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John Lamb, Published August 29 2012

Double-reed instruments on display at annual Winds of Change Festival

FARGO - If you called Ilonna Pederson a blowhard, she’d probably take it as a compliment.

As the director of the New York Kammermusiker (taken from the German translation for chamber music), Pederson is used to huffing and puffing and hustling to keep up with the busy schedule. In addition to playing English horn in the double-reed wind instrument ensemble, she handles ticketing, public relations and logistics.

One of the outfit’s next dates is its Sixth Annual North Dakota Winds of Change Festival on Tuesday at the Avalon Events Center in Fargo.

The event started off tying into raising awareness for wind energy on the high plains. That talk is all but gone from the yearly September show, but the classical music remains.

Pederson says the group is dedicated to promoting the music of double-reed instruments, like the English horn, oboe, bassoon and contra bassoon. As such, the performers play a wide variety of classical fare, from early Renaissance to contemporary songs and experimental folk tunes.

The Fargo show features works by Renaissance composer William Byrd and Baroque writers Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel. The concert starts at 7, but a pre-show theatrical performance at 6:30 features Pederson’s son and North Dakota State University alum, Bjorn, and Talia Maria Aull performing a scenes from Shakespeare, “Prayer of the Norwegian Child” and a mix of modern plays.

Because of the range of material and their role as advocates, ensemble members will often address the crowd and answer questions between songs.

“It’s interactive in a way traditional classical concerts are not,” says the N.D., native Pederson, who still farms near Rolette.

“It makes it quite lively,” says Athena Gracyk.

Gracyk caught a previous Fargo performance and wanted to get involved this time around, helping Pederson with the planning.

“I was blown away,” Gracyk says of her first Kammermusiker concert. “I’d never heard anything so exciting.”

The New York-based group’s approach to music and crowd interaction has the outfit in demand playing not only the United States, but all around Central and South America, Europe and Australia.

It was in Australia that they sold out the famous Sydney Opera House. They also played a dormant volcano in the Canary Islands, off the Western coast of Africa.

Because of the finances needed to keep a full ensemble on the road, only five of the 13 members will play the Fargo show and a subsequent date in Valley City. A week after the Fargo show a bigger group will perform at a 9/11 memorial.

The touring can be demanding on musicians not only for the grind of travel, but also the shift in altitudes. Higher levels can make air intake harder for musicians that use their breath like wood wind players.

Pederson recalls taking a day-and-a-half to acclimate to the thin air in La Paz, Bolivia (11,950 feet above sea level), and having oxygen tanks on hand during a performance in Quito, Ecuador (9.350 feet above sea level).

“These instruments get harder and harder as you get older,” says Pederson.

In addition to altitude, the temperature and humidity are factors as the reeds need to stay moist to vibrate and create the proper note.

But so much hangs on that note, says Pederson, explaining how symphonies tune to the oboe’s concert A.

“Oboists are the most neurotic. Everything relies on these mouthpieces,” she says.

She speaks from experience as an oboist in addition to playing English horn.

“If you play one, you play them all,” she says.

Pederson started the group in 1969 as a quintet.

“We’re more based on keeping the music going, not the economy of it. Everyone enjoys it so much,” she says.

If you go

What: New York Kammermusiker Sixth Annual North Dakota Winds of Change Festival

When: A pre-concert theatrical performance starts at 6:30 p.m., with the concert to follow at 7, Tuesday

Where: Avalon Events Center, 613 1st Ave. N., Fargo

Info: Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for seniors, $5 students


Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533