Kenji Bunch (1973- ) is a musician whose name has made it to my personal orbit many times but this is my first encounter with his music and what an encounter it is! This two disc set comprises a full length ballet commissioned and performed by the Eugene (Oregon) Ballet.
Bunch is an American composer who hails from Portland, Oregon the child of a Japanese mother and a Scottish father. He studied at Julliard and this is approximately the 18th CD release to contain his music (if I counted correctly). A prolific composer, one can find a decent listing of his compositions on his website. And he was a violist performing with the esteemed Portland Youth Philharmonic from 1986-1991/
There are at least two symphonies, numerous soloists and orchestra pieces as well as solo instrumental music. Though I’ve heard just snippets of his music aside from the disc under review here I think I can safely say that his style can be described as essentially tonal, even perhaps somewhat conservative, but the accessible qualities of his music do not translate into mediocrity. Quite the contrary, he is a very exciting composer and his style seems very well suited to an undertaking such as this ballet. Bunch appears to be a master of orchestral color and he uses it to great effect here.
The two discs comprise 23 tracks much like one would expect of most classical ballets. The individual movements are 3-10 minutes approximately and they correspond to specific scenes that tell the classic story of the classic Hans Christian Andersen story. No doubt cost is the barrier which precluded a DVD release which looks like it was a gorgeous production.
It is at least this writer’s impression that much of classical ballet music does not do well without the visuals of the dance. I am referring to 19th century models such as Coppelia whose music might be best performed in excerpted suites if dancers are not a part of the performance. Bunch’s ballet is more in the spirit of perhaps Prokofiev or Stravinsky wherein the music stands quite well on its own and even does a great job of evoking the images of the given scenes. Basically the music stands on its own as a narrative.
Orchestra NEXT is a training orchestra and resident ensemble with the Eugene Ballet Company. They handle this complex and musically challenging score with seeming ease under music director Brian McWhorter.
There is little doubt that those who were fortunate enough to see this fully staged production will appreciate the opportunity to relive their memories by hearing again the recorded score. But this will likely appeal to most fans of new music as well. It is a major work by a composer who deserves serious attention. This writer will certainly be listening.