Every year, the more than 40 active musicians in the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra travel hundreds of miles driven by a simple love for melody, harmony and rhythm.
"They literally are playing for crumbs," said Mark Robinson, orchestra director.
What inspires this active group to span the peninsula bringing music to the masses is simple, Robinson said.
"They love to play and share their playing. We are playing western civilization's master works," he said.
At no time is the orchestra so visible as this coming week, during the Summer String Festival, when groups of musicians pepper restaurants around town during lunch. In addition, several concerts will highlight guest performers from the New York-based De Vere Quartet, as well as featured soloist and jazz musician William Morse.
Robinson said the annual summer event, which has been going on for more than a decade in one form or another, allows musicians a chance to perform. It also allows orchestra members to hobnob with and learn from some accomplished performers.
For the third year in a row, the De Vere Quartet will not only perform with the orchestra, its members will share their musical skills in classes and workshop settings.
The quartet, made up of musicians from the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra, is a perfect match for the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra, Robinson said.
"They have become our artists in residence," he said.
"Their attitudes are so wonderful, they enjoy us and they enjoy the community. Every year we keep asking them, 'Are you coming back?'"
The quartet's impact on the musicians goes beyond the music lessons they give while here, though.
"It's more than getting information," Robinson said. "It's getting inspiration. It's the battery charge you get out of it that's important."
For musicians, living at or near the end of the road means opportunities for lessons are limited. The festival and guest performers who come with it to work with the orchestra make a difference all year long.
"I know it has a carrying effect throughout the year," he said. "You can just tell."
In addition to the returning quartet, a new performer and a new musical genre will come to town this time. William Morse is a Colorado-based jazz pianist and symphony orchestra conductor with the Jefferson Symphony Orchestra among others. In his free time, he performs with a jazz trio and with the Queen City Jazz Band, as well as elbow-to-elbow with big names such as Wynton Marsalis, Billy Taylor, Doc Severenson, Henry Cuesta and the Chenille Sisters.
Robinson said adding jazz to the orchestra's repertoire is exciting for the performers.
"We're working with a different dimension," Robinson said. "Jazz is America's classical music."
This new flavor will be apparent in the Gala Concert on Aug. 11 at the Mariner Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Robinson said Morse will have several solo portions, including some improvisational elements. Adding to the mix will be Homer High School sax player Andy Vait.
Jazz lovers also can partake in a cabaret night at Alice's Champagne Palace on Aug. 10 at 10 p.m. Morse will be joined by drummer Jim Buncak and bassist Tom Klinker.
Other events of the Summer String Festival include the indulgent fund-raiser on board the Rainbow Connection featuring champagne, chocolate and "Chopin la Tutka." The event is Sunday starting at 6 p.m. Tickets are $75.
The De Vere Quartet will perform a final concert with JulieAnn Smith on Aug. 12 at 7:30 p.m. at Bunnell Street Gallery. Tickets are $12 with discounts.
For a complete list of free luncheon concerts around Homer, check the Homer News Arts and Entertainment Calendar. For more information on any of these events call 235-6318, and for reservations call 235-7579.
Carey James is a reporter for the Homer News.
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