The Sitka Summer Music Festival is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a homecoming.
Many of the artists who performed in the first festival in 1972 will return to Sitka this year for an expanded series of performances. Rather than the usual 15 musicians, 33 will play in 18 concerts and various special events.
"Paul Rosenthal and the board of directors wanted to bring in as many people who have been an integral part of the festival as possible," said Heather MacLean, music festival director. "We've added two Saturday evening concerts, and we've also added [the] recital series."
The Sitka festival is the brainchild of Rosenthal, who now lives in Juneau with his wife, Linda. What originally began as a series of performances by Rosenthal and four friends has blossomed into a nationally known event, MacLean said.
"I think the people that are involved are pretty amazed that this festival became what it became, because they didn't really have a plan when they started and now everyone in the business knows what the Sitka Summer Music Festival is, even though we're in the middle of Alaska," she added.
All five of the original performers - the Rosenthals, violinist Yukiko Kamei, cellist Nathaniel Rosen and pianist Doris
Stevenson - will return. Other artists include violinist and Pittsburgh Symphony concertmaster Andres Cardenes, and violinist Christiaan Bor, recently knighted by the queen of the Netherlands.
"It's like a proud papa," Rosenthal said of the reunion. "Imagine that the same people who started it 30 years ago are going to be there again, and the next wave of people we've had are going to be there again."
The festival's musical selections reflect that feeling of community. Rosenthal worked with the artists, selecting pieces that they would enjoy playing.
"This year more than any other year I just spoke with the people and said, 'What would get you excited?'" He said. "Theme programs are for a different kind of thing."
That relaxed attitude - and the larger numbers of visiting artists - allows for the performance of some special pieces. On June 19, pianists Jerome Lowenthal and Ursula Oppens will perform Mozart's "Piano Sonata in C Major for Piano Four Hand." Normally, the festival only has one pianist present, making such a piece impossible to perform.
"That was hand chosen," MacLean said. "We have two pianists at a time ... which is really unusual and neat."
Concerts begin June 1 with selections from Beethoven, Popper, Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Schumann. Concerts will continue on Fridays, Saturdays and Tuesdays, with a final performance on June 23. Other special events associated with the festival include a free family concert and ice cream social June 3, a nature cruise on a catamaran June 13 and an all-you-can-eat crab feast and fund-raiser June 17. Visiting musicians will rotate in and out of Sitka over the course of the festival.
"Normally musicians come in for one week and then they go home," MacLean said. "But this year because there are so many of them and they are all really in demand, some are coming for only one concert and some are coming for a weekend of concerts."
Additionally, select musicians will perform in other cities throughout Southeast after the Sitka festival concludes. The Juneau concert is scheduled for 7 p.m. June 24, in Northern Light Church, and will feature cellists Toby Saks and Eugene Osadchy, violinists Paul Rosenthal, Christiaan Bor and Agnes Gottschewski, violist Marcus Thompson, double bass player David Brown, Monica Kaenzig on clarinet and Patricia Kindel on bassoon. Tickets will be available at Hearthside Books.
"It's pretty amazing," MacLean said. "We normally come with only four or five musicians, and this year we're coming with nine."
Attendance at the festival performances has increased steadily since its inception, MacLean added.
"We enjoy a very strong audience here," she said. "A lot of people come from Anchorage. A lot of people come from Juneau. We get a lot of people from California, surprisingly."