Fear No Music celebrated the 25th anniversary of its Young Composers Project in grand style at The Old Church (January 9) with an evening of music by composers ranging from participants in the first years of the project to recent graduates. FNM’s Legacies concert emphasized the inter-generational aspect of YCP, and its continued success as an incubator of composers.
The brainchild of pianist and FNM co-founder Jeff Payne, YCP offers youth in grades 5 through 12 the opportunity to explore and expand their compositions with advice from the pros. Upon admission to the program, students get their works critiqued, performed, and recorded by the best musicians in town. For many, YCP is the chance of a lifetime and a game changer. (Read Charles Rose’s 2019 profile here).
The concert at The Old Church–doubling as the eighth in their Locally Sourced Sounds series–aptly showcased music by YCP alums with pieces that ranged from atonal soundscapes to downhome folk tunes. It was a festive occasion with an enthusiastic appreciative audience.
Ryan Francis, one of the composers who participated in the initial years of YCP, went on to get his masters and doctorate in composition from The Juilliard School. He now teaches at Pacific University and manages the YCP program with Payne.
Sillage by Francis received a very sensitive performance by Payne and violinist Inés Voglar Belgique. Voglar Belgique began with an elegant Bach-like soliloquy. Her playing became lighter and almost distant when Payne joined her with a dissonant, yet relaxed sound. An exchange of phrases ensued, and towards the end of the piece, the violin became sparser and sparser against slowly shifting chords from the piano. The piece paid homage to the idea of memory, and it ended in an unresolved way that seemed very relatable and true.
Rohan Srinivasan, one of the more recent participants in YCP and currently studying at Juilliard, took listeners in a different direction with Dead Ends. Pianist Monica Ohuchi and cellist Nancy Ives created sonically concise phrases that were often pointed and strident – with Ohuchi standing up and reaching into the piano to pluck its strings (if I heard that correctly) and Ives alternating between gnawing sounds (like a very large mosquito) and penetrating, elongated tones.
After Dead Ends Ives had to retune her cello–the piece required her to be a tuned quarter step down. That certainly contributed to the dissonance in the piece and its odd sonic texture.
More harmonically driven was Trout and the Hatch by Grace Miedziak, who participated in YCP a few years ago and is now studying at the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California. Trout and the Hatch depicted a scene that Miedziak had experienced on a lake in Central Oregon when insects began to hatch on the surface of the water and the trout jumped all about to feast on them. With her cello, Ives vividly created a dizzy blur of insects and periodic leaps by the fish. The piece did convey the magic of that event. Now, I am wondering if OPB’s Oregon Field Guide could capture the real thing on video and pair it with Miedziak’s music. Hmmm.
Margot Pullen, a current participant in YCP, contributed her lovely Elegy for a Yugo, performed by Voglar Belgique, Ives, and Payne. In her program notes, Pullen explained her love for the “much-maligned hatchbacks from former Yugoslavia.” She also noted that in this piece, she wanted to give the “feeling of scenery rushing past as you drive.” The rolling piano part was complemented by the strings and gave me the sense of a bucolic landscape – even though I didn’t read the program until afterwards.
As for the Yugo itself, I actually rode in one many years ago, when I lived in Austria. It had a utilitarian charm. In fact, a rope was used to keep one of the doors closed because the handle was broken.
Rachel Jumago, who was (with Francis) in the earliest vintage of YCP, offered a series of folk songs from her new album, Little One. Under the name Arbielle, she has toured throughout the Pacific Northwest with singer-songwriter Katie Fitzgerald.
For her portion of the concert, Jumago started with “29,” which progresses from age 18 to 22 to 29 as two people fall in love. In “Blueberry,” she teamed up with Fitzgerald to sing an ode to a bicycle. The duo also sang about the wonders of Outdoor School in “Sandy River.” Another gentle tune, “Light in the Window,” was written by Fitzgerald about coming home to a warm and friendly place. The two women have terrifically matched voices that make their harmonies very enjoyable. Whenever they sang a note in unison, it was as if it came from just one person.
Arbielle was joined by violist Kenji Bunch for the wistful “I Remember Beauty,” and Payne took over the piano for “Polar Bear Child,” which related the loss of starfish because of global warming.
The concert began with piece by legendary composer Tomáš Svoboda, who passed away recently after a long illness (read Brett Campbell’s memorial here). Ohuchi and Payne masterfully delivered Svoboda’s Suite for Piano Four Hands. The first movement was intricate and almost pointillistic with Ohuchi’s fingers dancing around in the upper register while Payne’s rumbled in the lower register. The second movement had a contemplative style but then transitioned to big, crashing chords before subsiding back to a more meditative atmosphere. Ohuchi pounced on the keyboard to begin the third movement before Payne kicked in. The pace became more furious, then they drew the tempo back a bit before building a demonstrative and ecstatic ending.
The superb performance by Ohuchi and Payne showed just how outstanding Svoboda’s music was and still is. We really miss him.