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!