The Sitka Summer Music Festival comes to a close Friday with a final concert that marks two milestones: the end of the festival’s 40th anniversary celebration and the retirement of founder and artistic director Paul Rosenthal. Beginning next year, cellist Zuill Bailey will take his place.
This year’s festival, expanded for the anniversary celebration, included 40 musicians and 10 evening concerts, as well as daily events and new offerings including the “Music in the Morning” series and the “Bach’s Lunch” series. Rosenthal was honored at the “Music and Martinis” event on June 19, and will be performing in the final concert Friday at Harrigan Centennial Hall.
World-renowned violinist Rosenthal, who lives in Juneau with his wife, violinist Linda Rosenthal, founded the festival in 1972, three years after moving to Alaska. While visiting Sitka from Fairbanks with the Gordon Wright’s Arctic Chamber Orchestra — an offshoot of the Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra — he fell in love with the beauty of the Southeast city, and began daydreaming about organizing a summer music festival. It wasn’t long before he’d turned that dream into a reality.
Rosenthal brought to the first and subsequent festivals not only his own musical gifts and generosity of spirit, but a huge circle of talented friends with whom he’d taken graduate master classes in Los Angeles. Like Rosenthal, the musicians agreed to come to Sitka play for free. Fueled by the huge success and unique character of the first festival, many of the musicians have come back to perform every year, traveling from all over the world to participate, and establishing strong bonds with the community and its residents.
In 2010, Rosenthal received a Lifetime achievement Award from the Alaska State Council on the Arts’ Governor’s Awards, an honor awarded in part for his festival contributions.
Rosenthal’s decision to start the Sitka festival inspired his wife Linda to begin the Juneau Jazz & Classics festival, which celebrated its 25th anniversary earlier this year.
The Sitka festival also hosts two Anchorage-based events, the Alaska Airlines Autumn and Winter Classics, and operates a touring arm that brings musicians to smaller Alaska communities such as King Salmon and Bethel. While in Sitka, shows are also performed outside of Harrigan Hall, in venues such as the Pioneer Home and SAFV Sheleter.
This year’s Sitka festival spanned three weeks, beginning on June 2, with events scheduled every day.
Those in Sitka can catch the last night of the Sitka Summer Music festival Friday, June 24, at 7:30 p.m. The evening will feature three works Saint-Saëns’ Piano Trio No. 1 in F Major; Mendelssohn’s Viola Quintet in A Major; and Brahms’ Piano Quartet in A Major. Musicians in addition to Rosenthal are: Edward Auer (piano), Jee-Won Oh (piano), Christiaan Bor (violin), Ronald Hoogeveen (violin), Yukiko Kurakata (violin), Kathryn Plummer (viola), Francien Schatborn (viola), Marcus Thompson (viola), Zuill Bailey (cello), Godfried Hoogeveen (cello), Mark Kosower (cello), Jeffrey Solow (cello). A free pre-concert lecture by Susan Wingrove begins at 6:45 p.m.
For more information, visit www.sitkamusicfestival.org.