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Kenji Bunch (viola) and Monica Ohuchi (piano)
Kenji Bunch (viola) and Monica Ohuchi (piano)

Benefit for All Classical Portland features Musical Couples

By HOLLY JOHNSON // This special concert, offering love-inspired pieces for the Valentine season, gives these real-life partners a chance to perform together pieces of their choosing. Thursday, February 15 at Alberta Rose Theatre.

Composer Kenji Bunch and pianist Monica Ohuchi, mezzo-soprano Angela Niederloh and baritone Matthew Hayward, string players Sarah Kwak and Vali Phillips: What do these married couples of the Portland classical music world have in common?

They’re performing together, along with others, as part of All Classical Portland’s inaugural Lovefest Concert at 7:30 pm Thursday, Feb. 15, at the Alberta Rose Theater. Normally we’d hear many of these distinguished local musicians as part of an orchestra or larger group. But this special concert, offering love-inspired pieces for the Valentine season, gives these real-life partners a chance to perform together pieces of their choosing, from “Besame Mucho” to Bach.

The event is a benefit for the 89.9 FM radio station. Tickets are $35 and $50.

“We’ve never done anything like it,” said Suzanne Nance, recently appointed CEO and on-air host of the station. She had been serving as interim CEO since July “We noticed that there are a lot of couples that are our star performers in this city.” Why not, she added, combine a variety of musical selections about love with paired-off players?

“These performers are so used to putting together elaborate programs, and then having to play for two hours straight. Here’s a chance for them to cherry pick. So it’s more personal. And they’re all friends. They’ve all played together.” All the 89.9 radio hosts will be on hand to introduce the performers, Oscar style, she said. The 400-seat Alberta Theater provides an intimate setting suited for numbers featuring just a few musicians.

Some of the works on offer include Astor Piazzolla’s Libertango, a vocal duet from Cosi fan tutte, selection from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet and works by 17th century composers Heinrich Biber and Michel Farinel. The latter two will be performed by Monica Huggett, one of Portland’s top musicians. And Bunch, a vibrant composer, will present works inspired by Latin themes, including “Last Night in the House of Flamenco.” A final event will include a sing-along for the audience, musicians and presenters alike.

The connection between All Classical Portland and local musicians is a vital one, believes Nance, a Philadelphia native who most recently worked in Chicago. These musicians are our family. This concert gives us the opportunity to put them onstage where they belong, and it gives us an opportunity to celebrate what we mean to the community,” she said

Is the 90-minute program designed for couples? Not at all, says Nance. “We want everyone to feel welcome and comfortable at the table, enjoying the feast of classical music.”

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