New sounds at the Sitka Summer Music Festival

Harp pieces, the first in a cycle of Beethoven quartets and a Steinway are among the new features of this year's concerts

Posted: Thursday, June 06, 2002

After 31 years, the Sitka Summer Music Festival is still hitting new notes.

This summer, the 13-concert series will resound with the sounds of Beethoven, harp music and a new 9-foot participant - a Steinway grand piano purchased and shipped to Sitka just less than a month ago.

"We've always had a smaller piano," said Doris Stevenson, pianist and co-founder of the festival with Juneau violinist Paul Rosenthal. "The other time we were really careful to get a chamber-music piano. We got one that was so mellow and it got mellower and mellower, and it finally got so mellow that you could hardly get any sound out of it."

The new piano corrects that problem.

"You want the notes to ring as long as possible on a piano," Stevenson said. "Some way, if the sound kind of blooms, it makes you feel more poetic."

Poetry and entertainment come together over the course of the three-week festival, which runs from June 7 to 28 and draws renowned classical musicians from around the world to Sitka. This year, 17 performers will appear; new faces include Canadian harpist Rita Costanzi, American violinist Christine Frank and Korean pianist Jee-Won Oh.

"My formula over the years has been pretty steady," Rosenthal said. "We like to have old friends come and we like to bring new people. It's nice to see familiar faces and it's nice to make some new acquaintances."

The presence of a harpist allows for some new twists to music selection.

"It's been quite a long time since we had a harp in Sitka," Rosenthal said. "She's very splendid. Harp music tends to be its very own little world. There's some really interesting stuff happening for harp when you go right down to it."

The final week of the festival also will feature a performance of Beethoven's six early string quartets. In years to come, Rosenthal plans to perform the composer's five middle quartets and six late quartets.

"We are starting the complete cycle of Beethoven quartets," he said. "I don't think it's ever been done in Alaska, actually. They're a pinnacle. When you talk about the chamber music repertoire, this is considered by most people to be the Mount Everest. At least the Denali."

The quartets will be performed successively at evening concerts June 25 and 28.

Cellist Jeffrey Solow, who has performed with the festival for much of its 31-year run, agreed with Rosenthal about their appeal.

"You just get immersed in them and you get to get a deeper sense of what Beethoven was thinking about musically by doing them all like that," Solow said. "As the quartets go along, you can feel some of the later musical impulses that grew as he continued through his creative life span. You can see the first seeds sprouting."

Concert events also include a free family concert and ice cream social June 9 and free brown-bag performances on June 13 and 20.

Performers will bring the Beethoven quartets to Juneau for a special performance June 29.

Tickets can be purchased at several locations in Sitka, or by calling (907) 747-6774.

Genevieve Gagne-Hawes can be reached at

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