Sweet sounds of summer — Kenai Peninsula Orchestra tunes up for annual music festival

By Jenny Neyman

Photo courtesy of Lee Johnson. Tammy Vollom-Matturro conducts a rehearsal of the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra last summer. This year’s Summer Music Festival gala concert will be held in Kenai on Aug. 14.

Redoubt Reporter

For the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra, preparing for the annual summer music festival involves many difficulties. Getting ready to perform a program of demanding, intricate, energetic and expressive works by Brahms, Mozart, Sibelius and Moussorgsky for the festival’s centerpiece gala concerts is the primary challenge, but one that is as fulfilling as it is formidable.

Organizing rehearsals for the 60 or so musicians from Nikiski to Homer and points in between takes some logistical wizardry, as does coordinating with guest performers and soloists visiting from Outside. Wrangling enough musicians and local venues for two weeks of Noontime Tunes concerts on the central peninsula and Homer is no easy trick, either.

But this year brings a new wrinkle, one that has yet to be smoothed out. The popular chamber music dinner cruise from Homer across Kachemak Bay is changing destinations, from Tutka Bay to Halibut Cove. Instead of Champagne, Chocolate and Chopin a la Tutka, as it’s been known in the past, Sunday’s cruise needs a new name to go with the new direction.

That has proved troublesome. It’s not for a lack of possibilities — it’s choosing between too many:

Champagne, Chocolate and Chopin? Sips, Salmon and Sibelius? Vino, Victuals and Vivaldi? Mead, Mousse, and Mozart? Beverage, Barbecue and Beethoven? Toddy, Tarts and Telemann? Drinks, Dinner and Dvořák?

Decisions, decisions.

“We don’t know what to call it yet,” said Tammy Vollom-Matturro, KPO artistic director and conductor.

Photo courtesy of Lee Johnson. Evelyn Estava, with the Madison String Quartet, is one of the guest soloists to perform with the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra in its gala concerts next week.

“Champagne, Shish Kabobs and Schumann? Beer, Brats and Beethoven? I have no idea.”

What she does know is the Madison String Quartet will be performing on the cruise again this year, and they’re well worth cruising along with, even if the destination were a garbage scow. Refuse, Rubbish and Rachmaninoff, perhaps?

“The Madison String Quartet, this is their third year up here and they’re just a fantastic group. They always put on fabulous concerts. It’s always a great one to go to,” Vollom-Matturro said.

The cruise leaves Homer at 6 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $120 per person.

Two performers from the quartet, violinist Evelyn Estava and violist Michael Avagliano, are doing double duty this year as the guest soloists for the gala concerts, held in Kenai and Homer. They will perform Mozart’s “Sinfonia Concertante” with the orchestra.

“It was a suggestion from the Madison String Quartet. We were trying to figure out what to do for the soloists this year, and they said, ‘Hey, I know this piece featuring violin and viola.’ And I said, ‘Hey, I know that piece too.’ It’s very, very popular and very familiar,” Vollom-Matturro said.

More than just being well-known, the piece fits in well with the overall theme of the concert, which Vollom-Matturro likens to this summer’s weather — diverse and ever variable. The program starts off with Sibelius’ “Finlandia,” full of fanfares and all the warmth and promise a bright, sunny morning brings.

Next, Vollom-Matturro compares Mozart’s “Sinfonia Concertante,” with its easy, soothing rhythms and melodies, to a calm, relaxing summer day — bluebird skies plied by puffy white clouds.

Just as it seems safe to uncover the barbecue grill or head off on a camping trip, the weather takes a turn to foreboding and stormy, with “Night on Bald Mountain” by Moussorgsky. The piece is again quite recognizable, but somewhat out of place in a summer concert. With its moody, brooding feel, it’s usually relegated to performances around Halloween. But Vollom-Matturro couldn’t resist capitalizing on the date of the first gala concert on Aug. 13 — Friday the 13th.

“It’s very moody and powerful and flamboyant, with lots of percussion and brass and everything. It’s Friday the 13th, so we needed a little mood music there. And it’s a great piece of music. Most people know that piece,” she said.

Though July on the central Kenai Peninsula hasn’t been the best example, weather patterns do shift, and even the rainy, windy stretches clear up. For Vollom-Matturro, that’s where Brahms’ “Symphony No. 2 in D Major” is a beautiful fit. She said it particularly reminds her of an Alaska summer — full of beauty, richness and variability.

“The Brahms is amazing in several ways. That’s our big-guns piece. It’s a bear, but it’s a wonderful piece of music,” she said.

The gala concerts will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 13 at Homer Mariner Theatre, and Aug. 14 at the Renee C. Henderson Auditorium at Kenai Central High School, with a preconcert lecture preceding both performances at 6:45 p.m.

“It’s a really good balance of classical and Romantic-era music, late Romantic-era music, so it’s not all one genera. It’s split up, and Moussorgsky is very a movie-music type,” Vollom-Matturro said.

The Madison String Quartet will also perform with Kenai pianist Maria Allison and Mark Wolbers, music professor at University of Alaska Anchorage, at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Christ Lutheran Church in Soldotna; and with guest French horn players Anthony Cecere and Katie Dennis at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 15 at Faith Lutheran Church in Homer. Tickets for the gala concerts and chamber music performances are $15 for general admission, $12 for seniors and youth, and $10 for Raven’s Club members. Tickets for all formal concerts are available at Charlotte’s in Kenai, River City Books in Soldotna, and Etude Music Studio and the Homer Bookstore in Homer, or call 907-235-7579 for reservations.

The festival also involves another breath of variety, a series of noon concerts in Homer and the central

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Kent Peterson and Jeanne Duhan laugh with the audience during a break in their performance at St. Elias Brewing Co. on Monday. Their performance began two weeks of noon concerts at various venues around the central Kenai Peninsula and Homer.

peninsula that are a sort of lively breeze of music to tickle the ears. Orchestra members and other area musicians volunteer to perform at a variety of restaurants, coffee shops and public venues at noon Monday through Friday this week and next.

On the central peninsula, upcoming performances are: JulieAnn Smith at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center today, the Madison String Quartet at Charlotte’s Restaurant in Kenai on Thursday, Jack Will and Sue Biggs at Veronica’s Café in Kenai on Friday, Dan Pascucci at River City Books in Soldotna on Monday, Michelle Klaben and Tashina Wortham at the Funky Monkey in Kenai on Tuesday, the Central Peninsula Community Orchestra at the Soldotna Public Library on Aug. 11, Mi’shell Reid and Tashina Wortham at Kaladi Brothers on Kobuk Street in Soldotna on Aug. 12, and Hobo Jim at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center on Aug. 13. All noon concerts are free, though KPO organizers ask that listeners patronize the hosting businesses.

“We’ve got lots of good variety — people playing original compositions of folk music to people playing woodwind duets. We’ve got Hobo Jim, and Dan Pascucci is a hoot, so there’s total variety. Pretty much anything you want, you’ll find it at one of these concerts,” Vollom-Matturro said.

“I kind of relay it to Alaska summers — lots of variety. Is it sunny? Wait, no, but not really rainy,” she said.

And if the weather outside doesn’t start showing a little more variety from clouds and rain, then the music festival could be just the bright spot needed this summer.

“We might as well be sitting inside doing something else, listening to great music,” Vollom-Matturro said.

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