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.
Rosenthal found Sitka to be perfect for a chamber music festival… (and) 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, Paul Rosenthal retired from the Festival. (He) carefully chose cellist Zuill Bailey as his successor to continue his tradition of consistently bringing the highest caliber of classical music to Alaska.
In Sitka, the Festival has grown to fill four weeks every June with as many as 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 theSitka International Cello Seminar, where a group of young pre-professional cellists spend three weeks of intensive study with Mr. Zuill Bailey and guest instructors.
In Anchorage, since the early ‘80s the Sitka Music Festival has presented the Autumn Classics concert series in September and Winter Classics in February – usually nine 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, 42 Alaskan communities from Selawik to Port Alexander have enjoyed professional classical music performances, courtesy of the Sitka Music Festival.