Kind of braggy, but at least it's still under 500 words:
Over the past thirty years, Kenji Bunch has established himself as one of America’s most engaging, influential, and prolific composers, with genre-defying music that has been performed on six continents and by over seventy American orchestras. Cited by Alex Ross in his seminal book “There Rest Is Noise” and dubbed “One of the new faces of new music” by the NY Times (A. Tommasini), Bunch’s unique compositional voice has earn acclaim from audiences, performers, and critics alike.
Influenced by his mother’s experience as a Japanese immigrant, his father’s as a political/social activist, and his childhood spent in the meditative natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, Bunch combines his interests in history, philosophy, nature, and intergenerational and cross-cultural dialogue with the intention to entertain, inspire, and facilitate healing with his music- at times with vulnerable sincerity, irreverent humor, dazzling virtuosity, or by confronting difficult issues of trauma from our shared histories.
As the 2021 Composer in Residence for the Moab Music Festival, Bunch collaborated with actor/activist George Takei to create Lost Freedom: A Memory, interweaving music for chamber ensemble with Takei’s narration of his own WWII-era childhood incarceration in America. Other recent works include commissions and premieres from the Seattle Symphony, Oregon Symphony, Lark Quartet, Britt Festival, Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, Music From Angel Fire, Chamber Music Northwest, Eugene Ballet, Third Angle New Music, and Grant Park Music Festival. All-Bunch concerts have been mounted in New York City, Boston, Denver, Nashville, Mobile, and Portland, as well as at the Perpignon Conservatoire in southern France, the Stamford Festival in England, and the Oranjewoud Festival in The Netherlands. His dance collaborations include work with such renowned choreographers as David Parsons, Toni Pimble, Nai-Ni Chen, Kate Skarpetowska, Paul Vasterling, and Darrell Grand Moultrie. Bunch's film credits include The Bellman Equation and The Argentum Prophecies, and his extensive discography includes many recordings, now streaming on all platforms.
Also recognized as a groundbreaking violist, Bunch was the first student to receive dual degrees in viola and composition from The Juilliard School and was a founding member of influential ensembles Flux Quartet (1996-2002), Ne(x)tworks (2003-2011), and Nurse Kaya String Quartet (2002-2005), as well as the bluegrass band Citigrass (1998-2013). Committed to a multi-style approach to the instrument that includes improvisation and modalities of playing beyond the conventions of western classical art music, Bunch has worked with a diverse array of prominent artists including Ornette Coleman, Lenny Kravitz, Mike Gordon (Phish), and vocalist Joan La Barbara.
After several decades in New York City, Bunch returned to his hometown of Portland, Oregon in 2013 with his wife, pianist Monica Ohuchi, with whom he co-directs the new music group Fear No Music. Additionally, Bunch directs MYSfits, the Metropolitan Youth Symphony’s multi-style string ensemble, and teaches viola, composition, and music theory at Portland State University, Reed College, and for the Portland Youth Philharmonic. Most of all, he and Monica enjoy time with their two children and their dogs Marcie and Nutmeg.
Mericifully short (under 150 words!):
Kenji Bunch writes music that looks for commonalities between musical styles, for understandings that transcend cultural or generational barriers, and for empathic connections with his listeners. Drawing on vernacular musical traditions, an interest in highlighting historical injustices and inaccuracies, and techniques from his classical training, Bunch creates music with a unique personal vocabulary that appeals to performers, audiences, and critics alike. With his work frequently performed worldwide and recorded numerous times, Bunch considers his current mission the search for and celebration of shared emotional truths about the human experience from the profound to the absurd, to help facilitate connection and healing through entertainment, vulnerability, humor, and joy.
Mr. Bunch is widely recognized for performing his own groundbreaking works for viola. He currently serves as Artistic Director of the new music group Fear No Music and is deeply committed to music education in his hometown of Portland, Oregon.
Nearly my entire catalog is published through Bill Holab Music (www.billholabmusic.com). If you visit that site, you’ll find an online store with clear directions on how to purchase or rent my music. The one exception is my work Velocity for flute and piano, which is handled by The Theodore Presser Company.
Arrangements of other composers’ works are a bit of a different animal. These are mostly done as “work for hire,” for specific projects, which means I don’t control any of the rights to the usage of the arrangements, and therefore can’t legally sell or distribute them to anyone else. If I do secure the permission to reuse any of my own arrangements, I’ll make them available and will announce this.
Thanks so much for your interest! I need to focus on the artistic side of things, so I really prefer not to negotiate my own commission terms. However, I’m always interested in considering new projects of all shapes and sizes, even though I may be booked in advance with work for up to a year or more. The best way to approach this is to contact Bill Holab Music (www.billholabmusic.com) and discuss the terms directly with them.
If you're new to the process of commissioning new music, I'd recommend a glance at these excellent guidelines from NewMusic USA (formerly Meet The Composer).
Absolutely! I have conducted residencies at over forty colleges, universities, and youth music progrmans across the country and enjoy working with students- or non-students- of all ages. Please visit the “bookings” page for more information.
Yes, I give private lessons to students of all ages on several subjects including viola, composition, and improvisation, out of my home studio in Portland, Oregon. I'm also currently the Viola Instructor at Reed College and teach Viola and Composition at Portland State University. Please refer to the “teaching” page for more information.
Yes. I am still a very active performer and love every minute of it. I am currently available for tours and performances of my music (as well as other music!) as either a solo performer (viola/ viola and fiddle), a chamber music guest performer, or in a viola/piano duo with my wife, pianist Monica Ohuchi.
Please visit the “bookings” page for more information.
Portland, Oregon- born and raised and very proud of it. I lived in New York City for 22 years (Brooklyn for the past 10) and moved my family back to Portland in the summer of 2013. NYC will always be in my blood, and is a place I dearly love, but we're happy to return to our Northwest roots to raise a family.
Q: Yeah, I know that, but I mean, where are you from? You know… like, what are you?
A: Excuse me?
Q: What kind of a name is “Kenji Bunch?”
A: Oh, I get it. Kenji is a Japanese name. My mother is Japanese, and my father is an American of English/Scottish descent, which is where “Bunch” comes from.
Q: Oh, I see! Do you speak Japanese?
A: No, but I'm fluent in half-Japanese.
A CONVERSATION WITH KENJI BUNCH
The following is a transcript of a recent conversation I had with my 8-yr. old pit bull, Coffee. A longtime associate and frequent collaborator, Coffee is also the President and CEO of Bulging Disc Records. In a corporate world still largely dominated by Caucasian males, this is no small achievement for a Canine female.
Coffee: It was, what- five years ago that we did our first interview for your website?
KB: Wow… yes, I believe it was. Time sure flies.
Coffee: It certainly does. Back then, I remember we talked about the musical influences and interests that have shaped your work. Do you think your answer would be different now, a few years down the road?
KB: That’s an interesting question. I think, hopefully, we all evolve over time- or at least, we inevitably change over time, whether or not it can be seen as evolution. I think, for me anyway, I’ve really focused the work I do a lot in the last several years- so maybe my answers would be a little different.
Five years ago, I was just starting to perform my own compositions publicly. Prior to that, I made a point of keeping my playing and composing careers quite separate. These days, I’d say the overwhelming majority of the work I do involves, in some way, me performing my own music.
I also used to keep my interest in folk music (bluegrass fiddle, etc.) kind of sequestered away from my work in the “classical” world. Now, I often combine that influence into the music I write and perform.
So, to get back to your question, I still like to think I have an open enough mind to be receptive to potential inspiration from any source- musical or otherwise- but I’ve focused my career more today, and I think a list of what influences me currently might reflect that streamlining.
Coffee: Why do you think you used to compartmentalize your parallel careers? And what would lead you to, as you say, “streamlining” them today?
KB: On a basic level, I think it came from an insecurity that made me feel like I had to somehow prove myself in each of those fields without using any recognition for my achievements in other areas to give me a boost, if that makes any sense.
I think early on, since I didn’t really start writing until I was in college studying the viola, it was important to me to establish an identity as a composer that didn’t rely on, or involve my participation as a performer. This worked pretty well, but it may have gone too far in the other direction, because there were times when people assumed I had stopped playing the viola. That actually made me kind of sad, because I love the viola and I’ve always felt it’s a big part of my identity. I also truly love performing and would never walk away from it unless I had to.
I realized that I had developed an identity as a composer, but my identity as a performer was less clear. I specialized in new music, with the Flux Quartet (1996-2002) and Ne(x)tworks (2004-2011), but also enjoyed traditional classical music and bluegrass. That’s not too different from many working performers these days, who need a versatile skill set to be marketable. But I realized I was maybe missing an opportunity to put myself out there in a more unique way, and fortunately I’ve had those opportunities in the last few years, as I’ve been able to present my own compositions myself.
Coffee: I see. How about non-musical interests? How do you enjoy spending your time away from your work?
KB: What time away from my work? I’m only half joking. The weird thing about a career as a composer is that sometimes it’s very hard to tell when you start working and when you stop. Sometimes I do my best work just sitting on a subway train or lying in bed trying to get to sleep. The brain seems to have its own work hours that we have little control over.
And maybe because of that, I enjoy activities that allow my brain to be creative- or relaxed enough to let creative thoughts enter. I think that’s why I enjoy cooking so much- I find it really encourages the same kind of creative thinking that composing does. I also enjoy long-distance running. Long runs free and relax my mind in a way that I imagine is similar to meditation. Also, I like the physical and psychological challenges of completing a long run. Sometimes you deal with a lot of physical discomfort, as well as plenty of doubt and negative thoughts, and working through those issues gives me more confidence to see through the challenges of completing a new piece of music.
Coffee: Did I hear correctly that you like to play basketball?
KB: That is indeed correct. I’m a pretty terrible ball player, but I really love the game. I love all sports- football, tennis, etc. But I find basketball to be very similar to chamber music- or better yet, to playing with a small ensemble or band (bluegrass or otherwise) that involves improvisation. The game is wonderfully simple, but within the context of that simplicity, there are so many variables that present themselves and require constantly evolving contingency plans.
Coffee: What’s next for you? Say we do this again in another five years… where do you see yourself in terms of the work you’ll be doing?
KB: Well, as you know, a lot can happen in five years! Just look at our work together with Bulging Disc Records and “Unleashed!” I would never have dreamed you’d be running a record label, and I would record an album of my own original music for solo viola. But we did it- with a lot of help from some extremely talented people, like Sean [producer Sean McClowry], and Amy [graphic designer Amy Iwazumi of Amy I Productions- who also designed this website!].
Coffee: We did it- you’re right! What do you think our next record will feature?
KB: Well, the overarching goal with “Unleashed!” was to present what I feel is the incredible versatility of the viola- which is why it was entirely solo viola with no looping, overdubbing, or other funny stuff. The way I see it, anybody can play around with a loop pedal and a laptop, but I wanted to really honor the acoustic instrument by itself.
Now that I’ve done that, maybe I would add some other elements to our next record- possibly overdubbing another track or two at times, maybe adding vocals, even a guest performer or two- like Monica [pianist Monica Ohuchi]. But the focus will still be on the viola. I want to continue to challenge myself to play things that may seem difficult or unexpected on the viola. I figure, if I’m going to push the envelope of viola technique with my writing, I had better be able to walk the walk and back it up with my playing.
Coffee: Did you say “walk?!”
KB: Oh, right… okay, I’m guessing we’re done talking now. Let’s go!