able to create a great spirit onstage. We were still able to make beautiful concerts.
“There was nary a complaint,” from the orchestra members, who range from high school students to veteran professionals such as Krabill and concertmaster Jory Noble of Port Angeles.
The symphony performed a morning and an evening concert this season to provide more chances for patrons to attend, even with the fewer seating numbers.
This was no small thing, said Sharon Snel, a flutist who has performed with the orchestra for 35 years since she and her husband, the late conductor Nico Snel, moved to Port Angeles.
Giving two concerts, just hours apart, “makes a huge difference,” she said.
“You give not just notes. You give your entire self,” with no holding back. The musicians are exhausted afterward, Snel said.
Dr. Richard Van Calcar, president of the symphony board and a family physician, spoke about another major effort this past season: verifying every patron’s proof of immunization at concert time.
“We checked vaccinations. We checked boosters. And with all of the political rhubarb” around the vaccines, “we got essentially zero negative feedback. People took it in stride.”
Van Calcar thanked the board members — who include fellow medical doctors and a nurse practitioner — for stepping up to help with the testing of orchestra musicians and with vaccination card checking.
“We’re not a ‘board of directors.’ We’re a board of worker bees,” he said.
Pasternack also spoke about highlights of the coming season.
Two “Family Pops” concerts of classics and music from the movies and musical theater are set for Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 at the Port Angeles High School Performing Arts Center, where the acoustics are superior to the former pops venue, the Vern Burton Community Center.
To mark the symphony’s 90th year, a new concerto for double bass and orchestra will premiere this fall.
Port Angeles native Stephen Schermer, who performs with orchestras across the Pacific Northwest, will be the featured artist in that concerto at the Dec. 10 performance.
Seattle composer Sarah L. Bassingthwaighte, a friend and collaborator to both Pasternack and Schermer, is creating this work as a holiday gift to the symphony’s community.
The 2022-2023 season also will have three pairs of chamber orchestra concerts performed at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Port Angeles and Trinity United Methodist Church in Sequim.
Information about those — and the seven full symphony orchestra concerts — will be sent out this summer.
To be added to the mailing list or ensure that one’s name is still on the list, email the symphony office at PASymphony@olypen.com or phone 360-457-5579.
“I’m actually confident, as we approach our 90th anniversary season, that we are not only in a strong position,” the conductor said, “but I think we’ve come out of this even stronger. Our symphony family feels so much stronger. The resilience has been proven. What can I say? It’s wonderful.”