A musical feast is about to be laid out in Juneau, and music lovers of all varieties can partake in a one-hour taste at a lunchtime show or a ten-day full course of performances, talks and workshops.
"Each element serves a different role in the festival," said artistic director Linda Rosenthal, who has been organizing the event for the past 23 years. "It's like a big banquet."
Over the next few days, world-renowned musical groups and soloists will converge in Juneau, some from as far away as Boston and New York, others from as close as Seattle and Juneau itself. Rosenthal, in addition to being artistic director, is a classical violinist, as is her husband, Paul Rosenthal. The Rosenthals are the only locals who will be performing this year.
The music gets started Friday night with a performance by Chicago-style blues guitarist and singer Kal David. David, who played lead guitar for Etta James and John Mayall in addition to building his own solo career, comes to Juneau with his band, The Real Deal, and wife, singer Lauri Bono. He will perform Friday at Centennial Hall, and also during two Blues Cruises on Saturday. (See a profile of Kal David here.)
The Blues Cruise tradition began in the fifth or sixth year of the festival and has become a very popular part of the week. Rosenthal said the talent, the scenery and the intimacy of the boat combine to make an enticing combination.
"If you have a front row seat you're two feet away from Kal. If you're midway (back) you're 10 feet away," she said. "The energy just crackles."
Rosenthal said the first time she brought a blues act to the festival, the community was quick to show their appreciation.
"It was just wildly popular," she said. "People had so much fun. It was clearly a genre that we had to keep."
Violinist Gilles Apap is next on the docket, performing Sunday night at Northern Light United Church. Rosenthal said that although Apap is a classical violinist, and will perform works by Debussy, Bartok and Bach, he is also very involved in folk traditions from around the world - from bluegrass to Indian to Eastern European. Audiences can expect to hear both at his show.
"He has amazing classical training, but at some point in his 20s he discovered he had a passion and a real talent for other kinds of music, folk music especially," she said.
On Wednesday evening, Manhattan Brass will perform, a group that also tends to shape-shift when it comes to musical genres. Made up of two trumpets, two trombones and a horn, the classical group is equally passionate about jazz -- though Rosenthal said their performance at the Juneau Arts & Culture Center won't be a jazz program. They will play selections from Monteverdi and Bach, as well as some contemporary classical pieces, including one written by Bruce Adolphe, a composer also taking part in this year's festival.
"This is where we'll have the infusion of contemporary classical music," Rosenthal said. "They really span centuries."
Thursday evening at Chapel by the Lake, an "Opus 50" concert has been organized in honor of Alaska's 50th anniversary, providing a thematic umbrella for the selections.
"Its a fun and interesting way to pay tribute to Alaska's statehood," Rosenthal said.
One of the pieces is Tchaikovsky's Opus 50, Trio in A minor, a complicated work that will be described in a brief talk led by Adolphe at 11 a.m. Thursday at Centennial Hall. Later that day, at 6:30 p.m., he will give a pre-concert talk on the other pieces being performed, including one of his composition's (an exception to the "Opus 50" theme).
"He'll give an overview of each piece," Rosehthal said. "But the Tchaikovsky warrants its own time."
Musicians performing during the "Opus 50" concert include Rosenthal and her husband, Paul; pianist Marija Stroke (Adolphe's wife); Harumi Rhodes, a violinist from Boston; and cellist Evan Drachman.
The Anat Cohen Quartet heads up Friday's entertainment. Cohen, a dynamic saxophone and clarinet player, is this year's Jazz Artist in Residence. At the Juneau Arts & Culture Center she'll be joined by a pianist, bass player and drummer in selections that blend jazz, Arfo-Cuban, tango and classical styles.
Saturday is Community day, organized in order to showcase local talent as well as festival guests.
"It's a festival within a festival," Rosenthal said.
Later that day, Seattle-based gypsy jazz band Pearl Django will perform at the UAS Egan Lecture Hall, first in a 5 p.m. show and then as part of "Puttin' on the Ritz," the festival's combined jazz and classical concert. Pearl Django has been on Rosenthal's radar for years, partly because violinist Michael Gray used to live in Juneau. Now based in Seattle, the group plays original works in addition to covers, and is inspired by gypsy jazz pioneer Django Reinhardt, who played in and around Paris in the '30s.
Sunday, May 24, things will wind up before they wind down, with a dance and concert by the subdudes, a New-Orleans funk band that combines blues, jazz, Cajun and roots music. The event takes place at Centennial Hall.
In addition to the concerts, two local workshops will also be held, one on May 17 and one May 19, giving local musicians a chance to work with Apap, Cohen, Drachman and others. Like the Alaska Folk Festival, community outreach is part of the jazz and classics tradition, and part of what Rosenthal loves about the event. After 23 years, she says she still loves pulling it all together.
"It's a joy," she said.