Spanish pianist Josu De Solaun fixes his gaze on the Dvorak concerto score he’ll perform with the Port Angeles Symphony this Saturday. (photo by Diane Urbani de la Paz)

Spanish pianist Josu De Solaun fixes his gaze on the Dvorak concerto score he’ll perform with the Port Angeles Symphony this Saturday. (photo by Diane Urbani de la Paz)

Soloist returns to Port Angeles

Symphony concert Saturday

By Diane Urbani de la Paz

for Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — This long-awaited evening is filled with light.

So said two longtime friends, conductor Jonathan Pasternack and pianist Josu De Solaun, of their concert with the Port Angeles Symphony on Saturday night.

They have performed together in Europe and the United States 10 times before this, but Saturday’s event is unusual. Its centerpiece, the Dvorak Concerto for Piano, is a kind of “ugly duckling,” De Solaun said — one he and the orchestra intend to transform into a swan.

Spring is here, after all.

The symphony will take the stage with De Solaun as guest soloist at 7:30 p.m. at the Port Angeles High School Performing Arts Center, 304 E. Park Ave., following Pasternack’s brief pre-concert talk at 6:30 p.m.

The public also is invited to the dress rehearsal at the same venue at 10 a.m. Saturday.

Tickets are available at portangelessymphony.org, at Port Book and News in downtown Port Angeles and at the door. As with the rest of the dates in this 90th anniversary season, concert-goers 18 and younger are admitted free with a ticketed patron.

For information, contact the symphony office at 360-457-5579 or pasymphony@olypen.com.

The Dvorak piano concerto is often overlooked. It is difficult to play. And De Solaun loves it that way. Its first movement is all about heroic drama; then comes the second movement, which he calls “a prayer and a love declaration.”

The concerto then moves into a more joyful place, expressing Dvorak’s love for the pastoral countryside.

“The feeling at the end is one of radiance,” De Solaun said. “The music ends with jubilation.”

The pianist played this concerto a couple of months ago in his hometown of Valencia, Spain, one of many cities where he has traveled since last summer. De Solaun also has given piano recitals in Vatican City, Lucca and Imola, Italy, Porto, Portugal, and Hamburg, Germany, and he has performed with orchestras in Cluj and Ploiesti, Romania. In his home country of Spain, he has given concerts in Cordoba, Granada, Alicante, Malaga, Bilbao and in Madrid, where he lives.

Now that De Solaun is in Port Angeles, he marvels at the last time he joined the orchestra here. It was Feb. 22, 2020, less than a month before all concerts and touring stopped.

Three years later, De Solaun is delighted to have journeyed across an ocean and a continent to the far Northwest. A main reason is he gets to give a concert with Pasternack, the music director who is his kindred spirit. The two have “a musical and a human friendship,” De Solaun said. To them both, music is sacred.

“We feel music on a very similar wavelength. There are a lot of things we don’t have to speak about,” said the pianist.

The two met when both were university professors nearly a decade ago. They have since recorded two CDs with the Czech Republic’s Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra that will be released later this year.

In addition, De Solaun recently won an International Classical Music Award — akin to a Grammy in the classical music world — for his recording of Haydn solo piano sonatas.

For Saturday’s performance, Pasternack chose two musical works that resonate with the Dvorak concerto: Martinu’s “Memorial to Lidice” and Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 in D major.

The Martinu “crosses all divides. It’s a very moving and sincere musical tribute to the Czech people,” Pasternack said.

As for the Brahms symphony, the evening’s finale: It represents the connection between Dvorak and Brahms. The two worked together, were friends and had great respect for each other.

De Solaun arrived in Port Angeles a full eight days before this concert. With Pasternack conducting, “I always have to be very well-prepared,” the pianist said.

“He’s no joke. He knows the score very well,” he added before sitting down at his friend’s piano.

After a few flourishes through Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” De Solaun turned his gaze to the Dvorak concerto score. His face turning serious, he thanked his visitor and said, “I have to practice.”

________

Diane Urbani de la Paz is freelance writer and photographer living in Port Townsend.

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