No, they performed no music written by Albanians and, as far as I know, there will be no Albanian musicians at the Sitka Music Festival but at the festival’s family concert my thoughts drifted to Albania. We watched the concert sitting on the lawn in the quad of the Sitka Fine Arts Campus. Well, we sat on lawn chairs. The musicians were on the Stevenson Hall front porch.
When we gathered on the lawn in a raw, damp cold, the Eagles in the nest just to the shore side of Stevenson Hall were setting up a racket. But when members of the New World Symphony, formed into a string quartet, started playing Mozart’s Eline Kleine Nachtmusik the sun came out, the temperature warmed and the eagles because quiet. Because of the cold damp, the musicians were playing on a set of carbon fiber instruments that the festival bought for outdoor performances in Alaska to protect the musician’s own, valuable, wooden instruments.
My Albania moment came at the beginning of the third movement. The opening of that movement was the BBC’s signature theme for its Albanian service. As the movement started, I turned to Suzi and mouthed the words “Ju flet Londra” in English that is “London speaks to you” or perhaps “London Calling.” My friend Anila and I were listening to the BBC in our flat in Tirana when the signature theme came on. Anila said: “That’s Mozart, why is the BBC using Mozart for their theme?” Implying “Doesn’t England have any composers?”
Of course, they do. But I answered: “The BBC English Service signature theme is Irish,” (Lillibulero.) I suppose if they wanted to sell “Brand Britain” they would use a theme by the Beatles or the opening notes of the Stones “Satisfaction.” They probably didn’t want to pay royalties. Elgar has too many imperialist associations. But when I heard those notes, I was washed over with pleasant memories, sitting in the sun listening to Mozart and thinking of Albania.
The festival will continue through June. The New World musicians will be here for the entire month. Other artists will come for a week or so. There’ll be concerts in many venues, two theaters, a pizza joint and an excursion boat anchored in a secluded bay.
The New World Orchestra is based in Miami, Florida. It’s made up of musicians at the start of their careers. If they make it through the auditions, they have a three-year gig where they learn what it’s like to play for a professional orchestra. They also learn skills like how to audition for a job and how to manage a career in music.
There are 4 movements in “Night music” and each of the musicians talked about one of them. Cellist David Olson also showed off the carbon fiber instrument. He is from the US, the other members of the quartet are Christina Chio, Violin, born in Korea, studied in Australia, and living in Canada, Minglun Liu, from China, who studied in Singapore, and violaist is Camila Berg from Cuba.
After Nachtmusik, Martin Sher, an educator from the New World joined them for a Mozart String quintet written for an extra viola. Mozart played viola and, according to Artistic Director, Zuill Bailey, Mozart liked to sit in as the fifth player. Martin played his own, wooden viola, which he says was made from a kitchen table hundreds of years old, “after they scraped off the petrified scrambled egg.”
Following the concert, we had an ice cream social, Háagen-Dazz! Suzi asked the musicians if it was difficult to shift from a full orchestra to a chamber quartet. One said that there is no conductor and if you miss your cue, there is no one else to cover for you. She liked it. Another said that he preferred chamber music, but chamber music was mostly gig work and if you wanted a steady job an orchestra was the way to go. Both said that they liked playing in an orchestra because chamber musicians, to really make it, are always on the road and they both liked being grounded in a community. Me too. (June 4, 2023.)