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Art Beat: 2 Alaska composers are getting national attention

Among the notices from performing arts groups around the country received here recently, I spotted a familiar name -- Olga Bell. An immigrant from Moscow and student of Anchorage piano teacher Svetlana Velichko, she was about 10 when she made her debut here in 1993. In 1997, movements from her work for piano and orchestra, "Tales of Old Russia," which took second place in the national Belwin Competition for young composers, were performed by the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra.

Today she's based in New York and involved in electronic music. One reviewer described her music as "a world of layered beats, swirling synth textures, and sometimes poppy, sometimes haunting, but always beautiful vocals."

She'll be the featured artist as part of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra's "Liquid Music" series of boundary-bending classical music. Her song cycle, "Krai," will debut in a program at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis Feb. 13 next year. Bell will be joined by British musician Tom Vek and vocalist Angel Deradoorian. Hilary Hahn is among the other musicians taking part in the series.

Another composer associated with Alaska, John Luther Adams, will have the premiere of his latest piece "Become Ocean" with the Seattle Symphony on Thursday. The work is said to have been inspired by the waters of the Pacific Northwest. We're guessing that it's a substantial piece, since the only other item listed on the program is the First Violin Concerto of Dmitri Shostakovich. Adams, from Fairbanks, has received major national awards and developed a substantial following around the world.

The program will be repeated June 22 and 23.

Young Alaskan Artist announced

Cellist Jari Piper of Anchorage, 22, is the winner of the Anchorage Festival of Music's 2013 Young Alaskan Artist Award. If the name sounds familiar, he's the son of Sharman Piper, who has been the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra's principal oboist and occasional soloist for several years.

Jari Piper studied cello with the late Arthur Braendel and Linda Ottum. He's an alumnus of the Anchorage Youth Symphony. He is now studying at McGill University in Montreal and has been featured as a soloist in a concerto competition with the University of Manitoba Symphony Orchestra.

As customary, the Young Alaskan Artist Award recipient will present a recital. Piper will present his concert 7:30 p.m. Aug. 20 at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. He will be accompanied by pianist Juliana Osinchuk. Admission is by a suggested donation of $25, $10 for students. For more information about the program or the competition, call 279-2465 or email

Piper's other programs as he travels around the country this summer -- he seems to have back-to-back dates taking him from the deep South to the Southwest -- are found at his website.

Arts council meets in Nome

The Alaska State Council on the Arts will hold its annual meeting this Thursday and Friday at the Kawerak Corporation's Ublugiaq Board Room in Nome.

Business will include the awarding of annual grants for fiscal year 2013-2014. More details are available online or by calling 269-6610 in Anchorage or toll-free from elsewhere in the state, 888-278-7424.

Remembering Andrew Brown

The big news for Alaska at the end of last month came when Katie John passed into history. But another important Native leader, Andrew Brown Sr. of Mountain Village, also died around the same time, on May 25, at the Alaska Native Medical Center.

The family placed an obituary in the Daily News on May 29, but there are a few things -- drawn from both the memories of my own family and those of people who spoke at an Anchorage service on May 28 -- that I feel should be added.

I remember Brown as a strong young man, an excellent hunter, who often stopped by my parents' home to discuss the latest items in national news magazines. He subscribed to most of them and read every word every week. He had a keep interest in national and international politics and precise insights into the affairs being reported. He had a lifelong passion for learning more.

But Brown was no mere armchair news analyst. He repeatedly put his understanding of public policy to practical use for the marked benefit of his community. Among other things, he played a pivotal role in the creation of the Lower Yukon School District and was credited with seeing that the headquarters was placed more or less in the middle of the jurisdiction.

He persistently challenged government officials to pay attention to issues that he considered important and do the right thing, even when the proposed solution to a problem would involve difficulties for himself. When several Yukon fishermen were threatened with the loss of their permits after failing to file income tax paperwork, he went to bat for them. The permits were the only way these men had for making a living, he explained.

That argument didn't budge the authorities, so he offered to fill out the paperwork for each of them himself. The officials agreed, Brown shouldered the considerable task of working through a pile of 1099s and the fishermen kept their permits.

From that last anecdote, you may surmise that he possessed an uncommon degree of intelligence, competence and compassion. More than one person has told me he was the smartest man they ever met.

He was fluent in Yup'ik and his English was impeccable. Yet he used his language gifts with discretion. When he was introduced to some dignitaries -- including a reporter for Time magazine -- who visited the village around the time of statehood, he acted like he couldn't understand them.

Observers were baffled. When asked why he'd feigned ignorance, he said, "If they knew I could speak English, they'd want me to organize a meeting and it would just cause trouble."

He went on to explain that Fish and Wildlife officers once found out he could translate and made him take them to a fish camp where they confiscated a net belonging to another local resident.

Brown was buried in Mountain Village on June 1.

'Raven' lands in America

After original publication in Canada, Alaska author Don Rearden's novel "The Raven's Gift" is out in a new paperback edition from Pintail Books, an imprint of Putnam/Penguin in New York. The story involves rural Alaska in the throes of an apocalyptic disaster. At the time of the initial publication, the author told the Daily News that the Canadian release had caused hitches in U.S. distribution. Here's hoping the Pintail release on June 25 takes care of that.

Reach Mike Dunham at or 257-4332.