Art beat: Musicians to showcase latest projects

Mike Dunham
Buzz Schwall with marionettes he designed and built. The marionettes, from left, are Don Giovanni, Petrushka, Sonya, and Ahab. Schwall died Aug. 26.
Evan R. Steinhauser
American actress Julie Harris as Emily Dickinson in the play “The Belle of Amherst,” on stage at London's Phoenix Theatre in 1977. Harris died Aug. 24.
Associated Press
Zuill Bailey
Photo Sitka Summer Music Festival
David Leisner.
Photo courtesy Sitka Summer Music Festival

Performers in the next set of Alaska Airlines Autumn Classics chamber music programs are warming up -- well, that may not be the right word -- with a concert at Glacier Bay/Gustavus on Monday. The two week series will start in Anchorage on Friday.

The first weekend features David Leisner, widely identified as one of the best guitarists in the world. Leisner, who has worked with major modern composers including Philip Glass, is a composer himself and will perform one of his own pieces, "Twilight Dreams" on Sept. 8.

That program will also include "Fats" Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin" and other American pop classics performed by cellist Zuill Bailey, who directs the Autumn Classics' parent organization, the Sitka Music Festival, and pianist Laura Downes. It will wind up with Downes' solo performance of George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue."

More Americana is scheduled for Sept. 7 when Downes and Bailey present work by Samuel Barber and Lucas Foss among other pieces by American composers that appear on their forthcoming CD. Downes, meanwhile, is pursuing a project titled "Exiles Cafe," which focuses on short piano works by composers who had to leave their homelands for one reason or another. The list is long and includes Frederic Chopin, Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Rachmaninoff -- and that's just scratching the surface. She'll present several selections Friday night.

The most gratifying item Friday, however, may be a performance of Franz Schubert's "Arpeggione" Sonata. While popular, it is also problematic in that it's written for an instrument that nobody plays anymore, kind of a cross between a cello and a guitar. It's usually played on cello with piano accompaniment, a balance that's never seemed convincing to me. But recently I heard a recording on KLEF radio that featured a guitar in the solo role and felt that plucking made the music much more lively and brighter. The Friday rendition will split the difference, with both Bailey and Leisner playing it, which may be the right thing to do when you don't have an actual arpeggione handy.

Looking forward to the following weekend, highlights will include Astor Piazzolla's "Grand Tango" for violin and piano on Sept. 13, with violinist Chee-Yun and pianist Natasha Paremski doing the honors, and Brahms' Piano Quartet in C Minor on Sept. 14, in which the aforenamed will be joined by Bailey and violis Marcus Thompson. Thompson is a Sitka Festival veteran who has regularly appeared in Alaska performances for 30-some years. Paremski has had several recent appearances with Bailey in Southcentral Alaska.

All programs will take place at Alaska Pacific University's Grant Hall except the finale, which really does look grand. The Sept. 15 program will be a gala celebrating KLEF's 25th anniversary and will take place at the Hotel Captain Cook. There will be table seating, hors d'oeuvres and a no-host bar and a really smashing program including the Bach Chaconne in D Minor, Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Sonata and Dvorak's Piano Quartet in E-flat Major.

Tickets for the Grant Hall programs are $30. It's $75 for the KLEF gala -- but consider for a moment what life in Anchorage would have been like in the past 25 years without classical music on the radio. There are combo discounts available, along with more details about all the programs, at Tip: Scroll way down the "Find by Title" field to get to Sitka Summer Music Festival.

Corks to pop at Saturday Pops

Earlier this week the Anchorage Symphony sent word that just four tables (and a limited number of individual seats) remain for its annual Champagne Pops Concert. Joining the symphony this year are "American Idol" finalists LaKisha Jones and Matt Giraud. The program takes place Saturday at Atwood Concert Hall. For more information call 274-8668 or click on the Champagne Pops field at

Highland fling

Anchorage Opera has announced that it will host a Scottish-themed fundraiser at which patrons can "experience the sights and sounds of the Gaelic world with special performances" and "feast on inspired cuisine." "A Night on the Moors," as the event is called, will take place at 6 p.m. on Oct. 5 at Kincaid Park and is tied to their first production of the upcoming season, "Lucia di Lammermoor," which is set in Scotland. Attire is black tie or "Scottish formal" (kilts or a suit of armor, not your Dundee United jersey). Tickets are $200, available by calling 279-2557.

In memoriam

Stage technician, set designer, artist and fabulous puppeteer Buzz Schwall of Anchorage died Aug. 26. No service or memorial plans have been announced at this writing, but it's expected that his many friends in the arts community will be arranging something.

Broadway star Julie Harris, who died on Aug. 24, is remembered as the keynote speaker at the 2001 University of Alaska Anchorage Northwest Drama Conference. It was her only trip to the state but she was apparently intrigued by what she saw. The then-75-year-old actress spoke with various parties about coming back to work with local theater folk but those plans were thwarted by a stroke she suffered shortly after the conference. It ended her performances, with a few exceptions, and eventually led to congestive heart failure, given as the cause of death.

Reach Mike Dunham at or 257-4332.