Youth Symphony to present more premieres

April 21, 2012 

The big attraction at the Anchorage Youth Symphony's performance on May 5 will be Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, which closes the program. The Anchorage Concert Chorus will join the orchestra with soloists Anastasia Jamieson, Marlene Bateman, John Ken Nuzzo and Anton Belov.

But the first half of the program is equally intriguing for a number of new -- or rarely heard -- pieces by Alaskans. They include the premiere of Philip Munger's "Four Alaska Trees," "A Sonnet Against Regret" by George Belden, "Sky with Four Suns" and "Sky with Four Moons" by John Luther Adams and "Alaska" by Victoria Fraser.

Of the four, Fraser is the new composer on the block. The 2006 graduate of Service High School is now in her last year of graduate school at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, majoring in vocal performance. Born in Anchorage, she sang with the Alaska Children's Choir and Anchorage Concert Chorus and studied voice with Kate Egan before going off to Smith College for her undergraduate work. She graduated with honors in music and Italian.

It was at Smith where, as part of a senior thesis, she wrote "Alaska."

"I found seven poems by different authors -- about whales, northern lights, eagles, snow, very Alaska things -- and set them for full chorus and piano," she said. "It was nine months of work, but composing has always been incredibly fulfilling for me."

She never studied composition, she said, but was encouraged to try it early on by her piano teacher, Cindy Epperson.

She sent the finished score to Anchorage Concert Chorus director Grant Cochran and asked if any local groups might perform the 17-minute piece. In January he called her and said the chorus would like to do it as part of the Youth Symphony concert.

"It's very classical, very tonal," Fraser said. She was guided by the subjects in the poems, she added. "For the whale, I tried to make it fluid. For the northern lights I used the musical equivalent of high brush strokes of bright colors.

"I sent it to Grant Coch- ran and asked if there were groups this would be good for. It might work for us. He let me know in January that they wanted to do it."

She said the idea for the piece came when she was living abroad and "feeling nostalgic about my home state. In my travels, I have yet to encounter another people as loving and as proud of their surroundings as we Alaskans and it took an extended absence for me to truly appreciate and remember why that is."

The first half of the program, which will be conducted by Cochran, will also feature a rare treat, "Winds of the Mountains" by Robert Crawford, who grew up in Gold Rush Fairbanks. He's best known as the author of "The Air Force Song," better known by its first line, "Off we go into the wild blue yonder." In the 1950s, he returned to Alaska and composed this piece, dedicating it to the Anchorage Community Chorus, the original name of the Concert Chorus. This may be the first time it's been heard since then.

Yet more new Alaska music is on tap at the Anchorage Civic Orchestra concert at 7 p.m. on Saturday in the Sydney Laurence Auditorium. Concertmaster Lee Wilkins will debut his "American 1812 Overture."

Word is that the piece is due to be played by outside orchestras including Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

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