The mission of the Juneau Symphony is to give local musicians a platform to perform and develop musically, to provide live, high quality symphonic music for the community, and to offer musical opportunities and support for youth. In addition to three main stage concerts each year, the Symphony also performs a summer pops concert and an annual Showcase concert featuring individual players and small ensembles.
Founded in 1962 by music teacher Cliff Berge, the Juneau Symphony began as a community orchestra with a volunteer conductor and players. In 40 seasons of bringing live orchestral music to Alaska’s capital city, the Juneau Symphony now boasts over 80 semi-professional and volunteer musicians, many of whom hold advanced degrees in music performance. Most live in Juneau or Southeast Alaska with a few additional players brought in to assist as required.
Berge and other volunteers conducted the Symphony for its first 20 years by which time the Symphony had grown to require a professional conductor. Mel Flood was hired and he led the Symphony for the next 17 years. Flood stepped down in 1999, and after a lengthy search, Kyle Wiley Pickett was chosen to lead the Symphony into the future.
The Kyle Wylie Pickett years
Kyle Wiley Pickett was Music Director and Conductor of the Juneau Symphony between 2000-2014. He was also the Music Director and conductor of the North State Symphony, a professional symphony in northern California formed out of the merger of the Chico and Redding Symphonies – his two previous orchestras. In June of 2013, Kyle was appointed the Conductor of the Topeka Symphony in Kansas and the Springfield Symphony in Missouri, and ended his tenure with the Juneau and North State Symphonies at the end of the 2013-2014 concert season.
Under the direction of conductor Kyle Wiley Pickett, the Juneau Symphony grew musically, producing higher quality performances of a wide variety of repertoire from concert standards by Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, to newer works of Hindemith, Holst and Mahler. He formed the Juneau Symphony Chorus that allowed performances of the Beethoven’s joyous 9th Symphony, the Mozart and Verdi Requiems, and a concert performance of Carmen. He instituted a series of summer Pops Concerts that have featured dance, movie and show tunes, light classics like the 1812 Overture and Bolero, and staged a Halloween-theme concert aimed at the entire family.
Principal players with the Symphony have been showcased in concertos for flute, violin, cello, trombone and horn, and local winners of the youth concerto competition have premiered as student soloists. Guest soloists, including Juneau virtuosos Paul and Linda Rosenthal, have performed concertos by Bruch, Rachmaninoff, and Tchaikovsky, the Brahms Double and Beethoven Triple concertos and even newer works like concertos for euphonium, djembe and maracas.
The Symphony sound has improved with the purchase of a harp that replaced an electronic keyboard and allowed the performance of such works as Rimsky Korsakov’s evocative Scheherazade. Concert Conversations regularly attract scores of music lovers to learn more about the concert selections be they the Pines of Rome or Pictures at an Exhibition.
Over the years, the Symphony has also sponsored other events and participated with other arts groups including the Juneau Lyric Opera, Perseverance Theatre, the International Folk Dancers, Juneau Douglas High School music department and the Juneau Oratorio Choir. A Children’s Concert was added in 1980 and since at least the mid 1990s, this concert has been incorporated into the schedule of the winter or spring concert which features the winner of the Symphony’s annual youth concerto competition. For many years, the Symphony performed at graduation ceremonies at the University of Alaska Southeast (UAS or previously UAJ, the University of Alaska – Juneau) and in 1987 performed at the Inaugural Ceremony for Governor Steve Cowper. When funds are available, the orchestra has gone on tour, starting with a 1967 trip to Petersburg. They have since visited Skagway, Sitka, Wrangell, Ketchikan and Haines whenever possible.
In December of 2013, the JSO received close to 70 applicants from all over the world seeking the vacant music director position. A search committee comprised of players, community members and board members painstakingly reviewed each application, interviewed selected applicants, and had the daunting task of choosing just three candidates to present to the board, players and public. During the 2014-15 season, our three candidates Troy Quinn, Wesley Schulz and Jeremy Briggs Roberts presented an exhilarating season, with some audience members claiming it was the best they’d ever heard the JS play. After a two-year process, the JS announced Dr. Troy Quinn as our next music director and conductor.
In a letter to subscribers and patrons published in the 2015-2016 season brochure, Dr. Quinn said, “My inaugural season is filled with ‘new beginnings,’ and will feature monumental works along with artists of international stature. You won’t want to miss a moment of this historic season…” We look forward to it!