Christopher Koch, music director of the Juneau Symphony, conducts musicians through a rehearsal of Sibelius’ "Finlandia" on Tuesday at Juneau-Douglas High School: Kalé. The composition is one of three scheduled to be performed Saturday and Sunday during the first mainstage concert of the ensemble’s 60th season. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Symphony’s Stories show celebrates 60th season

Opening mainstage show features Two familar ’epic’ classical tales, followed by improvised finale

To kick off its 60th birthday celebration the Juneau Symphony is telling a trio “Stories” including a fit-for-today poem about a country trying to survive a Russian invasion, an old Russian tribute to a woman whose tales allows her to survive a vengeful prince of Persia and…uh, improvisationally speaking, one that’s not like the others.

The performances, scheduled at 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at Juneau-Douglas High School: Kalé, are an introductory chapter to a season highlighting an unusually wide range of eras, composers and genres, Christopher Koch, the symphony’s music director, said in an interview Tuesday. Stories, the first mainstage concert of the season, features a progression of two highly familiar classical pieces with differing styles and a far-out-there finale with the self-descriptive title “Omnifenix – Concerto for Improvising Saxophone, Drumset, and Orchestra”.

Orchestras and the country are making a real commitment not just to living composers, but more diversity,” he said. “If we don’t champion our composers who are alive today we’re not going to have anything left,” he said. “We’re not going to have a music culture.”

The concert is scheduled to open with Sibelius’ best-known work, “Finlandia,” first performed in 1899. It became a symbol of the country’s struggle against an invasion by neighboring Russia, which Koch said makes the narrative fitting for today’s situation in Ukraine, although that’s not why he selected the piece when coming up with the season debut program this spring.

“It just has a certain quality that felt to me is good to open our season with,” he said.

Russia’s presence takes on a less sinister tone in the symphony’s performance of the 1888 suite “Scheherazade” by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Charlotte Truitt, the symphony’s executive director, described it as a “larger-than-life” musical interpretation of a few of the epic “One Thousand and One Nights” folktales by a variety of Middle Eastern authors going back many centuries.

“Really everything on our program in designed to be epic, over-the-top, a little bit extra,” she said.

Over-the-top may be how some classical purists feel about the finale, a roughly 16-minute piece narrated by mainstream jazz improvisations of the sax player over the set composition played by the orchestra, with the drummer essentially serving as a translator between the two. Visiting tenor saxophonist Stephen Jones and percussionist Fabio Augustinis, whose lengthy resumes include currently serving as educators at Texas Tech University, will be the featured players for the performance.

“It’s a really cool piece because it’s just a contemporary big band chart,” Koch said. “But instead of big band it’s for an orchestra.”

Koch said he’s not aware of the symphony working with an improvisational soloist before and, while classical performers are accustomed to having their colleagues on stage stick with what on the sheet music, this particular piece shouldn’t prove perplexing.

“It’s actually very logical the way it’s written for them,” he said. “It’s one of those pieces that sounds hard, but is easy to put together.”

Listeners interested in learning more about the pieces being performed can attend pre-concert talks at 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. The symphony is also seeking volunteers for the box office and as ushers, with a free ticket provided to participants.

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at

Percussionist Fabio Augustinis performs with a jazz ensemble in this undated photo from his official website’s gallery page. He is scheduled to be one of two visiting musicians performing with the Juneau Symphony during its first mainstage concert of its 60th season this weekend. (Courtesy of Fabio Augustinis)

More in News

The Aurora Borealis glows over the Mendenhall Glacier in 2014. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Aurora forecast

Forecasts from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute for the week of Nov. 27

In this photo provided by the National Transportation Safety Board, NTSB investigator Clint Crookshanks, left, and member Jennifer Homendy stand near the site of some of the wreckage of the DHC-2 Beaver, Wednesday, May 15, 2019, that was involved in a midair collision near Ketchikan. The National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday that the Federal Aviation Administration should tighten rules about minimum visibility during flights and require more weather training for pilots who fly around Ketchikan.  (Peter Knudson/NTSB via AP)
Safety board recommends new measures for Alaska air tours

The board wants regulations for Ketchikan similar to requirements in Hawaii and the Grand Canyon.

Harbor seals have a face full of whiskers, which the seals use to follow hydrodynamic wakes left by prey fish; even a blind seal can track a fish this way, discriminating victims by size and shape and direction of movement.  (Courtesy Photo / Jos Bakker)
On the Trails: The sense of touch

Touch is a mechanical sense, detecting physical stimuli such as pressure, texture,… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Tuesday, Nov. 29

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Saturday, Nov. 26

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Sugar Bear Alaskan Treasures, seen here, was one of many artist vendors featured at the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska Indigenous Artists & Vendors Holiday Market from noon to 5 p.m. on Friday through Sunday at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)
Indigenous Holiday Market features local artists

Market’s first return since 2018.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Thursday, Nov. 24

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

A member of the Juneau Gun Club helps participants with shooting clay targets, one of many events featured at the club’s annual Thanksgiving turkey shoot. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)
Ready, aim, gobble: Juneau Gun Club hosts annual Turkey Shoot

No turkeys were harmed in the making of this article.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Wednesday, Nov. 23

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Most Read