Bridging continents with music

CrossSound's new production, SeaBoard Alexander, features piano compositions from Alaska, Germany, Greece, Hungary and Japan

Posted: Friday, July 11, 2003

Pushing the myth of the last frontier beyond just rugged living, Juneau's 15-day CrossSound festival tries every summer to explore an untapped realm of contemporary music.

Beginning Friday, July 11, CrossSound will present a series of recitals, as well as "SeaBoard Alexander," a traveling program of local and international composers. The first performance features guest artist Martin Zehn, who will perform a solo recital at 7 p.m. at Northern Light United Church.

"SeaBoard" will stop in Juneau on Friday, July 18, then travel to Haines and Anchorage. Piano is the theme of this year's program. Many of the pieces are written for four-hand and six-hand piano - two or three musicians playing a piano at the same time.

CrossSound pulls together musicians and composers from around the world to work with the musicians and composers here. All are at different levels of achievement and varying phases in their careers. To make it work, the composers must write for the musicians, not the instruments. Every year, the experiment never ends - exploring new territory in making music.

"Everybody's been impressed by the adventurous spirit of it," said musician and festival co-organizer Jocelyn Clark of the musicians and composers who come here from the international music circuit. "We are an outpost here, and people come here that aren't working at the level they're used to professionally."

It's ambitious to play with musical expectations - whether musician, composer or listener - so CrossSound has encountered resistance. Since the event changes players, instruments and composers each year, the music is always different, making CrossSound dynamic and ambiguous.

Crosssound events

In Juneau at Northern Light United Church

Friday, July 11 Martin Zehn, solo, featuring the works of Messiaen and Beethoven, 7 p.m. preconcert talk, 8 p.m. concert.

Sunday, July 13 Piano-Slam!, 7 p.m., sponsored by CrossSound/KTOO FM.

Friday, July 18 SeaBoard Alexander, 7 p.m. preconcert events, 8 p.m. concert.

Friday, Aug. 1 Joyce Parry Moore and Heather Dawn Janes, 8 p.m. duo recital, featuring the works of Kurt Weill and others.

In Haines, at Chilkat Center

Saturday, July 19 SeaBoard Alexander, 7 p.m. pre-concert events, 8 p.m. concert.

In Sitka, at Harrigan Centennial Hall

Wednesday, July 23 Martin Zehn, solo, featuring the works of Messiaen and Beethoven, 7 p.m. preconcert talk, 8 p.m. concert.

In Anchorage, at UAA Arts Building Recital Hall

Saturday, July 26 SeaBoard Alexander, 7 p.m. pre-concert events, 8 p.m. concert.

For more information about CrossSound, visit

"I think one of the reasons why people have trouble wrapping themselves around us is that we're hard to place," Clark said. "It's about pulling the elements together to make a whole and each year the whole is different."

CrossSound started when Clark and her husband, composer Stefan Hakenberg, commissioned pieces for a Juneau chamber quartet, the Nimbus Ensemble. Instead of the classical formula of two violins, viola and cello, this chamber music quartet consisted of one flute, violin, viola and euphonium.

"I find that very interesting to do as a composer because it has something to do with the people who actually play," Hakenberg said. "If you think of the people when you write, it becomes a more personal product that you're giving."

Despite the difficulties, their efforts are widely recognized. In 2000 and 2001, CrossSound received first place in the bi-annual ASCAP/Chamber Music America Award for Adventurous Programming of Contemporary Music.

"When we got the award in New York, people approached us about bringing CrossSound to New York or Boston," Hakenberg said. "And the answer's no, because we would come up with something completely different. This is born in Alaska and will always be in Alaska."

"SeaBoard Alexander" features piano pieces written by composers from Germany, Greece, Hungary and Japan, as well as Sitka and Ketchikan. The show travels to Haines on Saturday, July 19, and Anchorage on Saturday, July 26.

"Albion's Shore" is a solo piece written by Cleveland-via-Sitka composer Paul Cox for Anchorage pianist Timothy Smith.

"The great thing about composing is that you always learn something new," wrote Cox via email. "CrossSound has certainly expanded my mind, since music is approached differently in different countries. Whenever these cultural views come into contact, growth is inevitable."

In "Iphigenia terrea," a 15 to 18-minute composition by Alexandros Kalogeras, the piano becomes epic. Zehn will pluck and strum the strings under the hood, while Smith and Heather Dawn Janes play the ivories. Juneau soprano Joyce Parry Moore will be singing as well, and the pianists will act as the Greek chorus at one point.

"The way I've addressed the piano as an instrument and the pianists as performers is to bring the piece closer to the way music was delivered in ancient Greece," said Kalogeras. "In vocalizing, the pianists function for the soprano in the same way the pedal functions for the piano."

"That piece is really gonna rock 'n' roll," Smith said.

The pianists are as varied as the composers.

Smith is head of Piano Studies at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Zehn, from Berlin, has built an excellent reputation as a chamber musician and soloist, specializing in Messiaen pieces. Janes just finished her master's degree from Ithaca College/School of Music in New York. She was born and raised in Juneau, graduating from Juneau-Douglas High School in 1995.

"It rarely happens that you get to discuss a composer's work with him, let alone work directly with them as you prepare for a performance," said Janes via email. "So, CrossSound's unique approach is very exciting. I'm looking forward to our performances in July."

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