Strings Festival brings sound of music

Posted: Thursday, August 03, 2000

Got music? Starting today and continuing through Aug. 13, the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra's Summer Strings Festival will make classical music on the peninsula as common an occurrence as finding milk in the dairy aisle.

The festival includes free noon performances by local and guest artists at restaurants and other venues in Kenai, Soldotna and Homer and evening concerts with the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra, its guest soloist and artists in residence.

"The next 10 days are a wonderful opportunity to hear some great music," said Mark Robinson, the conductor of the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra. "For serious classical music fans there's more happening in the next 10 days than in the rest of the year. Even people that don't think of themselves as classical music fans, I'm really confident if they come and hear it live they will have a wonderful time."

This is the third year of the festival. Robinson says it has become an annual early-August event that evolved from the orchestra's summer concerts.

Tuba player Mike Martinson from Anchorage will be the orchestra's guest soloist at its gala concerts on Friday and Saturday evenings. Martinson is the principal tubist of the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra and coordinator of music for the Anchorage school district.

He will be performing the signature piece for tuba in orchestra, Robinson said, a concerto by R. Vaughan Williams.

"I'm really excited," Robinson said. "We've had all kinds of guest artists, but never a tuba before. The piece of music he's playing is very challenging, exciting, and beautiful -- not an oompah, oompah sort of thing. Contrary to our concept of the tuba, it is really quite a melodic instrument in this piece. I think the audience will be very surprised and pleased by what they hear."

The DeVere Quartet from Syracuse, N.Y., are the festival's artists in residence and orchestra clinicians. They will perform two noon events, a formal evening concert Aug. 13 and will provide the music for the festival's Champagne, Chocolate and Chopin a la Tutka fund-raiser cruise on Kachemak Bay.

For $75, patrons can take a cruise on the Rainbow Connection across Kachemak Bay to the Tutka Bay Lodge and enjoy music from the quartet and desserts from the Fresh Sourdough Express Bakery.

According to Robinson, last year's fund-raiser, also featuring the DeVere Quartet, was quite memorable. At one point, the rain mists cleared and a rainbow appeared while the quartet played Pachelbel's Canon in D. During a piece patterned after Native American music, a bald eagle added its voice to the music and acted as guest soloist until the song was over and it flew away.

"Now of course we can't guarantee that again, but it was a great event," Robinson said. "It's a combination of awesome music and awesome scenery, with a little chocolate on the side."

The Kenai Peninsula Orchestra has been in existence for 18 years. It is comprised of 40 to 50 musicians of varying experience levels from all over the peninsula. They practice in Ninilchik and have been conducted by Mark Robinson, the choral director at Homer High School, for the last 11 years.

"It's really special to get to conduct some of these master works of music and work with such great people," Robinson said. "I get to wave my arms and conduct Mozart, Beethoven and Bach. There are a lot of challenges in working with a community orchestra, but when we get in the rehearsal room and get on stage it's really a great experience. There are so many great musicians in there that I learn from and grow from. It's pretty special."

Putting on the Summer Strings Festival takes a lot of extra effort, Robinson said, as well as extra finances to pay for renting or purchasing the music, hosting the guest artists and soloist, hall rentals and other expenses. In addition, many of the orchestra members are performing in the noon concerts as well as the orchestra's gala concert.

"It's a nonstop effort on top of the fundamental responsibilities of rehearsing and preparing to play well," Robinson said. "It's always surprising how much there is behind the scenes of things like this."

For classical music enthusiasts, or anyone that appreciates quality music, the Summer Strings Festival is a wonderful opportunity.

"Classical music doesn't only have to happen in New York City," Robinson said. "It can happen anywhere, and it's happening on the Kenai Peninsula. I think it's very exciting."

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