News & Notes: Musical arrivals and departures

Kenji Bunch joins FearNoMusic's Young Composers Project

Kenji Bunch joins FearNoMusic’s Young Composers Project

If you’d been reading ArtsWatch’s Facebook page over the past week or two, you’d have noticed early reports about awards for Helmuth Rilling, international journeys for the PSU chamber choir and UO chamber choir, Portland Piano international’s new schedule and much more. ArtsWatch regularly breaks news about the burgeoning Oregon arts scene on Facebook. We also occasionally round up shorter tidbits in these News &Notes dispatches. Here’s some items about arrivals and departures in Oregon music. And stay tuned – we have more news coming soon about another impending big move in Oregon classical music.

A Bunch of Kenji news

Last month, I broke the story of Portland native Kenji Bunch’s return to Portland in Willamette Week, and wrote more about it on Oregon ArtsWatch. One piece of the story we couldn’t reveal at the time, because it wasn’t final, can now be told: Bunch will take over from FearNoMusic founder and pianist Jeffrey Payne as interim director of one of the most valuable programs in Oregon arts: FearNoMusic’s Young Composers Project. The then-prospective teaching opportunity was one of the things he was most excited about in our conversation last month.

“The FearNoMusic Young Composers Project is recognized nationwide as a model for engaging and encouraging young, creative composers,” Bunch says. “I’m really excited to return to my hometown and be able to contribute to this great program.”

The YCP affords some of Oregon’s most promising teenage composers a rare chance to work with some of the state’s finest and most open-minded musicians for an entire academic year, culminating in a concert of their works played by FNM regulars.

“Having a composer of Kenji Bunch’s stature is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the amazing young talents in the Young Composers Project,” says Payne, who founded the project in 1997 and who’ll be taking a sabbatical for a year while Bunch fills in. “The hands-on methods of the YCP coupled with Kenji’s skill, imagination, range and knowledge will open up great new vistas for the kids in the workshops and performances. Having the combination of this great mind and educator with the best professional musicians in Portland to work with will be an unparalleled educational experience for our students.”

Hear FearNoMusic playing Bunch’s “Road Trip.”

We should also be hearing Bunch’s music around Oregon. Last Sunday, his wife, pianist Monica Ohuchi, joined the Corvallis Youth Symphony in the Northwest premiere of his new piano concerto in a concert that also included Bunch’s “Cookbook” for viola and orchestra, and last month, Portland Youth Philharmonic played his bluesy “Supermaximum.”

Oregon audiences will also hear Bunch (who founded the New York-based Flux Quartet and Ne(x)tworks and the bluegrass band Citigrass) performing his own music, as he did in Corvallis (where he’s been a regular at the summer Chintimini Festival) and Portland a couple years ago with Citigrass and a solo set at the late, lamented The Woods.

“These days, most of the performing I do is playing my own music, solo, with piano or chamber music,” Bunch says. “The idea arose from “the experience of playing with my band in over 1000 shows in all kinds of situations, from big concert venues and festivals to dive bars. It’s a different connection with audience when I play in that context. It started to bother me a little bit that I didn’t have that similar connection when I would perform other kind of music. Why couldn’t new [classical] music connect that directly with the audience? And why couldn’t I play my own music?”

Bunch will also use his new/old Portland home (more affordable than living in New York, and with fewer distractions) as a creative incubator. “I want to make a little more time to compose,” he says. “That’s been the bulk of my income for the last decade or so. I don’t have set hours for that work, and it’s work that needs to get done but isn’t [in Brooklyn]. I’ll have a little composing shack not attached to the actual house where I can carve out a little time to really have that identity as a full time composer.”

Bunch’s return signals that Portland may now have become not just a generator for major classical musicians who then leave to find fame elsewhere, but also an attractor, just as it’s long been in rock and other popular music.

Splitting the Scene

While it’s a treat to welcome a composer, performer and teacher as accomplished as Kenji Bunch back, we regret report that Oregon is losing a few of its stalwart musical instigators. So as we gain one vibrant violist (Bunch), we lose another. Classical Revolution PDX founder Mattie Kaiser  moved to Brooklyn a few weeks ago, as part of the trade for Bunch plus a draft choice and a player to be named later (see below). Oregon owes Kaiser (who will still be involved with CRPDX long distance) a tremendous debt of gratitude for bringing classical music to many, many listeners who might otherwise be discouraged from hearing it by stiff ticket prices, stiffer archaic performance rituals and venues, and other unnecessary impedimenta.

Classical Revolution PDX's Mattie Kaiser. Illustration by Ben Todd.

Classical Revolution PDX’s Mattie Kaiser. Illustration by Ben Todd.

However, while Portland will miss her  inspirational dynamism, CRPDX has found a promising successor in Christopher Corbell, who in just a few weeks has already expanded the number of regular chamber music jams, launched a new educational / outreach effort, and accelerated what could be a historically important conjunction of CRPDX’s democratization of classical music with the city’s fertile new music scene.

While the classics will never go away entirely, it’s exciting to contemplate the implications if new music finds a nurturing home in clubs and cafes around Portland, rather than being locked away in ivory towers as it has so often been over the past century. After all, many of what we now consider classics were actually born not just in palaces and churches concert halls but also in coffee houses and bars, before the musty museum mentality that’s slowly been strangling classical music began exerting its death grip a century ago. CRPDX’s new direction could offer a real opportunity to bring contemporary classical music to the ears of Oregonians who might not otherwise encounter it, and also to encourage composers to write more accessible music for a broader audience beyond academics and new music nerds (like yours truly).

According CRPDX’s press release, its new Classical Outreach Series entails sponsoring chamber ensembles to bring classical music to places where it’s not commonly encountered, including “three concerts for each participating chamber ensemble: one educational outreach concert at a school or learning center, one social outreach concert at a facility with limited access to live classical music, and one public concert in a fun, casual, low-admission-charge venue.” The first two groups include Post-Haste Duo, a new-music-commissioning reed duo featuring saxophonist Sean Fredenberg and bassoonist Javier Rodgriguez, and The Mousai, a new-music ensemble featuring pianist Maria Choban, oboist Ann Van Bever and flutist Janet Bebb.

“Small classical ensembles and new-music ensembles need more opportunities to play for audiences,” Corbell explains in a press release. “They also need to be compensated for their performances, but small ensembles don’t always have the means to fundraise or receive grants, and setting high ticket prices limits the potential audience. There are many people who would benefit from these groups’ music, and getting chamber music to them is the mission is CRPDX. That’s why we are creating this program to work with many groups over time, to bring their music to new audiences.”
To help fund this program and other new initiatives CRPDX will be hosting a public, no-cover-charge fundraiser at southeast Portland’s Vie de Boheme cafe on Wednesday, June 5.

Elise Blatchford and Leander Star

Elise Blatchford and Leander Star

Birds Fly

Alas, Kaiser isn’t the only loss Oregon music is suffering. Two of the city’s finest classical musicians, hornist Leander Star and flutist Elise Blatchford (40 percent of City of Tomorrow Wind Quintet, which started in Chicago and whose other members live there and in New York and San Antonio) will be leaving for Tennessee, where Blatchford has scored an academic position. Star will return occasionally to play in the Portland Opera orchestra and perhaps we’ll see them on other Oregon stages.

You can catch the pair’s last shows in Portland before their departure this Sunday, May 19, at downtown Portland’s First Presbyterian Church, when the duo joins ArtsWatch contributor and pianist Choban in the Bird in My Horns trio’s performance in the Celebration Works series, and June 6 at Portland’s Piano Fort.

Still another dispiriting departure: pianist Andrew Oliver, who has contributed enormously to Portland’s recent jazz resurgence, will be leaving for a new life in London at the end of July. Oliver’s stellar composing and performing skills (with his own ensembles, plus the Ocular Concern, Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble, Kora Band, Tunnel 6, Bridgetown Sextet, and too many others to keep straight) will be missed, as will his indefatigable efforts (through his establishment of PCJE and its record label, his radio work, and more) to promote the Portland jazz scene, particularly with the young generation of terrific musicians now rejuvenating our jazz culture.

You can hear Ocular Concern premiering new pieces with strings and bandoneon (the Argentine accordion that graces tango music – yes, Oliver also plays in a tango band) and opening for the New Mexico based Round Mountain at Portland’s Secret Society on May 30, and also hear Oliver playing the music of the great contemporary jazz composer Dave Douglas along with new original music with PCJE at Portland’s Mission Theater on June 20.

Douglas Detrick is coming back home.

Douglas Detrick is coming back home.

Oliver’s loss is a blow to Portland’s creative jazz community, but it’s at least partially cushioned by the news that, like Bunch, another Oregon-bred talent is coming home from Brooklyn. Trumpeter/composer Douglas Detrick, who first came to prominence as a University of Oregon student, will be moving to Portland in the fall. Detrick, who recently scored a prestigious Chamber Music America New Jazz Works commission, works the borderlands between composed and improvised music in his AnyWhen Ensemble, which performed in Eugene and Portland last February, and he appears with Oliver and fellow past and present Oregonians Dan Duval and UO alum Hashem Assadullahi on a new album by Operation Northwoods, released on Oliver’s PCJE label.

“I plan on continuing my work with AnyWhen Ensemble, and I’ll also be building on the work I’ve done with a project called “Cartography” that centers around my singing, trumpet playing and songwriting, but with a flexible cast of musicians that I collaborate with, from a small chamber ensemble, to solo, duo and perhaps a larger ensemble thing in the future,” Detrick wrote in an email. “I’m also hoping to increase the amount of music that I’m writing for other ensembles. I’ll be doing a piece for the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble, and am finishing up a piece for Shirley Hunt, the cellist in AnyWhen Ensemble. I’m hoping to get involved with all the Portland players as soon as possible as a composer, performer and arts consultant.”

Campbell leaves WWeek — sort of

ArtsWatch’s Brett Campbell recently learned, at an inebriated family gathering, that his distant cousin, WWeek classical music editor Brett Campbell, will be leaving that august position at month’s end. With help from Hopworks, Campbell plied Campbell for the straight dope.

BC: So, dude, what’s this about you leaving Willy Week?

BC: True dat, man. Can you pass the keg?

BC: Sure. Why would you step down from such a swell sinecure?

BC: Well, first, the budget cuts meant that Meeker couldn’t afford to fix his office jacuzzi after it got clogged with Kristal, so he bogarted mine. And then, one by one, they sequestered my squadron of interns, fact checkers, masseuses…. I knew it was only a matter of time before they started actually checking the expense account, and there was no way I was gonna be able to explain the bail bondsman, liquor store bills, flights to New York to “see the Met,” etc.

BC: So you’re another victim of the austerity budget?

BC: The last straw came when I found out that WW had been secretly bought out by a front company for a consortium comprising the Koch Brothers, Rupert Murdoch, Donald Trump, Jane Fonda, and Jay Z. Oops, wait, Zusman swore us all to secrecy about that. You’ll edit that out, right?

BC: Sure, sure, we’re all family here. Want another beer?

BC: Thanks, cuz. Ahhh, that’s hoppy! I mean, I could read the writing on the wall. Once they passed the Classical Music Liberation Act, allowing classical listings to escape the ghetto of theater, dance and other undesirables and compete for space on WW’s Music page against musicians who actually, y’know, play music written in the 21st century, I knew the ride was over. How can classical cover bands compete against sounds of our own time that our readers can afford and actually want to hear played live? Hey, I think the tap is dry.

BC: Oh, sorry. Here’s another. So it sounds like once WW moves its classical listings from the Stage page to the Music page next month, readers who want to get a deeper, more comprehensive view of the classical music scene had better read Oregon ArtsWatch.

BC: I guess so, although I’ll still be pitching stories and listings on classical concerts to WW, like I was already doing with jazz, world music and other unpopular music. It just means I won’t be responsible for compiling the dozens and dozens of underrehearsed performances of music that’s been played a zillion times and anyone can hear online. That took hours and hours each week, and I kept spilling beer on the keyboard. And there’ll be fewer classical listings, but those events that are listed will get more space. However, they’ll be sharing space with rock, jazz, world music and the rest, most of it created in our own time and much of it by Oregonians. What’s happening now – that’s what most readers have always wanted to know about. We’re writing news, not history.

BC: So I guess it means that if classical music institutions want to get love from Willamette Week from now on, they better up their game and program music that’s composed in our time, and maybe even in Oregon.

BC: Well, that’s up to WW’s music editor, but yeah, it’s wild, man. I mean, I recently found out that people are still writing classical music! In this day and age! Can you imagine? Lots of beautiful stuff that speaks to today’s listeners. And lots of people who aren’t on Social Security actually like it and listen to it! Just like rock and hip hop and other new music. Who knew?

BC: Wow… you’d never know that by looking at the season announcements of our main classical music institutions. Has anyone told [NAME OF STODGY PORTLAND CLASSICAL MUSIC INSTITUTION DELETED BY INSISTENCE OF DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR]?

BC: Well, it won’t be me. I’m gonna be too busy to do more than a few listings and stories, at least till next year.

BC: Why, pray tell? Another black tar run south of the border?

BC: Worse. My coauthor and I have been ordered to write a biography of a 20th century classical composer. Uh, hello? This flagon ain’t gonna fill itself.

BC: You got it. So, they wrote classical music in the 20th century too?

BC: Apparently so. I’m checking that rumor out, of course. I’m a trained journalist, after all. They even tell me that this guy, Lou Harrison, was born right here in Portland! And that he was one of the godfathers of the world music movement. Portland ensembles and choirs have even played and recorded his music, there’s a new film about him, some guys named Merce Cunningham and Mark Morris choreographed a bunch of dances to his music, Keith Jarrett and Yo Yo Ma played it, and people totally love it because it has melodies and dance rhythms and everything, even though it doesn’t sound like anyone else’s.

BC: Wow, that’s amazing! Who’s publishing it?

BC: Indiana University Press, which publishes lots of bios of American composers. So now my coauthor and I have to write 125,000 words, and the contract specifically states they can’t be randomly generated as I’d planned. I guess I’ll write the first word, then he writes the second one, I write the third, and so on. That’s the main reason I’m quitting WW. Basically, I lost a bet on the NCAA basketball playoffs when Louisville beat my Ducks. The loser had to write a book published by the state university press of the winner.

BC: But… but Louisville is in Kentucky, not Indiana.

BC: What?! Obviously I was misinformed. Excuse me, I gotta run and see if I can get out of that contract.

BC: Wait, before you go – any truth to the rumor that Carlos Kalmar himself personally guaranteed your fee at IUP to keep you from ragging on the Oregon Symphony in WW for playing almost exclusively music by dead Europeans?

BC: Nah, doubtful – we still have Oregon ArtsWatch for that.

2 Responses.

  1. bob priest says:

    wow, one door opens & another door closes – PDX is the place to be, to leave &/or to come on baaack to.

    as for me, this is the site of my last stand. that’s right, baby, i’m a committed PDXer – till death do us part . . .

    • bob priest says:


      i should add that my belief that PDX is a super-bitchen place is rigorously informed by having had the opportunity to live LOTS of different places in my lifetime: El Lay, Seattle, Port Townsend, Victoria, Winston-Salem, Paris, Hamburg, London & Warsaw.

      in other words, i know, even in a comparative sense, how glorious our town is. i feel incredibly fortunate to have wound up here.

      gracias a la vida!

Comments are closed.

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