Gala concerts to close summer orchestra music festival

The Navy Band Northwest performs during the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra's Summer Music Festival. (Jenny Neyman, KBBI)
The Navy Band Northwest performs during the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra’s Summer Music Festival. (Jenny Neyman, KBBI)

Audiences have been enjoying the sweet sounds of the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra’s Summer Music Festival this week and last. It’s about to wrap up, with noon concerts Thursday and Friday, and gala concerts Friday and Saturday.

The annual two-week summer music festival in Homer and the central Kenai Peninsula includes free noon concerts at venues around town, as well as chamber orchestra and string quartet performances from local and guest musicians.

And there’s a first this year — the Navy Band Northwest is performing on the peninsula, as well as in the orchestra’s gala concerts Friday and Saturday.

“And it’s just such a pleasure to have them here,” said Maria Allison, accompanist for the orchestra. “They’ve added so much. A couple of them are playing with us in the orchestra. And, of course, Sterling Strickler, our local celebrity, who is a bassoonist in the Navy Winds and graduated from Kenai High School. It’s just so fun to have him back here.”

A wind trio and saxophone quartet performed Wednesday in Kenai, requiring extra chairs to be brought out to accommodate the growing audience. Among the crowd was guest conductor David Jacobs, director of orchestral studies at the University of Oregon, who will be leading two pieces in the gala orchestra concerts.

“I jumped at the chance to come to the Kenai Peninsula because it’s a beautiful place in the summer, and to work with the musicians of the community. They just carry such a passion for music with them. So I really treasure the opportunity to work with those people,” Jacobs said.

The gala concerts are taking a Russian turn this year.

Jacobs is conducting Alexander Borodin’s “Polovtsian Dances” and Mily Alexeyevich Balakirev’s “Overture on Three Russian Themes.”

He says that both are 19th-century Russian nationalist composers.

“Since they’re Russian nationalists, essentially the music has a lot of roots in Russian folk music,” Jacobs said. “So there are tunes that maybe people know just from hearing Russian folk songs. The Borodin is very flashy and showy, and just a real kind of showstopper pieces. And the Balakirev is just a really nice, pleasant, little variations of Russian folk songs.”

After intermission, the orchestra, as well as community choirs from Homer and the central peninsula, will perform Sergei Prokofiev’s “Alexander Nevsky.”

“Some of the movements are in Russian, some of them are in Latin,” Allison said. “And one of the movements is depicting the scene where the battle takes place on the ice of a lake. And the heavy armor of the German soldiers breaks the ice and they all go through the ice and are drowned. It’s extremely dramatic.”

Audiences might be familiar with some of these works, as some folk themes were used by more famous composers, such as Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Igor Stravinsky. But even if not, they shouldn’t disappoint.

“I would just encourage anyone, whether they been to an orchestra concert ever before or not to come because it’s going to be really exciting music that anyone can enjoy,” Jacobs said.

The Kenai Peninsula Orchestra’s gala concerts will be held at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Homer Mariner Theater at Homer High School, and 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Renee C. Henderson Auditorium at Kenai Central High School, with a lecture 45 minutes before each concert.

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