paloma griffin hebert

Fear No Music & Third Angle reviews: discoveries

Portland new music ensembles open Oregon ears to music from beyond the usual sources

I love going to a concert with exactly zero familiar composers. In Oregon classical music programs, the standard is still usually one new composer per concert, sandwiched between the dead white guys. Even in Portland, it’s relatively rare to hear a concert with music by composers who are all new to me. In the last few weeks, veteran Portland new music ensembles Fear No Music and Third Angle delivered two such concerts that led me to new discoveries.

Fear No Music played recent music by Middle Eastern and emigrant-diaspora composers at Portland’s Old Church Concert Hall. Photo: John Rudoff.

FNM’s October 9 concert at Portland’s Old Church, The Fertile Crescent, featured music by six composers rooted in the Middle East. Although they were new to me, they are all accomplished international composers. Gity Razaz studied at Juilliard with Corigliano, Beaser, and Adler; Kinan Azmeh is a member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble; Reza Vali, Kareem Roustom, and Franghiz Ali-Zadeh have all composed for Kronos Quartet (I’m sure they’ll get around to Bahaa El-Ansary eventually). Although the music performed at the concert didn’t always satisfy me, I liked most of it, and the pieces that left me cold still led me to discover other enjoyable music by the same composers.

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Composer Bonnie Miksch: Fearless Dreamer

Portland composer and new music ensemble create a powerful recording, and a lasting relationship

In 2009, FearNoMusic violinist Paloma Griffin Hébert sat in the audience at a Cascadia Composers concert to hear her bandmates, pianist Jeffrey Payne and violinist Ines Voglar, play Portland State composer Bonnie Miksch’s Man Dreaming Butterfly Dreaming Man at a Cascadia Composers concert.

“I was transfixed,” recalls Griffin Hébert, who became FNM’s artistic director in 2011, by the “emotional quality of her music. She wears her heart on her sleeve. I am also that way, so naturally I gravitate toward that style.”

FearNoMusic's Griffin, Payne and Nancy Ives.

FearNoMusic’s Griffin Hébert, Payne and Nancy Ives.

After hearing more Miksch music at various concerts, Griffin Hébert resolved to record a CD. Recorded at Reed College’s Kaul Auditorium, it arrived this month, just in time for Saturday’s release concert at Portland State’s Lincoln Hall. The album and the concert both document a rare and successful musical relationship that’s expanded the artistic horizons of both the composer and the musicians.

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Kenji Bunch

Kenji Bunch

Since ArtsWatch broke the news that one of America’s best contemporary composers was returning to his hometown after two decades winning renown in New York, where he moved to attend the Juilliard School, Kenji Bunch and his wife, the superb pianist Monica Ohuchi, have quickly become an integral part of Portland’s thriving contemporary classical music scene. They’ve played in concerts by 45th Parallel, Cascadia Composers, March Music Moderne and more, and Bunch has worked with his old teenage youth orchestra, Portland Youth Philharmonic.

This month, veteran Portland new music ensemble FearNoMusic announced that Bunch, who was already directing its admirable Young Composers Project, would become the group’s new artistic director, and Ohuchi would run the business end as executive director.

This weekend, Bunch and Ohuchi join the ensemble (composed mostly of current and former Oregon Symphony players and other top Oregon musicians) in an all-Bunch concert at Portland’s Alberta Rose Theater: an ideal opportunity for Oregon audiences to hear Bunch’s engaging, intriguing chamber music, often inspired by popular music and culture, and performed by one of Oregon’s most valuable and adventurous music groups. It’s one of the most highly recommended concerts of the year.

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