I heard a concert by A Far Cry on 10/17/20. They’re a conductorless string chamber orchestra in Boston. I’ve heard a few concerts by members of the group in the Open Space Music series. I checked out their online concert series and jumped on this concert because they were playing Shostakovich.
The concert opened with a quirky, cute opening credits sequence for the series, introducing each of the players in the ensemble and a few key members of the administrative staff. We then got a welcome speech from a member of the ensemble and saw a couple of brief interviews with people connected to the group, talking about musical experiences they’ve had during the pandemic. There were more of those later in the concert, between pieces. The take-away quote - - one of the violinists talks about walking through her neighborhood and seeing a group of young ballet dancers going through their barre exercises. She was brought to tears. She said, “I think, right now, creative beauty is a very powerful act.”
The first piece was the Shostakovich string quartet #11, played by Jae Cosmos Lee, Omar Chen Guey, Sarah Darling, and Michael Unterman. The concert was recorded in a concert hall, all of the players wearing masks. The camera work was more involved than many of the online performances I’ve seen, that was a nice treat. They did justice to the piece, there were moments of beauty and/or drama, but their playing was maybe a little too well-mannered, I like a little more bite and crackle in my Shostakovich. The most fascinating piece was a sequence at the end of the next-to-last movement. The first violinist (Lee) played a solo, with a rich, meaty sound. Then the second violinist (Chen Guey) played what seemed to be exactly the same music, but with a feeling of tiredness and resignation. I might track down the score and see how that’s indicated in the markings.
Two members of the ensemble interviewed Juanito Becenti, the composer of the next piece on the program. He grew up on a Navajo reservation and felt that classical music was a rebellion because it was so expressive and emotional. His three favorite composers and strongest influences were Beethoven, Shostakovich, and Ives. Three awesome dudes!
A different quartet played his piece “The Forest at Dawn.” The players were Annie Rabbat, Robyn Bollinger, Jason Fisher, and Rafael Popper-Keizer. It opened with a mournful viola solo, always a great place to start. The second violin came in and it became a conversation, then the cello and second violin brought the musical ideas to full flower. Becenti has an original voice and writes with great feeling, grounded in a solid sense of musical structure. The rest of the piece covered many moods and textures. Some of the words that came to mind: brittle, skittish, flowery, contemplative, searching, rugged. There was some John Adams inspiration later in the piece, and some Schubert (or was it Michel Legrand?), and lots of expert writing for the four instruments. Though to be honest, I feel like it went on a little too long…
A different quartet played the Andante from Mozart’s 23rd string quartet. The players were Miki-Sophia Cloud, Alex Fortes, Caitlin Lynch, and Rafael Popper-Keizer. Mozart is really not my jam, but they played it with charm and elegance.
The concert ended with George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun,” arranged by Crier Alex Fortes and played by him, Zenas Hsu, Caitlin Lynch, and Michael Unterman. It rode the line between being sweet and being too sweet, and not sufficiently imaginative. From my perspective, if you’re going to turn such a familiar song into a string quartet, you should do something unexpected with it, it shouldn’t just be a transcription for string quartet.
Here's the full ensemble playing the "Élégie" from Tchaikovsky's *Serenade for Strings:*