We have soaring music to match our majestic mountains

Wednesday, October 12, 2011 - 20:00
Eagle Lake and the Chugach Mountains.

On September 23, I was hiking with a friend from the season of autumn to winter in the mountains above Eklutna Lake (Mountain Echoes, Oct. 6, 2011), and the following night I was again transported to the heights as I listened to guest pianist Haochen Zhang and the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra play a concerto by S. Rachmaninoff.

When they started the second movement, one of my favorite pieces of music, I was elevated to those places I often seek in Chugach State Park.

I’m not sure about the other people who were sitting around me, but I was definitely on the narrow pass between Bold Valley and Hunter Creek Valley, looking out at the sprawling Hunter Glacier. Zhang’s gentle keyboard touch lifted me through a wispy cloud and above a couple of snow clad peaks.

The phrase ‘music to match our mountains’ is by no means my creation. It was coined many years ago to promote the Sitka Summer Music Festival, one of Alaska’s premier classical annual music events. I’m aware not everyone likes classical music — it took me many years to fully appreciate it. But when I hear it today in all its grandeur, I just let it take me away into Alaska’s wilds, from forests to tundra to the craggy heights.

I am an active rather than passive listener. I’m always creating locations and settings and images to match the mood of the music as it ebbs and flows. Mentally, I’m certainly not working as hard as the conductor and the musicians, but in my mind I’m not in repose.

We are fortunate to have the Anchorage Symphony — by any definition a world-class orchestra. Directed by Randy Fleisher, it has received high praise and recognition by critics and symphony maestros alike — not only nationally but internationally. Now in its 60th year, the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra continues to present exciting classical performances and special events, with a host of award-winning guests such as pianist Zhang, 21, who performed his first professional concert at age 5.

I’ve been attending the Anchorage Symphony off and on now for about 15 years, and I’ve never been disappointed. You don’t have to be a music critic to see how hard the symphony’s musicians and conductor work to do justice to the composers’ work, entertain audiences and ultimately, create ‘music to match our mountains.’

The conductor, Randall Craig Fleisher, has an interesting and extensive musical background. His career spans more than two decades and four continents. He has appeared as a guest conductor for many major orchestras in the U.S. and internationally, including repeat engagements with the Israel Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Seattle Symphony, Utah Symphony, San Diego Symphony, Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra and many others.

For those not attuned to classical music, the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra season, which opened this year on September 24, always includes special performances such as the “And the Tony Goes To…” a collection of award-winning Broadway music performed by visiting Broadway veterans. Those performances at the Anchorage Performing Arts Center’s Atwood Auditorium will be October 14-15.

For more information about the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra, go to their website at www.anchoragesymphony.org

I know that there will come a day with my legs won’t take me to the lofty heights of the Chugach, Kenai and Talkeetna mountains. But in my heart I know there will always be a way I can get there — through the spiritually uplifting music of the Anchorage Symphony — an orchestra that plays wondrous music to match our incredible mountains.


Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River.


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