Russian In: Juneau Symphony plans ‘Romantic’ weekend

Upcoming concerts to tackle Russian Romantic era composers, feature unique showcase for young artist

Juneau Symphony’s guest conductor will lead concerts slightly outside the symphony’s wheelhouse.

“Russian Romantics” will be performed Jan. 26 and Jan. 27, and the concerts will be conducted by Tigran Arakelyan, an Armenian music director and conductor who lives in Seattle. It will be part of his first appearance in Juneau.

“I thought we should do something that the orchestra hasn’t done before,” Arakelyan said. “It’s kind of a great thing for the orchestra and the community to learn something new.”

Arakelyan works with five organizations in Seattle: the Northwest Mahler Festival, Port Townsend Orchestra, Federal Way Youth Symphony, Bainbridge Island Youth Orchestras and Bremerton Youth Symphony.

[Familiar face and tunes in season opener]

Arakelyan is a flautist in addition to his experience directing and conducting. On Saturday, Jan. 19, he performed in the Sealaska Heritage Institute-Juneau Symphony collaborative event, Flutes From Around the World.

He said the two upcoming concerts will feature works by Peter Illyich Tchaikovsy, Nikolai Rimsky-Koraskov and Alexander Borodin.

“Russians love the melodies and the harmonies, and you hear a lot of beautiful melodies in these pieces,” Arakelyan said.

All three Russian composers were big fans of woodwinds when compared to their contemporaries. That means the concerts will have the full orchestra involved in proceedings.

“They were really using a lot of the winds and the brass and the percussion, so it was really heavy in that sense,” Arakelyan said. “It’s really beautiful.”

[Check out Tchaikovsky]

Stan Lujan, president of the symphony’s board of directors, said that contrasts with a lot of symphonic compositions that specifically highlight the violin.

“What I like about Tigran’s (chosen) pieces is they feature everyone,” Lujan said. “There’s so many solos in there that almost every sectional gets a shot at showcasing their work.”

An animated Arakelyan said you can’t go wrong with Russian Romantic era composers.

“The three things that are absolutely essential to music, they all do it so well: the harmony, the melody and the rhythm,” Arakelyan said. “It’s just so amazing. You hear it from the very opening.”

The concerts will feature one non-Russian Romantic era piece.

Reece Bleakley, a junior at Thunder Mountain High School, will perform the first movement of Luigi Boccherini’s “Concerto in D Major.”

[Young flautist plays clan house event, upcoming symphony concert]

Bleakley, an all-state standout at Thunder Mountain and the winner of the symphony’s Youth Solo Competition, will join the symphony in the performance.

Arakelyan spoke highly of the young musician’s skill.

“She is super talented,” Arakelyan said.

He said he was particularly impressed that Bleakley created a cadenza, or short showcase moment, for the performance. The practice dates back to the days of composers such as Bach and Mozart.

“It was kind of like an improvised thing like jazz musicians do now,” Arakelyan said. “Reece, she wrote her own cadenza, which is very, very surprising for a young musician, but it also shows that in the 21st century, young classical musicians are taking a step in the right direction. They’re doing things that for maybe 100 years or so classical musicians have shied away from.”

“I went to her private practice a couple of days ago and heard it,” he added. “It’s going to be fantastic. I’m so excited.”

A new direction

Juneau Symphony’s ongoing 2018-2019 concert season features four guest conductors while the symphony searches for a new music director and conductor. Previous music director Troy Quinn accepted a music director position with the Venice Symphony over the summer.

Dwayne Corbin was the guest conductor in November, and Arakelyan is the guest conductor for January. In April, the baton will be passed to William Todd Hunt, of Juneau, and in June Yaniv Attar will helm a salute to the Boston Pops.

Lujan said highlighting a guest conductor or musician is a new direction for the symphony.

“The symphony has never taken any of our conductors or musicians and said, ‘OK, you’re a flautist, let’s feature you,’” Lujan said.

However, Lujan said Attar, who is also a classical guitarist, and accomplished pianist Jessica Choe will be part of special performances in June.

“We’re trying to extend ourselves from the stage to other venues to keep symphonies alive.”

Know & Go

What: Juneau Symphony’s “Russian Romantics” Concert

When: 7 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 26 and 3 p.m., Sunday Jan. 27

Where: Juneau-Douglas High School Yadaa.at Kalé auditorium

Admission: Tickets cost $15-$35 and can be purchased online at http://www.juneausymphony.org/concerts/current-season/, at the Juneau Arts & Culture Center, the symphony’s office and Hearthside Books.


• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com.


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