Sitka Summer Music Festival artistic director wins two Grammys

Zuill Bailey, artistic director of the Sitka Summer Music Festival, won two Grammys on Sunday during his 25th anniversary year as a touring musician.

“I’m speechless,” Bailey said on Tuesday.

The awards were his first Grammys and were awarded for “Classical instrumental solo,” and “Contemporary classical composition” for “Daugherty: Tales of Hemingway,” a 28-minute cello concerto made of four movements, based on stories from writer Ernest Hemingway.

Commissioned by the Nashville Symphony, composer Michael Daugherty translated Hemingway’s stories “Big Two-Hearted River,” “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “The Old Man and the Sea” and “The Sun Also Rises” into music.

“Daugherty: Tales of Hemingway” also won “Best Classical Compendium.” The concerto was recorded in front of a live audience on April 17, 2015 at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

“I never felt anything like that before. … They don’t teach you how this feels” Bailey said, describing how it feels to win one of the pinnacle awards of the music industry. It’s one of those you-have-to-experience-for-yourself moments, he said. “(The feeling) is very similar to how it happened with the live recording. I haven’t felt that way since that recording.”

In a Youtube video by Naxos, Daugherty said he had wanted to compose a piece on Hemingway , and when he learned Hemingway played the cello as a youth, he realized he had found the connection he was seeking. Daugherty heard virtuoso cellist Bailey in May 2014, liked his cello’s masculine and vocal sound, and wanted his fingerprints on it. With him on board, he focused the musical works around the cello, so it would be the narrative voice of the concerto.

Bailey said after he agreed to the concert and recording, he didn’t hear from Daugherty for eight months. He got the sheet music in January 2015, in the middle of his busiest season. He had only a matter of weeks before the concert and live recording to become the voice of Hemingway. He blocked out his mornings “and absorbed the music,” he said.

Daugherty did a reading with Bailey on piano and he on his cello. Forty-eight hours before the concert, Bailey finally got to hear the orchestra live.

“The ink was still fresh on the page,” he said of the whole concerto. Daugherty was making tweaks to the piece all the way until the curtains went up, Bailey said, which put “incredible pressure” as he went onstage before a large crowd with “mics hanging like trees around me.”

Bailey has recorded for numerous CDs before, but each piece had been something he had practiced numerous times in school or on the road performing. This time the piece would be entirely new, and however he performed it live would be canon for the piece.

“It was a live moment for me, celebrating the present and the future.”

Daugherty was inspiring, Bailey said, and got the whole orchestra caught up in the music.

“I’ve never seen an audience go so berserk,” he said. They went so wild, that for the recording, they had to go back and rerecord the ending because it couldn’t be made out through the sounds of the crowd.

“We were standing there at the end of the concert … we knew we had caught lightning in a bottle. We knew we had done that and no one had ever dreamed it would get the highest honors,” he said of himself the rest of the orchestra.

Bailey will return to his work with the Sitka Summer Music Festival as the artistic director. Alaska is “a great gift,” and he said he cherishes being able to come to Sitka, he said.

For more information on the “Daugherty: Tales of Hemingway,” go to For more information on Bailey, go to

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