History of the Sitka Music Festival

The Sitka Music Festival was a vision brought to life in 1972 by Paul Rosenthal, violinist and Julliard graduate who would go on to become the festival’s artistic director for forty years. In 2011, Rosenthal passed the creative torch on to professional and grammy-award-winning cellist Zuill Bailey, who had fallen in love with Sitka and the festival when he first performed as guest in 2007.

In 2010, the Sitka Music Festival purchased Stevenson Hall, a then-vacant building on the historic Sheldon Jackson College campus (now owned by the Sitka Fine Arts Camp). After their purchase of the building and multiple rounds of fundraising, the Sitka Music Festival renovated the building to become the perfect rehearsal space for their volunteer musicians. Now the headquarters for the festival and lovingly renamed The Miner Music Center at Stevenson Hall, the building is open to the public for visitors to enjoy the music and the company of the musicians.

Photo: Enjoying a concert in front of Stevenson Hall

The Festival Today

In Sitka, the Music Festival unfolds over four weeks, treating locals and visitors alike to a rich tapestry of up to 24 concerts and gatherings scattered across the town. The summer Festival thrives on engagement of more than 25 business and community allies, alongside the dedicated efforts of almost 100 volunteers. Since 2014, the Festival hosts the Sitka International Cello Seminar in July, a transformative three-week program where young, aspiring cellists immerse themselves in study under Mr. Zuill Bailey and visiting instructors.

Sitka Music Festival

Photo: Cellists practicing in Stevenson Hall; PC: Sitka Music Festival

…But Sitka isn’t the only place where you can get a taste of the festival. Over the years, musicians from the festival have had the opportunity to travel all over Alaska, gracing other communities with their work. Anchorage sees around 9 concerts annually, starting with the Autumn Classics in September, and the Winter Classics in February. They’ve been expanding their reach across Anchorage to perform for school orchestras, the Anchorage Museum, and the Hiland Women’s Correctional Center Orchestra.

Throughout the state, supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Alaska State Council on the Arts, Festival musicians journey to a minimum of three other Alaskan communities annually. Community excursions often entail school presentations or outreach performances for the elderly and infirm. To date, the Festival has traveled to 42 Alaska communities, reaching from Adak in the Aleutian Islands, to Utqiagvik, the northernmost city in the United States.

Sitka Music Festival

Photo: A concert with views at Harrigan Centennial Hall in Sitka ; PC: Sitka Music Festival

The Sitka Violin – A Story of Love and Labor

In September 2023, a handful of Sitka locals and festival supporters embarked on a unique endeavor. The LaPerriere and the Lehmann families worked together to commission Daniel Graham, an esteemed luthier and art professor at Georgetown College, to craft a violin for the Festival, using wood sourced from Sitka itself. This violin holds a special significance, as it was fashioned from scraps collected from various significant locations across the town.

Of particular note is the top of the violin, which is constructed from 114-year-old Sitka spruce 2x4s salvaged during the renovation of Stevenson Hall. Throughout the instrument, one can find features and subtle nods to both the Festival and the community intricately etched into its design.

The Sitka Violin

Photo: The Sitka Violin

The LaPerrieres will hand over the violin to the Sitka Music Festival in May 2024. For those fortunate enough to attend a Festival performance in 2024 and beyond, there may be an opportunity to catch a glimpse of this remarkable instrument in action. For more information about the Sitka Violin and its construction, click here.

The Sitka International Cello Seminar

The Sitka International Cello Seminar is a distinctive three-week program tailored for emerging professional cellists. Under the Sitka Music Festival umbrella, this exclusive course provides participants with a unique opportunity to shape their experience by curating concerts and leading community engagement events, all while benefiting from traditional masterclasses and lessons.

With a highly selective acceptance rate of only eight applicants annually, chosen candidates undergo intensive training under the guidance of Zuill Bailey and other influential mentors over the course of three weeks.

Sitka International Cello Seminar

Photo: Zuill Bailey teaching a student at the Cello Seminar ; PC: Sitka Music Festival

Enjoy the Festival like a Local

This celebration of art and culture is an experience like no other. With a remarkable lineup of 24 events spanning the months of May and June, attending a festival event is the perfect addition to your Sitka vacation. Immerse yourself in Sitka’s rich arts culture promises to be an unforgettable experience you simply cannot afford to miss. Visit sitkamusicfestival.com for more details on this year’s event and beyond.

When planning your Sitka trip, make sure to check out our Where To Stay and Things To Do pages to plan your perfect getaway.

Sitka Music Festival

Photo: Concerts from The Porch event at Stevenson Hall ; PC: Sitka Music Festival