What was once the Port Townsend Community Orchestra is now the Port Townsend Symphony Orchestra, and beyond simply changing its name, the group is aiming to demonstrate to its listeners that it has …
What was once the Port Townsend Community Orchestra is now the Port Townsend Symphony Orchestra, and beyond simply changing its name, the group is aiming to demonstrate to its listeners that it has the talent and discipline of a top-flight organization.
Tigran Arakelyan, conductor of the Port Townsend Symphony Orchestra, started with the orchestra in the fall of 2017, and while he agrees that the musicians constitute a convivial community, he didn’t want their name to convey the impression that “they just get together to hang out, drink coffee and play a few notes” because they are “tremendously skilled” and committed.
“We’re an audition-based group,” Arakelyan said. “We welcome people to try out, but most of our sections are already at their limit.”
With the new name has come a new website, ptsymphony.org, which Arakelyan encourages everyone to check out, as well as programs such as the Young Artist Competition, that took place at Grace Lutheran Church in Port Townsend on Nov. 23, which not only awarded monetary prizes to its first, second and third place performers, but also gave its first-place performer a shot at soloing at one of the symphony orchestra’s concerts.
“We hope to offer that competition every year,” Arakelyan said. “It can be tough for young musicians to find opportunities like this, especially to solo in a concert.”
Arakelyan credited the Port Townsend community with being supportive enough of its arts scene, including its orchestra, to allow it to afford such opportunities to young artists.
“Port Townsend is a fascinating place, with professions ranging from boat makers to bowmakers,” Arakelyan said. “I’m always surprised and impressed by who and what I can find here. We have a 65-piece orchestra, and one of the founding members of the Kronos Quartet recently took the time to offer instruction to our high school’s music students. That’s actually amazing.”
Arakelyan noted that a number of the symphony orchestra’s members are themselves local high school students, while many adult members of the orchestra regularly volunteer to provide further musical instruction to other students.
“We encourage the kids and collaborate constantly with the schools,” Arakelyan said.
The orchestra’s collaborations with relative musical novices doesn’t stop there, since its Dec. 7 “Grand Finale” concert, starting at 7:30 p.m. in the Chimacum Junior/Senior High School auditorium, is set to feature Phil Andrus, host of “Tossed Salad” on KPTZ 91.9 FM, as the guest-conductor for the Radetzky March by Strauss.
“I have no experience with conducting coming into this, and I don’t read sheet music,” said Andrus, who’s played guitar as part of “old-time” string bands. “My goal is to be able to listen to this single piece of music enough times, during the orchestra’s rehearsals, that I’ll know what’s coming from having heard it.”
Arakelyan developed a rapport with Andrus through a series of radio interviews that began before Arakelyan was even conducting the orchestra.
“I’ve done enough interviews with other people that I’ve appreciated how prepared Phil has always been for our interviews,” Arakelyan said. “He’s very passionate, and he can make connections with just about any interview subject. He’s also a regular attendee of our orchestra’s concerts.”
In turn, Andrus credited Arakelyan with helping to improve the quality of the orchestra’s performances over time, and he self-effacingly suggested that Arakelyan selected the Radetzky March for him to guest-conduct “because of its brevity and simplicity,” and expressed the hope that “my knees will start knocking in time to the music.”
Arakelyan promised that concert attendees would also be treated to seasonal favorites such as the Nutcracker Suite by Tchaikovsky, as well as the Violin Concerto in E minor by Mendelssohn, the latter featuring a solo by Ukrainian-born violinist Myroslava Khomik, who is a top prize-winner of a number of international competitions and awards, including the Remember Enescu Competition in Romania, and the New Names of Ukraine.
“We won’t be doing the whole Nutcracker ballet, but we’ll be offering a beautiful 25-minute selection that the audience can enjoy,” Arakelyan said. “People pursue instrumental music not only because they love the experience of playing, but also because they want to share that music with an audience. Our orchestra includes a variety of skill levels, but they all perform at a high level, because everyone is excited to be part of it, and they all want to do their best.”
Arakelyan closed out his remarks to The Leader by thanking the orchestra’s supporters, including its board of directors, with possessing the faith and flexibility to allow the orchestra to expand and evolve.