Ketchikan Orchestra Project readies for winter concert

Above, Jeff Karlson conducts the Ketchikan Orchestra Project and with his sister, flutist Jaimie Karlson, on lead Wednesday evening in a practice at The Plaza mall. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

The holiday season snuck up on Ketchikan fast, which brings cheerful winter performances from a variety of community organizations – especially music groups.

 This year, The Ketchikan Orchestra Project will perform its annual winter concert at 7 p.m. on Friday at the First Lutheran Church.

 Jeff Karlson will be conducting the orchestra's performance.

 Karlson also recently took over as conductor of the Ketchikan Community Concert Band, replacing long-time conductor Roy McPherson.

 Karlson told the Daily News that he has been conducting the Ketchikan Orchestra Project after being approached by the orchestra's founder, Mary Kurth.

 Kurth had served as the conductor since the Ketchikan Orchestra Project's first show in April 2017. After moving from Ketchikan to Wrangell, Kurth left Karlson to take on the role.

 “She wanted it to keep going, so she approached me about conducting, you know, knowing that I've had a little bit of experience with it,” Karlson said.

 “It's one of those things, where, having been classically trained, orchestra is my favorite ensemble to ever play in,” Karlson added. “I enjoy concert band, but if I was to pick an ensemble to play in, it would be in the back of an orchestra.”

 The Ketchikan Orchestra Project generally focuses on classical music, although Karlson said that the group is starting to expand, with Karlson adding that this year's winter concert is a mix of modern and classic pieces.

 “We are working to provide live classical music,” Karlson said. “You know, this town is pretty saturated with jazz and folk, but it's pretty tough to find live classical music in this town, so that's what we focus on.  Most of our concerts have featured something by Mozart or Haydn, which are, you know, the two standard-bearers for the classical period.”

 Karlson was solely responsible for choosing the music for the orchestra, which includes musicians playing the violin, viola, chello, bass, flute, oboe and piano.

 Karlson said that “it's a day's project, at least,” to pick out all the music needed for a concert.

 “It's an eclectic mixture of classical and more modern music for orchestra,” Karlson said about the music he chose.

 “We're starting the concert with a piece by Handel called 'Entrance of the Queen of Sheba,' and that's very classical,” Karlson explained. “And then kind of (going) right into a very modern piece with the flute (by) a composer named Kent Kennan.”

 “We're playing a suite of traditional folk songs,” Karlson added. “It'll be 'Shenandoah,' 'Greensleeves,' 'Scarborough Fair,' and 'Black is the Color.'”

 The concert also will include a piece by Benjamin Britten titled “Simple Symphony.”

 “And then we're also doing a suite of Christmas songs to wrap up the show,” Karlson said.

 Karlson said he has been enjoying his experience as conductor.

 “Sometimes, I think in Ketchikan, if you want to see something happen, you have to do it yourself,” Karlson said. “So I thought I'd do my best to maintain the orchestra that Mary was a part of.”

Karlson noted that the small, 14-person orchestra ensemble presents different opportunities than the Ketchikan Community Concert Band, which features about 40 musicians.

 “It's harder to hear when you have so many different players at the same time, whereas in the orchestra, I find it's easier, with the smaller ensemble, to get to the meatier part of the music,” Karlson said.

 Karlson does have hopes for small changes for the future.

 “In the orchestra, I just want to see more involvement,” he said.

 Karlson in particular looks forward to finding new string musicians for the Ketchikan Orchestra Project.

 “I know there are more string players in this town who aren't coming out of the woodwork yet,” Karlson said. “But I hope the more we get in front of people, that they feel more comfortable to dust off their instrument and play.

 “As like a long term goal, I would love to see there be a support for a string program in the schools, and for the orchestra to kind of facilitate that or be an ensemble that they could kind of be involved with, as well as the schools,” Karlson continued. “I think that would be the greatest thing for music in Ketchikan, in my opinion.”

 The orchestra is small right now, but always accepting new members.

 While Karlson has a desire to add more string musicians, he said that “if you got an instrument you can dust off and you can generally read music, you're in.”