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Chamber music ensemble is blowin' in the wind

A former Grand Forks resident once again is bringing her internationally known chamber music ensemble to North Dakota for a series of performances and events that aim to raise awareness of the state's wind energy potential.

A former Grand Forks resident once again is bringing her internationally known chamber music ensemble to North Dakota for a series of performances and events that aim to raise awareness of the state's wind energy potential.

The third-annual Winds of Change Festival kicks off Tuesday and will bring the New York Kammermusiker to four cities in the Red River Valley.

Illonna Pederson, who founded the ensemble in 1969 and graduated from Grand Forks Central High School in 1959, said combining the music and energy awareness just seemed to make sense.

"We are wind instrumentalists and we are also very involved with the environment here in New York," she said. "We just thought that North Dakota has the most wind of any place we've been playing, and we'd like to have an awareness festival."

The ensemble will perform at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Park River (N.D.) School and at 7 p.m. Tuesday at 7 p.m. in St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Grafton, N.D. The group performs at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Mayville (N.D.) Lutheran Church. The Park River show is free; admission will be $5 at Grafton and Mayville.

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The biggest event will be Sept. 10 at the Avalon Events Center in Fargo. Pre-concert theater directed by Pederson's son, Bjorn, will begin at 6:30 p.m. followed by comments from local wind energy supporters and a performance at 7:30 p.m.

The Fargo entertainment costs $15 for adults and $10 for senior citizens or students but will be free for people traveling from out of town, she said.

A unique group

Pederson said the Kammermusiker is noted for its travels, more than 40 international trips to South America, Australia, China, Taiwan and Europe, as well as frequent performances on the East Coast.

"I think we're the most-traveled chamber music group in existence," she said. "This North Dakota festival started because I'm from out there, and I just had this idea that it would be nice to expand."

But the group stands out for more than just its bank of frequent-flier miles. The group is comprised of only double-reed instruments, plays music selections from the Renaissance and contemporary periods and also has a one-of-a-kind sound, thanks to the addition of a Viennese oboe mixed in with the standard instruments.

"The fingering is different, the sound is different, the instrument is shorter than our instrument," she said about the oboe.

Pederson said it's often a musician's "biggest dream" to play in a chamber group like this because of the freedom. There's no conductor, and the ensemble gets to pick its own music selections and decide where it wants to play.

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Enjoy the evening

Pederson said the North Dakota performances are really meant for everyone, not just chamber music diehards. The program notes help to explain more about the music, and the group talks about the music as well to help the audience listen with a more critical ear.

Comments from the first couple of years of the festival have usually been favorable to the theater portion, which she said is understandable.

"The problem is they understand theater better than they love our music," she said.

But even North Dakotans can enjoy the ensemble, Pederson said, and she has hopes of adding even more to the festival in future years, such as dance and classical music and maybe a performance in Grand Forks.

The festival already brings in world-famous musicians that otherwise never perform in the Midwest. For the first time ever, an oboist from the Vienna Philharmonic will be in the region to perform, and German oboe makers are attending the Fargo event to get a peek at the Viennese oboe.

She said it's not hard to convince these performers to come to a state that they often have never seen. "I think it's the open air, and everybody's so relaxed in North Dakota," she said. "I didn't have to talk (the Vienna oboist) into it; he decided he wanted to come."

For the audience, Pederson said she hopes the festival will help some people discover a new passion. "I remember when I was in Grand Forks, I first heard the oboe in the Minnesota Orchestra, and that's how I picked my instrument," she said. "I couldn't believe it. If they can just hear things like that, maybe they'll like it."

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Johnson covers local music events and runs a music blog at www.areavoices.com/valleysound . Reach him at (701) 780-1105; (800) 477-6572, ext. 105; or send e-mail to rjohnson@gfherald.com .

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