The Sitka Summer Music Festival was founded in 1972 by violinist Paul Rosenthal, an aspiring artist just completing instruction at the University of Southern California with master violinist Jascha Heifetz. Mr. Rosenthal, a native New Yorker, began playing violin at three. He studied with Dorothy DeLay at The Juilliard School, Ivan Galamian and Josef Gingold prior to coaching with Heifetz.
Following an Arctic Chamber Orchestra concert engagement in Sitka, Rosenthal was drawn to the area and had the idea to host a Chamber Music festival. He immedately contacted several colleagues from the legendary Piatigorsky/Heiftz Master Classes and invited them to come to Sitka for the first Sitka Summer Music Festival in June 1972. The five musicians recognized as the original members of the Festival are Paul and Linda Rosenthal, Nathaniel Rosen, Doris Stevenson, and Yukiko Kamei.
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.
During those early years, the Sitka Concert Association and Sheldon Jackson College supported the Festival. The artists and their families lived on campus and performed at Harrigan Centennial Hall. Centennial Hall continues to be the Festival's main venue in Sitka. Then, as now, the Festival would not have been possible without the enthusiastic support of the local community. Writing in the 1976 concert program, Paul says,
It is impossible to express the pleasure I feel looking back---at the wonderful artists who have been coming to Sitka, some regularly and some to join them for a concert or two, at the growth in the size and enthusiasm of our audiences and at the selflessness of so many people who have done so much to make the Festival a special occasion...There has been a good deal of this magic during our Festival. It has been the result of devoted effort and community good-will and therefore, I think, is a source of pride for all of us.
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