P.A. Symphony picks New York conductor

A new pair of hands will lead the Port Angeles Symphony beginning next season.

A new pair of hands will lead the Port Angeles Symphony beginning next season.

Dr. Jonathan Pasternack of New York was hired as the symphony’s new music director and orchestra conductor on May 18 by the symphony’s 17 board members. He’ll oversee about 60 musicians from Port Ludlow to Sequim to Joyce.

“It always seemed like a dream job to me,” Pasternack said in a phone interview.

“I’m really excited to be joining your community. It’s such an impressive following for the symphony. I’ll do my best to hold the traditions of the orchestra and support the community.”

Over the past year, the symphony brought in eight candidates to guest conduct the symphony with Pasternack the first, leading a November show of Beethoven’s music.

He becomes the symphony’s sixth professional conductor in 83 years following former music director/conductor Adam Stern, who served nine years and whose contract was not renewed by board members on May 20, 2014.

The symphony’s first paid conductor was James Van Horn followed by David Andre, Ron Jones as interim for a season, Nico Snel and Stern.

Pasternack said he first fell in love with the area 20 years ago when he visited. He’ll lead the symphony for the first time at its chamber orchestra concerts Oct. 16-17 in Sequim and Port Angeles.

“It was exciting having the opportunity to have all these kinds of conductors and evaluate them but we’re thankful to have Jonathan coming aboard,” said symphony Executive Director Mark Wendeborn.

“He was highly rated by the musicians and we were thankful to end up with a conductor who met so many of (the musicians’ and board members’) desires. He has a lot of exciting, fresh ideas.”


Looking at his career, Pasternack said his breadth of experience stands out most to him.

“I’ve conducted the the greatest symphony in the world  —  The London Symphony — to small orchestras in rural areas,” he said.

“I’ve been delighted to have success in making good music. If there’s anything I’m proud of, it’s that experience.”

Pasternack studied under James DePreist, Neeme Järvi and Hans Vonk and has conducted more than 30 ballets and operas worldwide. He studied violin, cello, trombone, piano and percussion and won a trombone scholarship to the Manhattan School of Music at 16. He first conducted at age 18 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he founded and led its Chamber Orchestra for three seasons. He later earned his Master’s of Music and Doctorate of Musical Arts degrees from the University of Washington, studying opera and orchestra.

Some of his tenure includes serving as conductor of the Seattle Junior Youth Symphony, as part of the conducting staff for the Oregon Symphony and in residence at the University of Washington School of Music as Director of Orchestral Activities and Music Director of the Symphony, Opera, and Contemporary Group.


Pasternack said one of his passions remains teaching and he’s interested in continuing the symphony’s partnership with young musicians.

“It’s always a great experience to play with musicians of all ages,” he said.

“We already offer ticket discounts for young people but I’d be interested in figuring out other kinds of initiatives for younger audiences to attend. That said, when classical music is presented in an exciting way, we want it to be attractive to people of all ages.”

Overall, Pasternack said another goal is to have a great time playing masterpieces with musicians.

“We’re always striving to make performances of the highest quality we can,” he said, “as well as presenting these high quality performances for music lovers all over the Olympic Peninsula area.”

He’d also like to pursue hosting concerts in the West End and in Jefferson County.

With Pasternack coming in, Wendeborn said operations will remain the same with some minor programming changes such as Pasternack bringing in a soloist for the final concert of next season, which didn’t have one before.

After moving to the area this summer, Pasternack hopes to engage community members and hear about their interests.

“I plan to have an open dialogue,” he said. “Maintaining interesting and exciting programming is something I’d like to continue.”

For more information on the Port Angeles Symphony’s programs and concerts, visit portangelessymphony.org or call 457-5579.