The festival takes place in early summer during the month of June with three groupings of musicians. Each group of musicians performs three concerts before a new group arrives to perform the next three concerts.
Each season of the festival consists of around ten evening concerts, the centerpieces of the festival, as well as several free, informal "brown bag" concerts and multiple fundraising events and cruises.
All of the evening concerts occur at the breathtaking venue of Harrigan Centennial Hall, in downtown Sitka. While it is not an auditorium (rather, the main hall of a convention/civic center), its glass-panel backdrop reveals a clear view of Crescent Harbor, Eastern Channel and its assortment of small, tree-covered islands dotting its water, snow-capped mountains, and an occasional bald eagle swooping down from the sky.
The festival also offers a series of Autumn and Winter Classics at Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage, where the festival's full-time office located. During February and June the festival also offers a winter and summer touring series sending a small group of musicians (a piano quintet at most) to a number of small, usually rural communities throughout the state. The winter series visits different communities each year, Sitka notwithstanding, which always hosts the finale concert.
The festival began in 1972 as an informal musical reunion of the students of Jascha Heifetz and Gregor Piatigorsky from the University of Southern California. Their concerts were a success and the "reunion" became an annual festival, growing larger throughout the years. The Autumn and Winter Classics in Anchorage were founded in 1980 and have also continued successfully since.
While there have been 110 festival musicians since its inception in 1972, a list of the more notable musicians classified by instrument is below:
A full list of musicians.