Av Gross was in his 20s in 1963 when he played his violin in the Juneau Symphony's first concert. He remembers the concert was held in the Juneau-Douglas High School band room. The musicians played Richard Wagner's overture to the Opera "Tannhauser."
"It was much less professional then," Gross recalled. "I can't believe we played the Wagner - it must have been simplified."
Indeed, according to Juneau Symphony Music Director Kyle Wiley Pickett, Juneau's first symphony played a simple arrangement of Wagner's piece. But this weekend, in celebration of the group's 40th anniversary, the symphony will play the full, complicated piece - a move meant to illustrate the group's artistic development over the years.
"It is like everything else in Juneau, (the symphony) has gotten more sophisticated," Gross said. "Back then it was just a group of people who got together to play music, it was not an integral part of the community like it is today."
"Musical Celebrations," the Juneau Symphony's 40th Anniversary concert, will be at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 5, at Centennial Hall. A shorter, pay-as-you-can family concert will be at 1 p.m. the same day at the hall.
For the anniversary concert, Wiley Pickett has put together what he calls a "throw everything in it including the kitchen sink" lineup of selections. The concert will begin with the Wagner, and continue with Franz Joseph Haydn's "Concerto No. 1 for Violin and Orchestra in C Major," Johannes Brahms' "Hungarian Dance No. 5" and selections from Aaron Copland's film score for "Our Town." For the second half, the symphony will play Sergei Rachmaninoff's "Concerto No. 2 for Piano and Orchestra in C minor, Opus 18." The concert will also feature various special guests, as well as a short silent film.
Youth concerto contest winner, 12-year-old Franz Felkl, will play a solo with the symphony on the Haydn piece. Felkl has been playing since he was 4, when his mother said he sounded like he was "washing a cat." In the ensuing years young Felkl has become a bright star among young musicians, Wiley Pickett said.
"He is a little guy but he plays with a really big personality," Wiley Pickett said. "He has no fear. We call him 'Fearless Franz.' "
The Juneau Youth Symphony will play with the full symphony on the Brahms piece.
"The idea is to get these young folks in there where they get to sit next to full symphony players and feel and hear what it is like," Wiley Pickett said.
During the Copland "Our Town" segment, the symphony will show a film made of images that were taken of Juneau by local fourth-graders.
"What we said when we handed out the cameras was, 'Take pictures of your town,' " Wiley Pickett said. "We got back these 10,000 pictures and chose about 100 of them as representative of Juneau."
Filmmaker Roald Simonson compiled the photos into a movie.
"This thing is going to be just stunning," Wiley Pickett said. "I can't believe how great these pictures are that these kids took. We should sell this film to the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau."
For the second half of the concert, the symphony is bringing in Russian pianist Alexander Tutunov to play the Rachmaninoff concerto. Tutunov entered the prestigious Central Music School of the Moscow Conservatory when he was 7 and basically grew up there, Wiley Pickett said.
"We thought we would bring in a major international pianist and have him just wow us," Wiley Pickett said. "His teachers played with Rachmaninoff. He is amazing."
Tutunov has performed widely in the former Soviet Union, Poland, Bulgaria, the former Czechoslovakia and the United States. He holds diplomas in concert performance from the Minsk Musical College, the University of Texas and the Belorussian National Academy of Music.
Organizers expect the concert to sell out. Admission is $16 general, $13 for students and seniors and $8 for children in advance at Hearthside Books. All tickets are $2 more at the door if not sold out.