Pianist Phoebe Wu is scheduled to play a contemporary classical concert at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center, plus three other concerts in Southeast Alaska between Oct. 14-21. (Photo courtesy of Phoebe Wu)

Pianist Phoebe Wu is scheduled to play a contemporary classical concert at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center, plus three other concerts in Southeast Alaska between Oct. 14-21. (Photo courtesy of Phoebe Wu)

Concert offers modern music from a different point of Wu

Chicago pianist featuring a world of contemporary classical composers during Southeast Alaska tour.

When Phoebe Wu refers to modern music she’s not talking about Taylor Swift, so people not flocking to the pop star’s concert movie this weekend can get a lesson about an entirely different world of possibilities during a concert by the Chicago pianist at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center.

Wu is scheduled to perform works by a variety of contemporary classical composers with different backgrounds ranging from a self-described “avant folk vocalist” with a repertoire of “feminist rager-lullabies” to a Chinese man renowned for blending his country’s traditional music with American modernism.

“The structure of each piece probably will remind people of similar classical music, similar Western European styles, but a lot of the harmonies will be different,” she said in an interview Sunday. “There’s a lot of focus on rhythm. And then each piece is quite different from each other, too. So there’s going to be a big variety.”

The pay-as-you-can Juneau concert is part of a four-show “No Longer Very Clear” tour in Southeast Alaska that includes stops in Sitka on Saturday, Skagway on Oct. 19 and Haines on Oct. 21. Wu said she has been in the region before, having taught and performed at the Sitka Fine Arts Camp, and wanted a more expansive experience.

“My main thinking was I wanted to do a small tour to some places in Alaska that may get a lot of performances through (or) may not get so many through coming through their town,” she said, “And I really wanted to make it for the people who live there, So if I go in the summer people are busy, they’re opening up shops for tourists, they’re giving tours there — and what tourist is going to come and see a Chicago-based pianist on their cruise? That doesn’t quite make sense either. So I thought I would do it in a time where people might have more free time who actually live in Alaska.”

Wu, listed as a “pianist/teacher” at the top of her website, collaborates on projects with dancers and other performance artists in addition to musicians throughout the country. She’s also performed in a variety of settings ranging from contemporary chamber ensembles to duets.

She said she feels “a very strong personal connection” to modern classical composers because of how she’s able to interpret their concepts and sounds, a means for her to express creativity beyond crafting her own compositions, which she hasn’t done in a long time.

“It’s a very different relationship with the music to make it versus to interpret it,” she said. “I really do love the interpretation of music. And I think there’s so much creative freedom in that type of art as well.”

The names of the composers whose works Wu will play are likely obscure to most people: Annika Socolofsky, Gabriela Lena Frank, Lou Harrison, Chou Wen-Chung, Florence Price, Joan Tower and Ruth Crawford Seeger. But Wu said each has had distinctive and broad influences.

Socolofsky, for instance, is a vocalist described by The Guardian as “just the right balance between edgy precision and freewheeling exuberance.” Her official bio states her feminist folk project “confront centuries of damaging lessons taught to young children by retelling old lullaby texts for a new, queer era.”

“She and I are friends, and I find her music very intriguing,” Wu said. “I thought it’d be great to bring something super-recent to the program.”

Other composers are from the West Coast with that implied contemporary vibe, while Wen-Chung — who died in 2019 at the age of 96 — helped others fuel American modernism as he “wrote mostly for Western instruments, but made them bend single notes to accommodate the microtonal flexibility of Chinese music,” according to the New York Times.

Wu’s concert is part of the Con Brio Chamber Series, which features a range of local and visiting composers in solo and ensemble performances. Sally Schlichting, artistic director of the series, said Wednesday, said Wu contacted her after finding out about the series from a mutual acquaintance in Sitka, since she was already planning a Southeast tour and was seeking out possibilities in Juneau.

“It really fits well with the kind of programming that I like to do with the Con Brio Chamber Series,” Schlichting said, adding “I really feel strongly my mission at the Con Brio Chamber Series is to deliver more chamber music to general audiences.”

“I like to showcase newer and contemporary, and lesser-known works and lesser-known composers,” she said. “Because I think that the greats get a lot of attention — the Beethoven’s and Mozart’s, and so on — and there’s just a wealth of music from newer generations, and non-male, non-white composers. And I just really feel the need to bring those to audiences — there’s treasures in there that would otherwise go unknown.”

Know and Go

What: Contemporary classical solo concert by pianist Phoebe Wu.

Where: Juneau Arts and Culture Center.

When: 7 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 15.

Cost: Pay-as-you-can.

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of July 6

Here’s what to expect this week.

Looking like a gray turtle, an automated mower cuts grass in front of Thunder Mountain Middle School with boxes stacked in a classroom window beyond. (Laurie Craig / Juneau Empire)
Random adventures of robo-mowers…now performing again this summer at Juneau’s schools

Four pillow-sized bots resembling turtles with tiny razor-sharp blades provide class for the grass.

Disney Williams (right) orders coffee from Lorelai Bingham from the Flying Squirrel coffee stand at Juneau International Airport on Thursday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
New coffee stand at airport stirs up heated dispute about having proper authorization to operate

Fans of Flying Squirrel Espresso praise location, hours; officials say FAA violations could be costly.

Nano Brooks and Emily Mesch file for candidacy on Friday at the City and Borough of Juneau Municipal Clerk’s office in City Hall. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)
City and Borough of Juneau regular municipal election candidate filing period opens

So far, most vie for Assembly District 2 seat — mayor, Board of Education, and District 1 also open.

Killah Priest performs at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center in December 2019. (Photo courtesy of Lance Mitchell)
Killah Priest sets new record with Alaskan artists on ‘Killah Borealis’

Wu-Tang Clan rapper seeks to lift Alaskan voices and culture in his return performance to Juneau

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Wednesday, July 10, 2024

For Wednesday, July 10 Attempt to Serve At 10:06 a.m. on Wednesday,… Continue reading

Commercial fishing boats are lined up at the dock at Seward’s harbor on June 22. Federal grants totaling a bit over $5 million have been awarded to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute to help Alaskans sell more fish to more diverse groups of consumers. (Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Federal grants to state agency aim to expand markets for Alaska seafood

More than $5M to help ASMI comes after Gov. Dunleavy vetoed $10M for agency.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy holds up the omnibus crime bill, House Bill 66, after signing it at a ceremony Thursday at the Department of Public Safety’s aircraft hangar at Lake Hood in Anchorage. At his side are Sandy Snodgrass, whose 22-year-old son died in 2021 from a fentanyl overdose, and Angela Harris, who was stabbed in 2022 by a mentally disturbed man at the public library in Anchorage and injured so badly that she now uses a wheelchair. Snodgrass and Harris advocated for provisions in the bill.Behind them are legislators, law enforcement officers and others. (Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Goals for new Alaska crime law range from harsher penalties for drug dealers to reducing recidivism

Some celebrate major progress on state’s thorniest crime issues while others criticize the methods.

Most Read