Celebrated pianist returns for two performances Saturday

The last time Spanish-born pianist Josu de Solaun came to town in spring 2016, he played Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3, the “Rach 3,” lifting the audience to its feet; then he unleashed two encores for an even lustier standing ovation.

“And to watch him is to see him make it look completely effortless,” said de Solaun’s friend and collaborator, Jonathan Pasternack.

Music lovers here have another opportunity to see de Solaun. With the 65-member Port Angeles Symphony Orchestra, the pianist will appear at the Port Angeles High School Performing Arts Center, 304 E. Park Ave., this Saturday, Nov. 3, for the public dress rehearsal at 10 a.m. and the evening concert at 7:30 p.m.

The orchestra includes musicians from across the North Olympic Peninsula: percussionist Mike Flynn, flute and piccolo player Marie Meyers, cellist Jan Jones, horn player David Rodgers, clarinetist George Rodes, oboist Nancy Reis and violinists Carolyn Abbott, Diane Clark, Kate Southard-Dean and Joy Klimecky of Sequim, for example.

As for the music, “it’s a powerful program,” said Pasternack, the Port Angeles Symphony’s music director and conductor.

De Solaun will play two piano concerti: Richard Strauss’ “Burleske” and Franz Liszt’s “Totentanz,” pieces Pasternack calls romantic — in different ways.

“One ends softly,” he said, “and one ends with a bang. The Strauss has some very heart-on-the-sleeve sentimental sections, but in a Viennese way. It’s a confection.

“The Liszt,” on the other hand, “has a ferocity,” making it a perfect climax to the first half, and to de Solaun’s performance.

The pianist, who has spent much of this year performing in Europe, is full of anticipation for this next collaboration.

“First of all, I love Port Angeles. I love the Olympic Peninsula. I was completely taken with the epic landscape,” he said in a phone interview.

“Jonathan is an amazing musician,” a conductor who finds the essence of each piece. For de Solaun, the concert’s two piano works present a delicious contrast. He calls the “Burleske” a “trickster piano concerto,” all youthful exuberance and joie de vivre. Strauss wrote it in his early 20s.

Then “Totentanz” dives into the fiery underworld that fascinated Liszt, a devout Catholic. The composer, inspired by a visit to the Camposanto cemetery in Pisa, Italy, interweaves Gregorian chant, sound effects from bows striking strings — and parts de Solaun describes as “shockingly modernistic.”

So “it packs a wallop,” added Pasternack.

For the second half of the concert, the conductor knew he needed a masterpiece.

The Eroica Symphony, Ludwig van Beethoven’s 215-year-old epic, well, “It’s known as a revolutionary work. It’s just it’s so captivating, so compelling to the listener,” said Pasternack. The work, the third of Beethoven’s symphonies, also means “an intense physical, mental and emotional workout for all of the musicians.”

“It gives back so much to us. But it really takes every ounce we can give it.”

For this first full-orchestra concert of the Symphony’s 86th season, tickets are $15 for students and seniors, $18 general admission and $25 to $35 for reserved premium seats; youths 16 and under are admitted free with a paying adult.

Tickets are available at Joyful Noise Music Center, 112 W. Washington St., Sequim, and Port Book & News, 104 E. First St., Port Angeles.

For reservations and information about this concert and the forthcoming season, phone the Port Angeles Symphony at 360-457-5579 and visit PortAngelesSymphony.org.

The public is also invited to de Solaun and the orchestra’s final rehearsal at 10 a.m. Saturday. Admission is $7 per person, or free for youngsters 16 and under accompanied by an adult.

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