Best Bets: Tough choice for music lovers Saturday

Posted: Thursday, January 31, 2002

Lovers of Irish and classical music will be torn Saturday night, forced to chose between an excellent Irish concert and a stellar performance of the Juneau Symphony.

Fortunately, the symphony also performs Sunday afternoon, offering a rare encore concert. The symphony will feature a Gypsy-flavored work by Bartok, highlighting the talents of violinist and concertmaster Steve Tada; a Mozart piano concerto with soloist Daniel Wallen Gruenberg; and a visually adventurous rendition of Holst's popular suite "The Planets."

Tada has long been a fan of Gypsy music. He also has a connection to Bartok; Tada's violin teacher was an associate of the Hungarian composer and a consummate master of his music. This concert is a great opportunity to see Tada showcased as a soloist.

Earlier this season the symphony featured tone paintings - compositions that evoked images and pictures - in a performance. Holst's music in "The Planets" may conjure visions of the cosmos in the imagination, but the symphony will make sure the audience sees galaxies, nebulae and our solar system in the auditorium.

The symphony has arranged to have about 50 astronomical images, photographed through the orbiting Hubble telescope and from an observatory in Australia, projected during the concert. Friends of the Marie Drake Planetarium also will be on hand in the lobby with hands-on displays and astronomy exhibits.

Conductor Kyle Wiley Pickett will give a talk about the concert music about an hour before each performance. He's great at pulling out interesting details that help people appreciate the concert. There will be performances at 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.

Irish musicians Johnny Connolly and Aidan Brennan perform Saturday night at Centennial Hall. Connolly is a virtuoso button accordionist who plays traditional Irish and French tunes with verve. The button accordion has a clear tone and is a far more nimble instrument than the big piano accordions. Connolly's recording, "Bridgetown," is excellent.

Brennan is playing guitar. Like Connolly, he was born and raised in Dublin. Brennan was based on the West Coast for a number of years and became a sought-after accompanist, backing up a variety of topnotch Irish musicians when they toured this part of the world. He's played in Juneau with fiddle virtuosos Kevin Burke, James Kelly and Martin Hays.

He's a gifted singer and guitarist and plays in open tunings, providing strong rhythmic support and the suggestion of harmony lines but never overshadowing the melody player. He's great at showcasing the lead player and complementing the instrumentals with some songs.

It's a cosmic double-header this week. Monday night, Fairbanks-based physicist Roger Smith, director of the University of Alaska's Geophysical Institute, gives a presentation called "Watching the Aurora from Earth and Space." This is the first of a four-part series called "Science for Alaska," offered at 7:30 p.m. on consecutive Mondays at Centennial Hall. All presentations are free. Others include "Diving for Dinner: How Seals Survive Underwater," "The Birth of the Valley of 10,000 Smokes" and "Tracking Caribou by Satellite."

The Alaska State Museum opens two shows Friday with a reception from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. This would be a good opening to catch, and kids are welcome. Book artist Artemis BonaDea and dollmaker Mary Ellen Frank are featured, and both have a wealth of art and knowledge to share. As it turns out, they're both longtime friends and are delighted their solo exhibitions coincide.

BonaDea is coming from Anchorage but lived in Juneau and Gustavus for about 25 years. She said folks often are inquisitive about her work and she's happy to explain how she created her art books, which are sculptural structures as much as books.

"I think both these shows would be really good for kids and young people," BonaDea said. "A lot of kids have made books in school. They can see someone else who's making these things."

She said art books combine both crafting and artistry.

"They move. They're sturdy. They have to be put together well. I enjoy that joining of art and craft," she said. "Mary Ellen's art is very beautiful and creative and it has a lot of craft in it, too, very fine craft work."

Dan Fruits is another artist who is passionate about his artwork and generous with his expertise. He opens a show Friday night at the same time as Frank and BonaDea, but at the JuneauDouglas City Museum. In addition to the opening reception at the City Museum, he will be available Saturday afternoon in the museum gallery.

Riley Woodford can be reached at

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