“This concert is in the spirit of intergenerational support and cooperation,” said Kenji Bunch, co-artistic director of Fear No Music. “The whole trajectory of music history is this continuum of creativity and artists inspiring each other. We do not live in a vacuum. We influence each other and feed each other’s work.
Bunch was talking about Fear No Music’s Legacies I concert, which will open the set’s 31st season on Monday, November 28. FNM’s fearless musicians are known for undertaking all kinds of new music – including the electronic, the eclectic and the eccentric – but their upcoming program will start with the present and travel back in time.
In terms of contemporary music, what could be better than opening the concert with a piece by a former member of FNM’s Young Composers Project, initiated by Jeff Payne 25 years ago.
“The Young Composers Project is Jeff Payne’s baby,” Bunch said. “He started it and is still working on it with Ryan Francis and Nick Emerson. We gathered our collective heads and chose cloud valley by YCP alumnus Nathan Campbell. It’s a beautiful cello quartet that fits perfectly with the rest of the program. It has an unusual instrumentation with all four cellos, but it works with our concept of intergenerational cooperation. We bring in three cellists from the MYSfits String Ensemble that I direct. They will perform cloud valley with Nancy Ives.
To know more about cloud valleyI called Campbell, who attended the YCP in 2007. He has since earned his Bachelor of Music degree from Chapman University and a Masters degree from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He is now 32 and lives in Bellingham, Washington, where he teaches piano.
“I wrote cloud valley in 2014, when I was finishing my master’s degree,” Campbell said. “I had a lot of friends at the conservatory who were cellists. It was originally performed as part of my graduation recital and later at Western Washington State University. When I wrote it, I was inspired by Barber’s Adagio for stringss. So it’s in the same spirit. It is a one-movement piece that is dark and slow with shifting harmonies. It has a simple melody line that rises and falls, but the shifting harmonies propel the piece forward.
Another new work on the Legacies I program is Simurgh – quintet by Ukrainian composer Victoria Polevá. She works in a style called sacred minimalism, which is the same school as Arvo Pärt.
I exchanged e-mails with Polevá to find out more about Simurgh – quintet. Here is his response:
It is a one-part composition for two violins, viola, cello and piano. This work is inspired by a Sufi poem by Farsd ud-Dsn Attar, The Bird Conference (Manteq al-Tayr, 13th century). In the poem… the birds of the world go in search of their king, Simurgh, to escape the suffering of life. Passing the seven valleys (seven stages to betterment), passing many trials, the birds reach the abode of Simurgh – where each bird in each rose, as in a mirror, sees its own reflection. Then they discover that Simurgh – it’s themselves (“simurgh” in Farsi means “30 birds” (si – thirty, murgh – bird). Simurgh, thus, could be interpreted as a symbol of true unity.
Simurgh – quintet is organized by the interaction of a couple of antinomies: psalmodic speech (piano) and choral singing (strings), by their functional separation at the beginning, rotation, inter-translations and transformation into unity at the end .
The dramaturgy of the piece is long through the images of the feather soaring, the movement of the wings, the whispering and the sparks, which suddenly ends with the song of the fire Simurgh. The quintet’s musical material has a hidden inner text and comes from the Orthodox practice of prayer.
There is a layer of words hidden behind the musical text. The piano part features a silent recitation of the Jesus Prayer. In the finale, against the background of the dance of the firebird, a choral prayer resounds. Before the resumption, there is an important moment of the fire of the Simurgh (before its resurrection). It’s almost a theatrical image – there all the strings slide slowly.
Because of the war in Ukraine, I also asked Polevá where she lived. His response: “My hometown is Kyiv, I was born there and have lived there all my life. Now I live in Switzerland, but I dream of returning home.
According to Bunch, Pelova as a young composer was influenced by Alfred Schnittke. It makes a nice transition to the next piece in the concert, Schnittke’s 1976 meditation on Gustav Mahler. Piano Quartet in A minor.
“I’ve always been a Schnittke fan,” Bunch said. “His use of quotes and stylistic blending is engaging even if his character is dark. And after playing Schnittke, we’ll do Mahler. It was written a hundred years earlier – in 1876. So we are going to take a big step back. It’s his only room job. He was an epic symphonic composer, but it is an unfinished work. There is only one completed movement and a scherzo fragment.
The Mahler will be followed by Johannes Brahms Five songs op. 49which he wrote in 1868. Vakare Petroliunaite, one of Portland’s superb sopranos, will sing them with Jeff Payne on piano.
“These lieder are from the middle period of Brahms,” Bunch remarked. “Mahler studied in Vienna and was an admirer of Brahms, who supported and encouraged Mahler.”
Brahms idolized Clara Schumann. Thus, the concert will conclude as it should with Clara Schumann’s 1853 solo piano Variations on a Theme by Robert SchumannOp. 20. Monica Ohuchi, co-artistic director of Fear No Music will perform this beautiful piece.
Ohuchi will perform all pieces that involve the piano except for Brahms. So I asked him by email to talk about it a bit. “All the pieces I perform at this concert (Schnittke, Poleva, Mahler and C. Schumann) are new to me,” Ohuchi said, “and I really enjoy learning them all. They’re all so different, and I think it’ll be really interesting to see how all of these things are connected.
“Clara Schumann’s piece was particularly pleasant to work with,” continued Ohuchi. “It’s deeply musical and technically satisfying and challenging. It’s always interesting for me to play a piano piece. I can tell Clara’s hands were bigger than mine – she has chords and stretches in her writing that are awkward and hard for me to reach.
human ping pong balls
It’s remarkable how Bunch and Ohuchi, as a husband/wife team, run a music organization, perform and teach, while raising two kids (ages 8 and 10) and maintaining their sanity. They are like a pair of human ping pong balls.
Bunch composes, teaches viola and composition at Portland State University and at Reed College where he leads an ensemble of American roots – a bluegrass group. He also teaches theory to the musicians of the Portland Youth Philharmonic, conducts the string ensemble MYSfits, and occasionally plays in the viola section of the Oregon Symphony.
Ohuchi maintained a very active piano studio until last year. “I taught 40 hours a week and loved every bit of it,” she said. “My students were smart, inquisitive, talented, hard-working…then last fall I took a position as program director at Reed College, and I no longer had time to teach privately. I still teach and coach chamber music at the college level, and once in a while I give a private lesson here and there (and it reminds me how much I love teaching). I still teach my two Bunchkins every day.
“My official title at Reed College is Director of the Private Music Instruction Program,” Ohuchi continued. “I oversee the performance arm of the music division; instrumental and vocal lessons – I have a teaching team of 35 teachers – chamber music, orchestra, jazz ensemble. I lead our wonderfully dynamic and diverse college recital series. Reed students are exceptionally bright and nurturing in the best possible way. »
Finally, I had to ask her how she and her husband handle the responsibility of co-directing at FNM. “My role in Fear No Music is executive,” Ohuchi said. “Kenji is the artistic mastermind and my job is to see his vision(s) come to fruition. As a married executive/artistic team, that means our work never stops; we’re constantly strategizing and dreaming. is also what keeps our spark for the organization constantly ignited!”
Wow! They look towards the horizon and have an additional heritage!