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Composer shares recipe for harmony

Composer and violist Kenji Bunch and pianist Monica Ohuchi will perform at Chatter.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The critically acclaimed composer Kenji Bunch will cook up his trademark stew of traditional American music and European classical forms at today’s Chatter Sunday.

Bunch’s work for chamber ensemble, orchestra and ballet often incorporates elements of hip-hop, jazz, bluegrass and funk. At Chatter, he’ll perform his “Cookbook for Clarinet and Piano” on the viola with his wife, the concert pianist Monica Ohuchi, and Chatter clarinetist James Shields.

The title reflects both Bunch’s love of cooking and music, two pastimes he sees as creatively connected. The simmering titles of each movement – “Smokehouse,” “Bubbles,” “Heirloom” and “La última noche en la casa del flamenco” – hint at the whimsical romp to come.

“It’s four short movements that all deal in some way with concepts that can be understood in musical terms or with cooking,” he said in a telephone interview from Portland, Oregon. “I love to cook.”

He traces that love back to his viola teacher at The Juilliard School, Toby Appel, who now lives in Santa Fe.

“He also taught me how to cook,” Bunch said. “I had my classes in his apartment in Manhattan. We’d play the viola and we’d make lunch and eat it together.

“I’ve always connected cooking with music,” he continued. “There are a lot of similar concepts. You have to consider the different parts involved and the timing and you have to think of the experience of the guests.”

Bunch was thinking of meat or cheese when he was writing “Smokehouse,” but he also discovered a musical analogy.

“You could think of a smoky nightclub where you have jazz or play tango,” he said.

“Bubbles” invokes a simmering saucepot with a cascade of rising notes.

“In the middle of it, there’s just the bubbles of a champagne glass,” he added.

“Heirloom” gives rise to tomatoes and their seeds being passed on for generations.

“La última noche en la casa del flamenco” (“The Last Night in the House of Flamenco”) stemmed from a visit to a Spanish restaurant in Brooklyn.

“We had a wonderful meal, but in the middle of the meal this totally unannounced flamenco performance happened,” he said.

When Bunch and his wife returned to the restaurant later, it had closed. He wrote the piece in tribute to that single night.

The couple also will join Shields on Bartok’s “Hungarian Dances” and Jean Francaix’s Trio for Clarinet, Viola and Piano.

The violist learned about Chatter after working with Shields in Portland. Shields is principal cellist with the Oregon Symphony.

“They’ve played a couple of my compositions,” Bunch said of Chatter. “It’s a very special organization. To have a concert every week is just astonishing. I think it’s a real model for other communities to learn from.”

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