Wednesday, June 23, 2010

SSMF Concert Conversations #3 by Susan Wingrove

How can this be happening? We have reached the final two events for what has been an incredible 2010 Sitka Summer Music Festival! In addition to the wonderful concerts featuring artists who play the music with such joy and passion, there have been some delightful new events, like the Larkspur gatherings and movie night. Time is simply flying, and as much as I have tried to slow the days down and savor every moment of every activity, (for example, who will ever forget the image of Armen playing his cello for the bears!) we have finally reached the ending. And what an ending it will be…

Tonight’s last chance for a free (donations happily accepted) music-related movie is a gem. Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037 is a 2007 documentary that was broadcast on PBS last fall, and I was really upset to miss it. I am going to be in line very early at the Totem Park Visitors Center tonight to make sure I can get in for the 7 p.m showing. The grand piano on the stage at the Centennial Building is one of these superb hand-crafted instruments – and every Steinway has a soundboard made of Sitka spruce! Each piano takes 12 months to build and includes 12,000 parts. But, the movie is much more than just an exploration of the construction process, it also examines how extraor-dinary the relationship can be between an artist and an instrument. LA Times reviewer Kenneth Turan enthusiastically wrote that Note by Note is “a meditation on the making of pianos and the making of music. A process that is very much like falling in love.”

The concert Friday night will provide a perfect and soul-satisfying ending to this three-week feast of great performances. The concert will open with Beethoven’s String Quartet in F Minor, Op. 95 “Serioso,” published in 1815. This remarkable work sets the precedent for the astonishing creativity of Beethoven’s final years. E.T.A. Hoffman (who wrote the 1816 tale The Nutcracker which later became a legendary ballet) said of this quartet, “Beethoven’s music arouses awe, fear, horror, pain, and awakens that endless yearning that is the very essence of romanticism.” Many of the composer’s colleagues claimed that Shakespeare’s Othello had a tremendous effect on the score. German musicologist Arnhold Schering even goes so far as to suggest the following provocative scenario: “The opening movement depicts Othello’s insanely jealous rage tinged with bittersweet reflection and Desdemona’s uncomprehending protest. Allegretto opens with a serene, continuously flowing melody with dark undercurrents and harmonic blurring – this is Desdemona’s self-doubt in a dialogue with her maid. The Scherzo represents Othello’s murderous resolve as he stands over his sleeping wife. Piu allegro is simple poetry in which Othello reluctantly kisses her farewell. At the slow introduction to the last movement, Desdemona awakes. Her sleepy trusting, however, soon gives way to mortal fear as the tragedy unfolds. Surprisingly, after such a turbulent finale, the quartet ends with a coda of pure comedy.” American composer Randall Thompson aptly concluded, “No bottle of champagne was ever opened at a better time.”

Next on the program is an early work by Richard Strauss, the Violin Sonata in E Flat Major, Op. 18. Famous for his operas and orchestral works (Der Rosenkavalier, Salome, Don Juan, and Also Sprach Zarathustra – the famous opening popularized in the film 2001 A Space Odyssey), the youthful sonata (age 24) was the last sonata he ever wrote. The lush score is passionate and romantic – this is sure to be an audience-pleaser!

The work that Artistic Director Paul Rosenthal chose to conclude the concert, and this year’s Festival, is a major chamber masterpiece – Franz Schubert’s sublime String Quintet in C Major, Op. 163. Unbelievably, this work was composed during the final intense months of Schubert’s short life – he died in 1828 at age 31. The piece was published in 1850, and many musicians think this is arguably the finest quintet ever written. Beloved chamber music historian Arthur Cohn declared, “There is not a flaw in this jewel.” Highlights include the gorgeous opening movement, a slow movement that has been described as having the most terrifying mood in the literature of chamber music, featuring the instruments in their darker registers, and the haunting Scherzo with musical colors of tramping horses and hints of folk songs. Schubert’s friend Anton Schneider eloquently summarized the finale; “After a long retirement into the depths of his soul, having laid bare its secrets, he wanted to leave us with the impression that his solitary hours had given a place to the ordinary everyday man.” A release from grief, the work ends almost mischievously – a heartfelt affirmation of life.

Join violinist William Preucil and me for the preconcert chat Friday at 7:30 pm – and then at 8:15 we will enjoy the exciting final event of the 2010 Sitka Summer Music Festival. It has been three weeks of such pleasure – please drop everything and head to the last concert to show your support of these amazing artists and receive the priceless gift of well-played and heartfelt music. And next June, the SSMF 40th anniversary!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

SSMF Concert Conversations #2 by Susan Wingrove

Friday night’s opening concert for the 2010 Sitka Summer Music Festival was absolutely fabulous, and Sunday’s Family Concert was a smashing success and tons of fun for all. Wow! So now it’s time for the next round of events, and since we have been lucky enough to enjoy some perfect sunny days, you have no excuses for staying home and gardening (or fishing, playing soccer or softball). Tonight is the first of the Festival’s new free Movie Nights at 7 p.m. at the Sitka Visitor Center Theatre at the edge of Totem Park. The film “True Lies” features cellist Armen Ksajikian as a terrorist limo driver AND he also plays the music for his own death scene. Come get ALL the details from Armen and enjoy the movie! (Families, take note: The feature is “R” rated.)

Friday night’s 8:30 p.m. concert opens with a gorgeous string quartet for the unusual combination of violin (Paul Rosenthal), viola (Marcus Thompson), and two cellos (Armen Ksajikian and Eugene Osadchy) by Russian master Anton Arensky. The work is dedicated to his mentor Tschaikowsky, and the beautiful themes throughout the piece reflect the influences of Russian church music and one of Tschaikowsky’s songs.

Next on the program, pianist Jerome Lowenthal will perform Two Nocturnes, Op. 27, and the Piano Sonata No. 2 by Frederic Chopin. This is Chopin’s two-hundredth birthday year, and Sitka audiences can celebrate by hearing several of his most beautiful piano solos. Piano historian James Huneker described the first Nocturne as having “the gloomiest and grandest of Chopin’s moody canvasses” and the second, which features an especially lovely melody and delicate ornamentation, “a song of the sweet summer of two souls.” Two years after Chopin wrote what was to become his most famous piece, the eerie Marche Funebre, which I guarantee will be instantly recognizable to everyone at the concert, he added three more movements to frame the haunting march, creating a dramatic, landmark sonata. Pianist Anton Rubenstein described the short but stunningly effective final movement as “winds of night sweeping over churchyard graves.”

Friday’s concert will conclude with the lush, impassioned Piano Quartet in E Flat Major, Op. 47, by Robert Schumann. The featured musicians include Frederieke Saeijs (violin), Pamela Goldsmith (viola), Eugene Osadchy (cello) and Ursula Oppens (piano). All I need to tell you is that this is one of chamber music’s rich masterpieces – and the entire concert will be another heartfelt event. My guest at the pre-concert lecture at 7:30 pm will be violist Marcus Thompson, a longtime Festival artist and a wonderful friend. Please join us for some fun facts about the music, composers, and Marcus!

Join me and cellist Zuill Bailey at the Sitka Library on Sunday evening at 6:30 for the annual Yummy Lullaby program. Special guests will include Gordon the Bear and his good friend Purple Bunny. Last year’s story about Gordon’s journey from his cozy bed in Totem Park to attend a Sitka Festival concert was a fun adventure, so wear your pajamas and join us for more stories, music, and cookies!

Tuesday night’s 7:30 pm concert begins with the return of dynamic artists Ik Hwan Bae (violin) and Sung Mi Im (piano) playing Franz Schubert’s Rondo Brillant. This virtuosic, richly scored piece places great demands on the artists and it’s just glorious to hear. The couple will also perform Capriccio by Danish composer Niels Gade; he was one of the most important Danish musicians in the 19th century. This charming work is brilliant, elegant, and entertaining – an audience-pleasing gem.

We have a final chance to hear the unusual grouping of three cellos this year in one of the most gorgeous works for this combination of instruments, Requiem for Three Cellos and Piano by David Popper; Zuill Bailey, Evan Drachman, and Jeffrey Solow will be joined by pianist Doris Stevenson. Last on the program will be the remarkable String Quartet in C Major, K.465 “Dissonant” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. This inventive, harmonically adventurous quartet was dedicated to his inspiring friend Haydn.

The second Classics at Larkspur will start at 6 p.m. on Wednesday evening. Join a few of the Festival artists for intriguing conversation and live music while enjoying a beverage and some delectable treats. This is a new event for the 2010 Festival, and last week’s attendees had a terrific time! And don’t forget that there will be a free brown-bag lunch concert on Thursday at noon at the First Presbyterian Church…you are welcome to bring food or just sit and enjoy the music while others eat their sandwiches. It’s always fun to see which artists will appear and hear a few details from them about the music they will play. The musicians are simply fantastic!

As you can see, there are concerts/activities for a wide range of musical interests and all ages this week at the 2010 Sitka Summer Music Festival. So, head to the Centennial Building on Friday and Tuesday evenings, and our other locations for Movie night, Classics at Larkspur, Yummy Lullabies, and the Brown Bag concert! Sitka has some of the world’s finest musicians in town. Don’t miss a note of what they have to share!

SSMF Concert Conversations #1 by Susan Wingrove

At last, after months of musical anticipation (and yearning for warmer weather), it’s time for the 39th annual Sitka Summer Music Festival! Artistic Director Paul Rosenthal has coordinated a smashing lineup of artists and music for the performances, and it’s one of the great pleasures of my life to return to Sitka to indulge in three weeks of this musical feast. It has been an honor to be involved with this unique Festival for 26 wonderful years, and I strongly recommend that you consider making time to embrace this intimate and exciting opportunity to hear world-class concerts in the gorgeous setting of the Centennial Building. This concert series is a true Alaskan treasure!

The opening night concert on Friday, June 4th, begins with a stunning string trio by Russian composer Sergei Taneyev, whose string quartets were so enthusiastically enjoyed by audiences at the 2009 concerts. Taneyev’s remarkable D major trio will be played by longtime Festival artists Marcus Thompson (viola), Armen Ksajikian (cello) and founder Paul Rosenthal (violin). Beethoven’s masterful Piano Quartet in E Flat Major, Op. 16, which began as a quintet for a variety of wind instruments and was rescored in 1810 to feature strings and keyboard, showcases the return of Ursula Oppens (piano), Eugene Osadchy (cello), and Pamela Goldsmith (viola.) After the intermission, Artistic Director designate Zuill Bailey will join forces with pianist Jerome Lowenthal to perform the passionate Cello Sonata in F Major by romantic genius Johannes Brahms. He wrote this profound, fiery work during his annual summer escape from the stifling heat of Vienna; he stayed in a small village in the Swiss Alps, where he hiked, visited with friends, and composed masterpieces. Zuill will be joining me as a guest at the pre-concert lecture which begins at 7:30 in the concert hall; come find out about the composers, the music, the artists, and learn more about Zuill’s future with the Festiva!

On Sunday afternoon, everyone in Sitka is invited to a FREE 3 p.m. family concert which will be followed by an ice cream social for the entire audience. BP is generously underwriting the concert, and Sea Mart is providing all the treats! The program will feature all kinds of great music ranging from classical to some terrific folk and popular pieces. The program is going to be a lot of fun, and children of all ages – including those of us who are young at heart – will have a wonderful time. Cellist Armen Ksajikian has cooked up a banquet of musical gems which will feature a variety of artists and surprising instrument combinations, PLUS there will be audience participation activities and lots of prizes given. DO NOT MISS this concert! Invite your neighbors and friends, and after the festivities there will still be plenty of time to enjoy a summer afternoon and evening.

On Tuesday, June 8, at 7:30 p.m. you have to make it a priority to attend a unique concert featuring some unusual instrument combinations and artists. The opening piece, Three Cellos, by popular American composer, author, and comedian Peter Schickele, was described by Los Angeles Times reviewer Josef Woodard, “From the restlessly driving opening movement through a wistful waltz and other emotional extremes, the work nicely typifies Schickele’s musical language, which makes his music accessible even to those with a fear of living composers.” The audience-pleasing piece includes jazz and dance influences. Next, violinist Fredericke Saeijs, who thrilled lucky audience members with her stunning performance of the Franck Sonata last summer, will play a beautiful work for solo violin by legendary Belgian virtuoso Eugene Ysaye. Ysaye was a tall mountain of a man with long, luxuriant hair and a commanding presence, who once said, “It is when I play that I am happiest. Then I love everything in the world. I let go my feelings and my heart.” The Sonata in D Minor, nicknamed “Ballade,” was composed at a resort in 1923; Ysaye said he was strongly influenced by Bach’s solo violin sonatas.

The program will continue with a glorious sextet for strings by Russian chemist and composer Alexander Borodin. He juggled his life as a scientist and musician with passion and enthusiasm. His chamber music is rich with sensuous melodies and colors. The score to the extraordinary two-movement sextet, which was composed in 1860, was lost and not rediscovered until 1946. The first movement is fast and invigorating. The second movement is a series of brief, clever variations on a soulful, haunting Russian folk tune. Tuesday’s concert will conclude with a wonderful set of works for piano duet (four hands at one piano) with our fabulous pianists Ursula Oppens and Jerome Lowenthal. Mendelssohn’s Andante and Variations features a lovely theme explored by eight variations, each a miniature gem. The concert will conclude with Francis Poulenc’s delightful Sonata for Piano Duet (1918), written when the composer was just nineteen years old. The piece is charming and features a wide range of musical colors and life-affirming exuberance.

Join us for all three of these wonderful concerts on June 4, 6, and 8, and get ready for more great music through June 25th. At last, it begins…Sitka, you are SO lucky!

The story behind this years Festival Artwork (yes, it's a good one!)

This video chronicles the process that David Lass's middle school students went through to create this year's Festival artwork. The artwork is stunning but this process brings tears to the eyes.


Fifty Blatchley Middle School students from the Art Choral Exploration Program created the poster art for the 2010 Sitka Summer Music Festival. The four-month collaboration resulted in a beautiful oil pastel mosaic, featuring the motifs of cello, music staff, Sitka's Russian Orthodox Cathedral, and the Sitka Rose. This video documents the process.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Q & A with cellist Zuill Bailey

Click here to be taken to El Paso Inc's website where you can see the original article:

At age 4, Zuill Bailey began playing the cello. He chose to make it a career when he was 12.

Since then, Bailey, who is now 38, has built an impressive résumé. But whether he is in Australia, France, Spain, Israel or Hong Kong, or rubbing shoulders with conductors like Itzhak Perlman, Alan Gilbert and James DePriest, El Paso Pro-Musica’s artistic director takes his love for El Paso with him the more than 200 days he is on the road every year.

“I brag about El Paso wherever I go. People are very curious about El Paso. People assume I live in Manhattan, Paris or some other place where I guess people ‘should’ live, but I think people should live in El Paso,” Bailey said.

He has appeared at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and in New York City’s Alice Tully Hall, Carnegie Hall and the 92nd Street Y.

When his CD “Bach Cello Suites” was released in February, it immediately soared to the top of the Classical Billboard Charts.

A Julliard graduate, Bailey is also a professor of cello at the University of Texas at El Paso. And in addition to heading up Pro-Musica’s Chamber Festival here, he directs the Sitka Summer Music Festival and Series in Alaska.

Some of his appearances are less conventional. He has performed for TV show soundtracks and portrayed a murderous cello-playing inmate on the HBO prison series “Oz.” This weekend, he is a guest on NPR’s “Morning Edition,” and he has his own YouTube channel.

Bailey, who has two young sons, spoke with El Paso Inc. on the condition that no questions about his personal life would be asked.

He sat down with El Paso Inc. in the backyard of his cottage-like home in Kern Place and talked about Pro-Musica’s next season, El Paso’s renaissance, and how you perform centuries-old music that isn’t written down.

Q: Has your CD “Bach Cello Suites” been successful?
It’s being celebrated and I love it. I love it because it took me 10 years to get it ready. The fact that people are enjoying the blood, sweat and tears I put into this process is the greatest joy one could have.

Q: How did it take 10 years?
There is no manuscript. The only thing that exists of the music is the view of the people who heard it played during Bach’s lifetime. So I had to take all the historic documents and come up with a decision that represents Bach and me.

I always say you have to know where you’ve been to know where you are going, so I researched every possible means of interpreting Bach, then started applying it slowly and developed my own interpretation of the suites. Then I had to document my reasoning and prepare to stand behind my decisions. I am asked every day why I did something the way I did in that recording.

Q: What piece of music do you enjoy playing most?
I used to say that it was whatever I was playing at the time because variety is so important in music, and there is so much great variety in music, but I think it has to be the “Bach Cello Suites.”

Q: Why?
Bach took what was not really viewed as a solo instrument in 1717 and wrote pieces for the cello that sort of encompassed everything that music needed. I can actually sit in my house and play by myself music that is complete, that is the most fulfilling, the most individual, the most satisfying.

There is really no other composer who has ever taken the cello and made something like that without the use of many, many instruments.

Q: What can we expect from the next Pro-Musica season?
Next season we plan to bring the world to El Paso. Over the past year, I have traveled to a great extent to different countries and continents, and I have started to realize even more that we have never really focused on the diversity that Pro-Musica has brought to El Paso.

This season we have musicians from Australia featuring the didgeridoo, we have a quartet from Holland, we have musicians from Russia and England, from Korea, from Armenia.

Q: Chamber music is generally thought of as more intimate and designed for a smaller setting, and some see Pro-Musica and the festival as narrowly focused. Are you trying to change that perception?
The festival will always be primarily classical chamber music. But people don’t always realize how prevalent the use of classical music and instruments is in soundtracks, in popular music, in rock-and-roll.

Because of that, I decided a few years ago that we could showcase these instruments and classical chamber music but not always in the same cookie cutter way.

I am not held by the boundaries and barriers of trying to keep things in a chamber atmosphere, but I do want to keep it very personal. This kind of music, you need to be up close to experience.

Q: How much do you practice?
So far it has been 34 years of practice. A couple years ago I stopped thinking about it as practicing because it is what I do all the time. Practice now doesn’t necessarily mean sitting at my cello.

Living life, experiencing life and reading all make my music making, better and broader. I can play the cello. It hasn’t been just about the cello for a while. It’s about bringing something deep and meaningful to the music.

Q: What impact do you strive to make through your music?
Since I lead such a nomadic life, I think about that a lot while I am traveling. I always seek that one moment in a concert where I feel like everyone is breathing together and everyone has forgotten where they are – including myself.

That is the power of music. My hope is that the music I play brings the kind of happiness and magic to people’s lives that it brings to mine.

Q: What is your schedule like?
In the past several months, I have been to Texas, California, Maryland, Nevada, New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, Alaska, Wyoming and Utah. I played in Mexico, Israel and Spain.

Q: What performance was the most notable?
Doing televised performances with Itzhak Perlman and the Israel Philharmonic in March.

Q: What else have you done to bring classical music to TV?
The whole idea of television for me is glorified outreach. I would say that every scenario I have been in on television has been different, but each has brought the idea of what I do, the cello, and my love of it to people without playing it down. Whether it’s on HBO’s “Oz,” where I was able to perform all the works I would do at Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall or the Kennedy Center, or playing the soundtrack to the TV show “Homicide,” I was able to reach people who don’t necessarily frequent concert halls but might now.

Q: Do you like to play any other instruments?
No, just the cello. The love affair began very quickly and was very singular, very focused.

Q: What do you think about while you play?
All the thought is done in the practice room. You do all of your work before, so you can then be inspired and be free in concert.

Q: Growing up in Northern Virginia, did you ever dream of playing at the Kennedy Center?
It was the place where I went each week as a child and witnessed all of my heroes perform. I have subsequently been there many times, and each time it brings back a flood of memories. Sometimes dreams do come true.

Q: How did you decide to become a musician?
I decided to be a musician at 12-years-old. Someone told me at the time that if you can find something that you absolutely love to do and find a way to survive doing it, then you will never work a day in your life.

I thought about that at 12, and there was only one thing that I did that was not work – play the cello. I grew up in a very culturally rich area, the Northern Virginia-D.C. area, my parents are both musicians, my sister is a violinist. Music was something that was all around us and we did as a family.

I did take it for granted, because I assumed that every community had this kind of cultural treasure surrounding them.

Q: Does El Paso have that sort of cultural treasure?
That is exactly why I am here. About a decade after leaving home and traveling, I began feeling a void of not being able to make the kind of difference that others made in me as a young person. Fate played its card, and I was asked to help develop and be a part of the arts and culture here.

I felt that it was my turn to give back, and I take great responsibility in that. I would have never guessed that I would be so lucky to meet such an incredible city as El Paso. I would have never dreamed it would have brought me such happiness or I would be here 10 years later.

Q: Are the arts beginning to blossom here?
El Paso is in a renaissance. More than we ever have, organizations are working together. We’ve got the opera, the symphony, the youth symphony, El Paso Pro-Musica, the museums. Everybody is holding hands, and we’re all looking at making our city an even better place.

People have to understand how rare that is. The world is being brought to El Paso. The world is noticing and feeling the impact of El Paso, and I hope I am a small part of that.

Q: Pro-Musica recently held its annual soiree fund-raiser. How did that go?
It was a great success. Pro-Musica is really an organization that brings people together socially, musically and culturally. There is such support of what we do.

Even in the midst of all the things that are happening in the world, it is a very positive time for us here in El Paso. We need to be celebrating. That’s what I want to do, and that is what I am doing.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Sitka Festival Art Director Designate, cellist Zuill Bailey, is interviewed on NPR's Weekend Edition (June 5)

Listen to the interview and read the whole story by clicking here --

The six Bach cello suites have been heard just about everywhere — in movies, television shows and commercials. But Zuill Bailey's recording is unique, because he's playing a cello only eight years younger than J.S. Bach himself.

"The suites are probably the greatest things ever written for solo cello to this day," Bailey says. However, they were largely unknown until the 20th century, when Pablo Casals recorded them. Since no original manuscript of the cello suites exists, it's up to the performer to decide how to play them. Bailey says that gives the musician a certain responsibility and freedom.

One of Bailey's favorites is Suite No. 3 in C major.

"It's the most popular for cellists to perform," he says, "not just for the excitement factor, but because it lays so beautifully on the basic strengths of the cello."

Bach spent most of his time at the organ, and Bailey says it shows in this suite.

Friday, June 4, 2010

On Thursday, June 3rd, Festival Artistic Director Designate Zuill Bailey performed live on KCAW in Sitka, Alaska. Link here to the KCAW website to listen to Bach's Sarabond from Suite #2 in D minor and the Prelude to Suite #3 in C major. You will also be able to hear Festival Founder and Artistic Director Paul Rosenthal's June 4th KCAW interview.

Zuill and Paul will both perform during tonight's Opening Night Concert at 8:15 pm at Harrigan Centennial Hall. Purchase tickets here, at Old Harbor Books, or at the door.