Friday, March 3, 2023 at 8:00pm
A Far Cry
Friday, March 3, 2023 at 8:00pm
The Concert Hall at Groton Hill
Um día Bom
Osvaldo Golijov (b. 1960)
III. Arum dem Fayer (Around the Fire), arr. Alex Fortes
Jessie Montgomery (b. 1981)
The Glittering World (new commission)
Juantio Becenti (b. 1985)
Serenade for Strings
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
I. Pezzo in forma di sonatina
II. Valse: Moderato – Tempo di valse
III. Élégie: Larghetto elegiaco
IV. Finale (Tema russo): Andante – Allegro con spirito
Performed from memory
Musicians of A Far Cry
Jae Cosmos Lee
Megumi Stohs Lewis
ABOUT A FAR CRY
Called a “world-wide phenomenon” by Boston’s WBUR, A Far Cry has nurtured a distinct approach to music-making since its founding in 2007. The self-conducted orchestra is a democracy in which decisions are made collectively and leadership rotates among the players (“Criers”). This is structure has led to consistently thoughtful, innovative programming — and impactful collaborations with celebrated performers and composers. A Far Cry has risen to the top of Billboard’s Traditional Classical Chart, been named Boston’s best classical ensemble by The Improper Bostonian, and celebrated two Grammy nominations for its Visions and Variations. Boston Musical Intelligencer sums up the group: “This conductor-free ensemble has earned and sustained a reputation for top-drawer playing, engrossing programming, and outstanding guest artists.”
Described as “joyfully musician-led” by the Boston Globe, the group’s democratic spirit has been in overdrive in recent seasons. As the Arts Fuse stated this past season, “As is the norm with this group and their selections, everything somehow connects – and on multiple levels.” In the season ahead, this connectivity is central, with programs exploring home and sense of place, love, and purposeful interaction. A Far Cry seeks to do its part in reinforcing the idea of a “world that listens.”
The orchestra’s subscription series includes five programs at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall, and four chamber music concerts at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Jamaica Plain. A Far Cry also continues its residency at Longy School of Music, and performs Copland’s Appalachian Spring on the Celebrity Series of Boston. The group’s spring tour includes its Kennedy Center debut. A Far Cry’s omnivorous approach has led to collaborations with artists such as Yo-Yo Ma, Simone Dinnerstein, Awadagin Pratt, Roomful of Teeth, the Silk Road Ensemble, Vijay Iyer, and David Krakauer. Tour highlights include two new commissioning projects: Philip Glass’ third piano concerto with soloist Simone Dinnerstein, and The Blue Hour, “a gorgeous and remarkably unified work” (Washington Post) written by a collaborative of five leading female composers – Rachel Grimes, Angélica Negrón, Shara Nova, Caroline Shaw, and Sarah Kirkland Snider. The Blue Hour was released in 2022 in partnership with New Amsterdam and Nonesuch Records, and was named a Top 10 Album of 2022 by NPR.
A Far Cry’s Crier Records launched auspiciously in 2014 with the Grammy-nominated album Dreams and Prayers. The label’s second release, Law of Mosaics, was included on many 2014 Top 10 lists, notably from The New Yorker’s Alex Ross and WQXR’s Q2 Music, which named A Far Cry as one of the “Imagination-Grabbing, Trailblazing Artists of 2014.” In 2018, Crier Records released A Far Cry’s Visions and Variations, featuring variations by Britten and Prokofiev, and Ethan Wood’s re-imagining of Mozart’s “Ah vous-dirai-je Maman.” The album received two Grammy nominations, including one for Best Chamber Music Performance.
The 18 Criers are proud to call Boston home, and maintain strong roots in the city, rehearsing at their storefront music center in Jamaica Plain. The group recently celebrated the conclusion of a 10-year residency at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Collaborating with local students through educational partnerships with the New England Conservatory, Longy School of Music, and Project STEP, A Far Cry aims to pass on the spirit of collaboratively-empowered music to the next generation.
Osvaldo Golijov (b. 1960) :: Um Día Bom, III. Arum dem Fayer (Around the Fire), arr. Alex Fortes
Arum dem Fayer or “Around the Fire” is a traditional Yiddish song that also talks about the bliss of being together around a small fire. In my version, the song appears and disappears, as a ghost, in the midst of a slow processional and restrained tears. Schubert’s motif of the slow movement of Death and the Maiden is in the background throughout that first section. A different manifestation of Death interrupts the processional in a short and furiously baroque appearance that opens the door to three funny and mischievous dance variations on the B section of the Yiddish song. The movement closes with the reemergence of the opening processional. I wrote this movement in memory of Guillermo Limonic, who loved singing in Yiddish, and died of Covid in the early days of the pandemic.
Jessie Montgomery (b. 1981) :: Banner
Banner is a tribute to the 200th anniversary of “The Star Spangled Banner,” [the lyrics of which were written by Francis Scott Key in 1814]. Banner is a rhapsody on the theme of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Drawing on musical and historical sources from various world anthems and patriotic songs, I’ve made an attempt to answer the question: “What does an anthem for the 21st century sound like in today’s multi-cultural environment?”
In 2009, I was commissioned by the Providence String Quartet and Community MusicWorks to write Anthem, a tribute to the historical election of Barack Obama. In that piece, I wove together the theme from “The Star Spangled Banner” with the commonly named Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by James Weldon Johnson (which coincidentally share the exact same phrase structure).
Banner picks up where Anthem left off by using a similar backbone source in its middle section, but expands further both in the amount of references and also in the role played by the string quartet as the individual voice working both with and against the larger community of the orchestra behind them. The structure is loosely based on traditional marching band form, where there are several strains or contrasting sections, preceded by an introduction, and I have drawn on the drum line chorus as a source for the rhythmic underpinning in the finale. Within the same tradition, I have attempted to evoke the breathing of a large brass choir as it approaches the climax of the “trio” section. A variety of other cultural anthems and American folk songs and popular idioms interact to form various textures in the finale section, contributing to a multi-layered fanfare.
“The Star Spangled Banner” is an ideal subject for exploration in contradictions. For most Americans, the song represents a paradigm of liberty and solidarity against fierce odds, and for others it implies a contradiction between the ideals of freedom and the realities of injustice and oppression. As a culture, it is my opinion that we Americans are perpetually in search of ways to express and celebrate our ideals of freedom — a way to proclaim, “we’ve made it!” as if the very action of saying it aloud makes it so. And for many of our nation’s people, that was the case: through work songs and spirituals, enslaved Africans promised themselves a way out and built up the nerve to endure the most abominable treatment for the promise of a free life. Immigrants from Europe, Central America, and the Pacific have sought out a safe haven here and though met with the trials of building a multi-cultured democracy, continue to find rooting in our nation and make significant contributions to our cultural landscape. In 2014, a tribute to the U.S. National Anthem means acknowledging the contradictions, leaps and bounds, and milestones that allow us to celebrate and maintain the tradition of our ideals.
Juantio Becenti (b. 1985) :: The Glittering World
The Glittering World is a piece for string orchestra based on the mythological narrative of how the Navajo People came to be. According to the Navajo origin story, proto-humans emerged from a genesis-like void (described as little more than mist) and ascended from various mono-colored underworlds. With each migration these beings became increasingly more complex and “more human,” forced to deal with their own nature as they moved from world to world. Each previous world they survived was destroyed by some facet of their own nature that they had to reconcile with and overcome, or likewise also be destroyed. Each world is represented by a single color until these proto-humans, now demi-gods with their accumulated knowledge, emerge into the Glittering World or “The World of Many Colors.” These precursors of the “Surface Dwelling People” (Navajo People) were tasked with laying the ceremonial groundwork with which to guide the Navajo People in their pursuit of harmony and beauty in all things in this current world.
In The Glittering World I am attempting to highlight the idea of a diminishing world moving into the next by using various musical languages that, while in the moment may seem different, even incompatible, are fundamentally related. Each movement, or “World,” gradually disintegrates into the next with their own various themes. Throughout the piece, works from various composers who have influenced me are quoted–some overtly and some less so. I have always felt that using musical languages in this manner propels the music forward in ways it otherwise wouldn’t, in essence a reflection of a Glittering World.
The ensemble is contrasted by a solo violin which, while not properly pitted against the larger ensemble as in a concerto, does add color and contrast and even commentary, almost like an individual witnessing these various changes.
Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) :: Serenade for Strings
Bach “Why don’t you love Mozart? With regard to him we clearly disagree with one another, my dear friend. I not only love Mozart—I worship him,” Tchaikovsky wrote in a letter from March 1878, gently reproving his patron, confidant, and friend, Nadezhada von Meck. In an era predating recording devices, the only way to hear, or become familiar with works of a composer was to either attend concerts where the music was being performed, or be wealthy enough to hire people to play it for you at home. So, to broaden public knowledge of his idol, in 1887 Tchaikovsky re-arranged four of Mozart’s pieces into the Suite No. 4 in G Major, Op. 61, “Mozartiana.” The Serenade for Strings, written seven years earlier, was also meant to be reflective of Mozart whom Tchaikovsky thought was “devoid of self-satisfaction and boastfulness…a genius whose childlike innocence, gentleness of spirit…are scarcely of this earth.”
Even if Mozart is at its heart, the Serenade for Strings is quintessential Tchaikovsky, distilled and refined. Here he leaves aside exaggerated thematic statements, ostentatious virtuosity, and foreboding dread in favor of incandescent melody. Like a sunbeam through panes of ancient cathedral glass, the opening chords emit into the silence. The four movements unfurl one by one, take the listener on a sublime journey through various harmonic landscapes and shifting qualities of feeling. If the work feels like a resolute proclamation (or even celebration of) beauty, there’s a reason. Tchaikovsky wrote the Serenade concurrent with the 1812 Overture, a work for which he had little to no sentiment. In another letter to von Meck he wrote, “The Overture will be very loud, noisy, but I wrote it without any warm feelings of love and so it will probably be of no artistic worth. But the Serenade, on the contrary, I wrote from inner compulsion. This is a piece from the heart and so, I venture to say, it does not lack artistic worth.”
Somewhere between string quartet and symphony, the Serenade for Strings begins with descending tutti chords, commencing what will be a relationship between gravity and weightlessness through the constantly ascending and descending lines heard over the course of the first three movements. The effect is a work that seems to actually breath, to be alive and feel along with us; harmony implying movement—which is perhaps why George Balanchine was inspired to use the music in his ballet, Serenade. The charming Valse of the second movement glimmers all the more contrasted with the wistfulness of the Élégie (that seems to foreshadow the Grand Pas de Deux of the Nutcracker, some 10 years later). Then we arrive at the Finale, hovering like an autumn leaf fluttering midair before being carried away in an upward breeze—or, in this case, a whirlwind of Russian folk melodies, which are abruptly interrupted with the return of the opening tutti chords in the last moments.
–Kathryn Bacasmot, program note annotator