julia kinzler

FearNoMusic: Musical Terroirists

New music ensemble’s Locally Sourced Sounds concert provides tasty sampler of locavore sounds

Kenji Bunch is either an oenophile or he’s been reading Jeff VanderMeer. The Fear No Music artistic director introduced the ensemble’s fifth annual Locally Sourced Sounds concert post-concert Q&A with a discussion of the somewhat esoteric term terroir, used to describe the interlinked ways in which wines, cheeses, cannabis, and other such creations are influenced by the myriad regional factors that help condition their development. Bunch defined terroir (actually it seems likely he got the term from Darrell Grant) as “the taste of a place” and asked the gathered composers, “is there a sound to composers living in the Northwest?”

Kenji Bunch and Monica Ohuchi at Locally Sourced Sounds

The January 21 concert at Portland’s Old Church Concert Hall gave us a chance to find out, with a tasting menu of six Pacific Northwest composers.

Kids these days

FNM’s artistic and executive leadership team of Bunch and Monica Ohuchi opened the concert with the world premiere of recent Reed College graduate Yiyang Wang’s Converse, a sparse and cloudy mood piece, awash with open strings and rhythmic tappings on Bunch’s viola over tinkly jazz arpeggios and Liszty swirls on Ohuchi’s piano. At one point Bunch carefully set down the viola to sneak around to the piano’s low end, hiding behind Ohuchi’s arched shoulders, where he pounded out a few bass tones. FNM usually likes a slow start, and although Converse didn’t command my rapt attention the way Wang’s piano trio Color Studies did in 2017, her atmospheric little duet opened the show on a pleasantly conversational note.

Next up was another duet, Music for Four Hands by Ryan Francis, a youngish Juilliard-trained composer whom we have seen around the halls at Portland State University, where he’s been teaching theory. Ohuchi and Jeff Payne provided the titular hands, spinning out polyrhythms in wistfully melancholy GlassGuaraldi harmonic language similar to Portland composer Jay Derderian’s The People They Think We Are (performed on this same piano a few months back by Kathleen Supové). And because this was Ohuchi and Payne—one of the finest piano duos in Portland — the polymeters and the wistful melancholy were uncommonly graceful, immersing the audience in elegant waves of auditory bliss the way John Luther Adams is supposed to.

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‘Locally Sourced Sounds V’: showcasing homegrown classical music

FearNoMusic's annual composers showcase reveals Oregon's burgeoning contemporary classical composition scene

When violist Kenji Bunch left his native Portland for music school in New York more than a quarter century ago, contemporary classical music wasn’t much on the city’s radar. Outside New York, “there wasn’t a lot going on anywhere, compared to today,” Bunch remembers. “New music didn’t have the cachet or excitement it generates today.”

The next year, a group of Portland musicians formed an ensemble devoted to elevating contemporary classical music. And five years ago, that ensemble, FearNoMusic, selected Bunch as its new artistic director. Returning home after winning a reputation in New York as one of the nation’s finest and most listener friendly composers of his generation, he found a very different city and musical culture than the one he’d left.

FearNoMusic artistic director and Portland composer Kenji Bunch. Photo: Meg Nanna for Artslandia.

“Definitely there’s a real vitality now in the new music scene,” he says. “The level of attention nationally to our region has only grown and developed. There’s a real interest in and fascination with Portland nationally. Maybe that comes from things like Portlandia, but it’s also deeper than that. I think it’s recognized as a hub of activity and innovation. It’s pretty evident the West Coast is leading innovation in orchestral music — look at  LA, San Francisco, Seattle [symphony orchestras], and the Oregon Symphony is starting to hold their own in that mix as well.”

Bunch immediately decided to showcase his hometown’s contemporary classical vitality by creating an annual concert of music by Portland composers. On Monday, FearNoMusic plays its fifth Locally Sourced Sounds concert, featuring half a dozen homegrown compositions.

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