The First Forty Years

You can see all of the artists who have performed with us on the Artists page. It is remarkable to see how some artists have grown along with us!  Click here to go to Artists page.
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The Sitka Summer Music Festival was founded in 1972 by violinist Paul Rosenthal, a then aspiring artist just completing instruction at the University of Southern California with master violinist Jascha Heifetz. Mr. Rosenthal, a native New Yorker, began playing violin at three. He studied with Dorothy DeLay at The Juilliard School, Ivan Galamian and Josef Gingold prior to coaching with Heifetz.

Rosenthal found Sitka to be perfect for a chamber music festival when he visited the community on tour with the Arctic Chamber Orchestra. He immediately contacted several colleagues from the legendary Piatigorsky/Heifetz Master Classes and invited them to come to Sitka for the first Sitka Summer Music Festival in June 1972. At that time, a handful of people from around Alaska contributed just enough money to buy the musicians one-way tickets to Sitka, and just enough people attended the concerts to raise the money for their return flights. The musicians performed without fee that year in Sitka and have volunteered their talent every year since. To save on expenses, Rosenthal formed an early partnership with Sheldon Jackson College which allowed the artists and their families to live on campus, frequently in Stevenson Hall. Since 1972, over 150 professional classical musicians have performed with the Festival.

In 2011, Rosenthal retired from the Festival. In his four decades as Artistic Director, Paul helped to nurture deep roots across the state: an enthusiastic audience, authentic friendships, and dedicated contributors. Paul carefully chose cellist Zuill Bailey as his successor to continue his tradition of consistently bringing the highest caliber of classical music to Alaska.

The Sitka Summer Music Festival Today

To date, we have traveled to:

Adak • Angoon • Bethel • Chevak • Cordova • Dillingham • Eagle River• Fairbanks • Gustavus • Haines • Homer • Hoonah • Hydaburg • Juneau • Kake • Kenai • Ketchikan • Kotzebue • Ninilchik • Nome • Pelican • Petersburg • Port Alexander • Selawik • Seldovia • Seward • Shemya • Skagway • Soldotna • Talkeetna • Tenakee Springs • Togiak • Unalaska • White Mountain • Yakutat

More than just a Summer Festival

In Sitka, the Festival has grown to fill four weeks every June with 24 concerts and events in various locations around town. The summer festival regularly involves over 25 business and community partners, plus nearly 100 volunteers. Every July since 2014, the Festival has hosted the Sitka Cello Seminar, where a group of young pre-professional cellists spend three weeks of intensive study with Zuill Bailey and Dr. Melissa Kraut.

In Anchorage, since the early ‘80s the Sitka Summer Music Festival has presented a concert series in September and February – usually 9 concerts per year. Recently, we’ve added free performances at the Anchorage Museum and regular visits to school orchestras and the Hiland Women’s Prison Orchestra.

Across Alaska, thanks in part to grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Alaska State Council on the Arts, Festival musicians travel to at least three other Alaska communities per year. The Festival partners with local arts organizations, schools, or borough governments for these tours. These community visits usually include a school presentation or outreach performance to the elderly and infirm. To date, 33 Alaskan communities from Selawik to Port Alexander have enjoyed professional classical music performances, courtesy of the Sitka Summer Music Festival.

Stevenson Hall now has a small-sized performance space, ideal for enjoying chamber music the way it was intended – with smaller, intimate groups. We hold regular public rehearsals here during the Summer Festival, and hope to provide some intimate concerts throughout the year.
Weekend retreats in Stevenson Hall are being planned for adult amateur musicians. Adults who play music as a hobby will have an opportunity to enhance their skills and enjoy a retreat in Sitka.
The Festival will institute a residency program for professional musicians, offering a reprieve from their busy travel and performance schedule to work on new projects while enjoying the hospitality and beauty of Sitka. Following their time in Sitka, the Festival will present these musicians and their projects across the state.

The Purchase of Stevenson Hall

The Sitka Summer Music Festival has purchased Stevenson Hall, on the historic campus of the former Sheldon Jackson College. The path to buying Stevenson Hall began four years ago. The building had been vacant ever since Sheldon Jackson College closed in 2007. When Stevenson went up for sale in 2010, the Festival was not in a position to buy. Fortunately, a friend of the festival stepped forward and bought the building, then held onto it until we could raise the funds.

Finding a Home

Throughout the Sitka Summer Music Festival’s history, world-class musicians have come to Sitka to perform throughout the month of June. Through the years, they had been staying at Stevenson Hall, but when Sheldon Jackson College closed in 2007, the Festival was forced to leave its home, and find other accommodations for its artists and staff. The cost of finding lodging for visiting musicians during Sitka’s busy summer visitor season was expensive, and it took away from our mission.

Purchasing Stevenson Hall gives us a permanent home that will help us improve our mission of providing top-caliber music across the entire state of Alaska. Stevenson Hall will become a year-round center for classical music. Having full control of the building will let us build our educational outreach programs, and host more artists throughout the year. Those programs and artists end up in Anchorage, Kotzebue, Bethel, Unalaska, Juneau, Talkeetna, and more than 30 communities across the state.

In other words, owning Stevenson Hall let us create a home base to share the music we love with the state we love. The results of buying this one building in Sitka will be heard – quite literally – statewide.

And we’re not done: Our capital campaign continues as we work to raise money to make improvements to the building. Right now, there’s no insulation, inadequate heat and electricity, and absolutely no sound proofing – important to our musicians who often rehearse simultaneously. Besides making the building more comfortable and useful to our artists and staff, we want to create a welcoming public space for visitors to enjoy our music and our company.

We’re excited not only to keep this historic building alive, but also to transform it into an outstanding center for musicians and classical music.

The Foundation

Sitka Summer Music Festival Foundation is a non-profit organization created by Helen Walker and other Sitka Festival supporters to ensure the long-term financial stability of the Sitka Summer Music Festival. Walker believed it essential for all non-profit groups to form capital funds from which interest could be drawn and was instrumental in incorporating the Sitka Summer Music Festival Foundation in 1981.

Mr. George Ishiyama and the Ishiyama Foundation of San Francisco contributed generously to the fund and helped Foundation Trustees reach their goal of raising $1 million. Grace Berg Schaible also donated generously, as have more than 85 other individuals and businesses.

If you would like to consider making a legacy gift to the Sitka Summer Music Festival Foundation, please contact the Festival’s Executive Director at 907-747-6774.

Foundation Trustees: Thad Poulson, President | Loni Levy, Vice President | Rick Goodfellow, Secretary/Treasurer | Connie Kreiss | John Stein

Our Directors

Cellist Zuill Bailey is widely considered one of the premiere cellists in the world. His rare combination of celebrated artistry and technical wizardry as well as his engaging personality has secured his place as one of the most sought after and active cellists today. Bailey received his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees from the Peabody Conservatory and the Juilliard School.  His primary teachers include Loran Stephenson, Stephen Kates and Joel Krosnick. Zuill Bailey performs on a 1693 Matteo Gofriller Cello, formerly owned by Mischa Schneider of the Budapest String Quartet.  In addition to his extensive touring engagements and recording schedule, Bailey is the Artistic Director for three presenting organizations: the Sitka Summer Music Festival, El Paso Pro Musica (Texas) and the Northwest Bach Festival in Spokane. He is also Professor of Cello at the University of Texas at El Paso. In 2009, Sitka Festival founder Paul Rosenthal chose Mr. Bailey to be his successor as Artistic Director, and Mr. Bailey assumed that role in 2012 when Mr. Rosenthal retired. Mr. Bailey is responsible for choosing and inviting the guest musicians for all Festival performances, choosing the musical repertoire, and working with the musicians to schedule rehearsals and community outreach events.

Kayla Boettcher has 17 years of experience working in the non-profit world, and a lifetime of experience as a musician. In her 14 years of living in Sitka, she has worked as a researcher and residential counselor at Mt Edgecumbe High School, a self-employed program evaluator working with non-profit youth development agencies across Alaska, a cultural exchange coordinator for the Alaska Humanities Forum, and Program Director and Volunteer Coordinator at Raven Radio. She also teaches a small studio of violin students and owns The Loft, a small event venue in downtown Sitka. Ms. Boettcher holds a BA from St Olaf College, and an MA from Prescott College. She is responsible for event planning, marketing, fundraising, artist travel, and all other administrative facets for the SSMF.

Our Board

Dr. Don Lehmann, President (Sitka)

Kari Lundgren, Vice President (Sitka)

Anne Gore, Secretary (Anchorage)

Dan Jones, Treasurer (Sitka)

Sharon Davies (Anchorage)

Mary Hames (Sitka)

Gina Hollomon (Anchorage)

Tiffany Pearson (Sitka)

Cindy Westergaard (Sitka)

Dirk White (Sitka)