The Snow Queen

The Snow Queen

A heartwarming drama of a frozen land
Kenji Bunch
Orchestra Next
Brian McWhorter
Catalog Number: 
new classical
music for dance

Eugene, OR

Release Date: 
Jun 23, 2017
Liner Notes: 
2 CD
One Sheet: 

Oregon’s Orchestra Next, in collaboration with the Eugene Ballet Company, has released its debut album featuring the world premiere recording of Kenji Bunch’s The Snow Queen. This 100-minute ballet score is a significant addition to the repertoire.

Unlike Disney’s movie Frozen, this retelling follows the Hans Christian Anderson tale somewhat closely. At its heart, The Snow Queen is the classic tale of a hero’s quest. In this particular version, though, the hero is actually a heroine and she goes off on adventures to rescue a boy from the forces of evil. In the story, childhood friends Gerda, a girl, and Kay, a boy, are separated when Kay is blinded to the good of the world by shards of a frozen mirror made by Satan. Kay ends up being taken to the Ice Palace of the Snow Queen; with help from various other characters, Gerda rescues him there.

It was this reversal of the classic gender roles that drew Eugene choreographer Toni Pimble to the story. “It’s the heroine who saves the hero in this story,” she says. “And, the two main characters are women. That’s very different.” The story works equally for children and adult audiences alike.

As composer Kenji Bunch writes, “Helping to tell this hauntingly beautiful but entirely wordless story for close to two hours was, simply put, the largest undertaking of my career to date, by a longshot.”

Kenji Bunch has emerged as one of the most engaging, influential, and prolific American composers of his generation. Hailed by the New York Times as “A Composer To Watch” and cited by Alex Ross in his seminal book “The Rest Is Noise,” Mr. Bunch’s unique blend of wit, exuberance, lyricism, unpredictable stylistic infusions, and exquisite craftsmanship has brought acclaim from audiences, performers, and critics alike. Mr. Bunch maintains an active career as a violist, and is widely recognized for performing his own groundbreaking works for viola.  A founding member of the Flux Quartet (1996-2002) and Ne(x)tworks (2003-present), Mr. Bunch is a veteran of the New York new music world and now resides in Oregon.

Orchestra Next, under the direction of Brian McWhorter is a training orchestra and the resident orchestra with the Eugene Ballet Company. Resurrecting the tradition of the mentor-apprentice relationship, Orchestra Next, now in its 5th season, combines Eugene’s creative and vibrant professionals with the region’s most talented protégés.



"Other remarkable musical moments included Kay and Gerda’s achingly beautiful theme; dreamlike dances by the flowers in Conjure Woman’s garden and by the Robber Girl; the Arrival of the Crows (several patrons around me delighted in the crows’ calls emanating from the string section); the muscular and virtuosic Gypsy Camp dance, and the emotionally cathartic final scene during which Gerda, Kay and the Rose Briar are at last reunited. 

To be sure, this was a ballet. The essential visual elements of dance, costumes, scenery, and lighting must certainly be placed at the forefront. Just the same, let us not forget to also attend to the musical fabric that binds it all together." [FULL ARTICLE] - Robert Ponto



"Bunch cites the big names in ballet music as inspirations, from Ravel to Tchaikovsky and the other great Russian composers; and in piece after piece he achieves effects those progenitors would recognize and respect. He combines a modernist vocabulary with flourishes of the romantic, with little trace of the avant-garde; old-fashioned ears will drink this music in. Still it’s unpredictable enough to delight those who yearn for something new and original. 

...Bunch succeeds masterfully in depicting the themes of friendship and heroism, along with what he describes as the Snow Queen’s “cold, clinical, icy realm.” And when you do look at the titles of the individual pieces, it’s not at all hard to imagine the scenes: a heart turning to ice, the dance of the flowers, the arrival of the crows, the Robber Girl, returning to the Snow Queen’s palace, etc., concluding with heroic Gerda thawing her dear friend Kay’s heart. This suite is full of heart and likely to move yours, and while it might make you wish you could see the ballet, it won’t leave you frozen." [FULL ARTICLE] - Jon Sobel


"Although I was not able to watch the ballet choreography while listening to the music, I honestly didn’t need to see it—the music tells the story quite well. What I was impressed with right away on disc one was how Bunch was able to show the subtle complexities of winter compositionally. It would be easy to make the orchestration sound cold and brash, but that’s not what winter is all about. Winter is about finding the beauty and warmth around you when everything seems lifeless, and Andersen’s story of enduring friendship shines throughout this performance." [FULL ARTICLE] - Cecelia Otto


"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." [FULL ARTICLE] - Allan J Cronin


"...but without a doubt, the music here is enjoyable without the visuals, which must be impressive. A great idea, well executed and accessible for public consumption." [FULL ARTICLE] - George Harris