Making music

KPO marks 25th summer festival

Posted: Thursday, August 09, 2007

To hear the music ...

  The Southwest String Quartet performs Wednesday at the Kenai Merit Inn. The event was one of several associated with the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra's Summer Music Festival. Photo by M. Scott Moon

There are several events remaining as part of the Summer Festival. There is a series of luncheon concerts in the Kenai-Soldotna area and in Homer. All the luncheon concerts begin at noon and are free.


The Southwest String Quartet performs Wednesday at the Kenai Merit Inn. The event was one of several associated with the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra's Summer Music Festival.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

In the central peninsula, Kent Peterson will play at The Crossing and Jack Will and Sue Biggs will play at Charlotte's today. Jan and the Tonics will play at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center Friday.

In Homer, Gary Stroutsos will give a lecture-demonstration at the Island and Ocean Visitor Center today, and Hallie Hudson will play at the Bunnell Street Gallery on Friday. The Gala Concert will take place at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Renee C. Henderson Auditorium at Kenai Central High School in Kenai and at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Homer Mariner Theatre on Saturday. The Gala Concerts include a preshow lecture starting at 6:45 p.m.

At 7:30 p.m. Sunday the Southwest String Quartet with JulieAnn Smith will perform at Faith Lutheran Church in Homer. For more information on any of the events, call (907) 235-4899 or visit

Twenty-five years, 30 different events at two ends of the Kenai Peninsula and more than 85 musicians: It's a busy two weeks for Laura Norton.

The Kenai Peninsula Orchestra is in the midst of a two-week Summer Music Festival that marks an important milestone for the all-volunteer group that spans the peninsula.

"It's the 25th anniversary, so we've invited a lot of people to come back anyone who's ever played with us. So we have several people who haven't been with us in a while, who have indeed come back, which is really cool," said Norton, production manager.

According to Mark Robinson, who has served as the artistic director and conductor for KPO for the last 17 years, the volunteer work from all involved over the years would be valued in millions of dollars. Musicians travel from all over the peninsula to Ninilchik to rehearse. The orchestra has built itself on education and skill development.

"The strings have grown significantly, particularly in the last seven years or so, since we've been bringing up a professional string quartet every year. It grows in two ways: It grows numerically, but also, working with a professional string quartet every year, it boosts everyone's individual, and therefore collective, abilities as an ensemble. So they develop more skills, so that translates to more confidence, which translates to more success with our repertoire, which translates to more fun, and so people are inspired to come back," Robinson said.

"We are delighted with our new string quartet. This is the first year that we've had the Southwest String ... they're just marvelous," Norton said of the professional musicians out of Tucson, Ariz.

The orchestra also works to bring in a woodwind and a brass clinician each year to boost the skill development of the brass and woodwinds.

"This is a particularly exciting year because we have so much going on. We really kind of have, in some ways, three guest artists. We have Paul Rosenthal, who is just a phenomenal virtuoso violinist playing the Beethoven 'Violin Concerto.' But we also have Bob Richardson returning, who is the founding conductor of the orchestra, and he has written a couple of pieces, one of which he has written just for this occasion," Robinson said

"He has written these pieces for Native American flute and orchestra, and he's brought up a friend of his from the Seattle area who is

an ethnic flute specialist and an expert, and they are just haunting, and beautiful and really cool."

The orchestra comes full circle in this year. Richardson, whose silhouette is cast on the wall mural on Pioneer Avenue across from the Duncan House Diner in Homer, has two piece, "Song of the Lonely Man" and "Along the River."

"It's really great to have Bob up here. There was a lot of vision and courage on his part to start the orchestra," Robinson said.

One of the largest events for the festival, the Gala Concert, will play in Kenai and Homer.

The program opens with Rosenthal playing "Violin Concerto."

"With Beethoven, you could just take about anything he ever wrote, and put it in a time capsule and say this represents the pinnacle of our civilization. It's just phenomenal music. A concerto is basically a 'show-off' piece for a solo and Paul Rosenthal is just the guy. ... It'll just be jaw-dropping for the audience," Robinson said.

After intermission, the orchestra will play Richardson's work, with guest artist Gary Stroutsos.

"(Stroutsos) is just a tremendous artist. It's such a different sound, it's so haunting and so beautiful and so completely different from Beethoven," Robinson said. "I just heard him play at Tutka Bay with the string quartet and people were moved to tears."

According to Norton, the symphonic sound of the full complement of the KPO is important to the final piece.

"It's exciting, since we have the numbers we can pull off a big piece of music like 'The Planets.' It's got a huge wind section, and you can't do that unless you have the strings," Norton said.

Robinson agreed.

"It's just towering. I mean it's just monumental work. It's huge," he said.

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