Daily Music Post

Today's piece comes from New York composer Kenji Bunch. Here is "String Circle" as performed by the youth group, FACE THE MUSIC.

About the piece: 

For whatever reason, entertainment has become something of a dirty word among the classical crowd. Even so, I have a great deal of respect for it as a goal, and I would be honored to know I entertained a listener with my music. I think it’s a generous act to strive for. - Kenji Bunch

It is also a goal that Kenji Bunch has achieved brilliantly with a rapidly growing catalog of works that is performed and recorded with increasing frequency in this country and abroad. Bunch, an active violist and a former member of the Flux String Quartet, also plays fiddle in the group Citigrass. The New York-based artist composed the present work as a viola quintet for himself and the Harrington String Quartet, with whom he gave the first performance in Amarillo, Texas, in 2005.

In String Circle, Bunch adds some strong vernacular accents to a venerable classical genre. The five movements integrate jazz, rock and bluegrass influences in a way that “entertains” in the sense of keeping you on the edge of your seat wondering what combination of sounds the composer is going to come up with next, and how he will make familiar melodic and rhythmic elements appear as though you’ve never heard them before. The slow third movement is modelled on a traditional ballad, while the fourth-movement scherzo contains an accompaniment figure for the second viola marked “quasi ukulele.” The last movement is a study in mesmerizing ostinatos that culminate in a rhythmic explosion at the end of the piece.

About the composer: 

Kenji Bunch has emerged as one of the most engaging, influential, and prolific American composers of his generation.  Hailed by the New York Times as “A Composer To Watch” and cited by Alex Ross in his seminal book “The Rest Is Noise,” Mr. Bunch’s unique blend of wit, exuberance, lyricism, unpredictable stylistic infusions, and exquisite craftsmanship has brought acclaim from audiences, performers, and critics alike.

Mr. Bunch's symphonic music has been performed by over forty orchestras, and his genre-defying chamber works have been performed in premiere venues on six continents.  His music is regularly broadcast on national radio, including NPR, BBC, and NHK, and has been recorded on labels including Sony/BMG, EMI Classics, Delos, Koch, Kleos Classics, RCA, Naxos, NPM, Pony Canyon, BCMF Records, GENUIN, Capstone, MSR Classics, AMR, Innova, ARS, Crystal, Presentation Partners, and Bulging Disc Records.

As a composer, his residencies include Mobile Symphony (Meet The Composer Music Alive), Spoleto USA, Bravo! Vail, Sound Encounters, the Chintimini Chamber Music Festival, and the Craftsbury Chamber Players.  He also served for two years as the composer in residence for Young Concert Artists, Inc.  His collaborations with renowned choreographers David Parsons, Nai-Ni Chen, Kate Skarpetowska, and Darrell Grand Moultrie have received great acclaim.

Concerts devoted to his chamber music have been given at the Stamford Music Festival in England, and at the Perpignan Conservatory in the south of France, and are scheduled for this summer at the Landgoedconcerten Oranjewoud Festival in The Netherlands.  Recent projects include the world premiere of his Piano Concerto in May 2011 with pianist Monica Ohuchi and the Colorado Symphony.  In October, 2011, he appeared as the soloist with the American Composers Orchestra in the world premiere of his viola concerto "The Devil's Box" in Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall.  The Spring of 2013 will see the world premiere of a new work for electric violinist Tracy Silverman and orchestra, commissioned by Paul Gambill and The Orchestra Engagement Laboratory.

Mr. Bunch maintains an active career as a violist, and is widely recognized for performing his own groundbreaking works for viola.  A founding member of the Flux Quartet (1996-2002) and Ne(x)tworks (2003-2011), Mr. Bunch is a veteran of the New York new music world.  With a deep interest in vernacular American music and improvisation, he also plays bluegrass fiddle and  sings with the band Citigrass, and is a frequent guest performer, recording artist, and arranger with many prominent rock, jazz, folk, and alternative/ experimental artists.  In the spring of 2011, he released a recording of his complete works for solo viola on Bulging Disc Records.

A native of Portland, Oregon, Mr. Bunch studied at the Juilliard School, receiving his Bachelor and Master of Music degrees in viola with Toby Appel, and in composition with Robert Beaser.  Other composing mentors include Eric Ewazen and Stanley Wolfe.
Now a dedicated teacher himself, Mr. Bunch has developed and conducted residencies, workshops, and master classes across the country in composition, viola performance, improvisation, music appreciation, and arts education to students ranging in age from kindergarten to adult professionals.  He teaches at the Juilliard Pre-College, and lives in Brooklyn with his wife Monica, daughter Emmaline, and rescued pit bull Coffee.