Violin Hero notes

Perhaps it is the singing quality of the violin that has endeared it to us so deeply. After all, that was our earliest connection to the world of musical expression. But then, there were also all the virtuosos—the violinists whom we know by one name: Corelli, Paganini, Vieuxtemps, Wieniawski, to name a few. These legendary instrumentalists were not only masters of their instruments, but also contributed some of the most beautiful music for strings the world has ever known. They were those who became heroes to those would become heroes for others.

It can be easy to forget how close many of these individuals were to each other through the overlapping lines of generations. It was a teenage Henri Vieuxtemps who met Robert Schumann and Niccolò Paganini. Later in his adulthood it was Vieuxtemps who would happen by on the street and hear a young Eugene Ysaÿe practicing. Having only studied with his father, life would change almost overnight for Ysaÿe as Vieuxtemps would arrange for him to study with Henry Wieniawski. (Ysaÿe’s students later included Josef Gingold, long-time teacher of Joshua Bell.)

Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962) and George Enescu (1881-1955) were born six years apart, and both received special permission to study at the Vienna Conservatory as children. Their careers ended up taking different paths. After initial success, including a New York City recital in Steinway hall in 1888, Kreisler suffered a blow when his bid for a position in the Vienna Philharmonic was denied. He shifted his focus away from the violin and toward medicine before returning to the stage. Meanwhile, the year Kreisler performed at Steinway Hall was the same year Enescu began his studies at the Conservatory. He concertized successfully and went on to further his education in Paris. He would find fame as a violinist, teacher, and conductor.

Like their virtuoso predecessors and teachers, each of these violinists contributed to the body of repertoire for strings (or beyond—including operas and symphonies). Ysaÿe’s lush Harmonies du Soir creates a twilight soundscape by dividing the parts between a larger ensemble of strings and a string quartet. Written in 1934 and privately performed for the Queen of Belgium the following year, it was rarely performed for many years. Kreisler’s brief encore pieces are his best known works, though he also wrote operettas and vocal works. His String Quartet in A was his only attempt at the genre, published in 1921. Mendelssohn’s glimmering octet might be the most famous, but Enescu made a gorgeous contribution though his octet’s intricate tapestry of sound. Written in 1900, it weaves in idioms from the folk music traditions of his native Romania with late romantic era sonorities.

Notes by Kathryn J Allwine Bacasmot

Kathryn J Allwine Bacasmot is a pianist/harpsichordist, musicologist, music & cultural critic, and freelance writer. She is a graduate of New England Conservatory, and writes program annotations for ensembles nationwide.

Arranging Enescu

Some thoughts from Rafi on retooling the Enecscu Octet for string orchestra!

It's Wednesday evening, and A Far Cry has just finished our first rehearsal for this weekend's program.  The repertoire is new enough to be exciting and a little surprising, but not alarmingly so - almost all of us have performed this program in slightly different form last week, partially (mostly) at Kneisel Hall in Maine, and partially at the Hatch Shell in Boston.  The Enescu Octet is the big challenge of the concert - the mountain to climb.  Even with two performances already under our belt, there's still a lot of maintenance to be done, and a lot of tricky corners to explore.  It's a massive undertaking, epic in scope and ambition, and we can't wait to have the chance to share it with our audience.

As the arranger for the Enescu, this concert is particularly exciting for me.  On the surface, there may not seem to be much intervention required in the transposition of string octet to string orchestra.  Enescu writes simply, “This work can be played with a full string orchestra on condition that certain singing parts be entrusted to soloists.”  And certainly the majority of my decisions fell into the category of where to use one player, and where to use a section.  Marking a line to be played by a solo player can highlight a moment of dramatic individuality or create one of especial intimacy.  In one particular moment, I brought the group down to a solo octet not to soften the texture, but to intensify it by creating a more focused sound - a climactic moment which is eclipsed moments later when the rest of the group comes crashing gleefully in.

I also needed to engage in a little bit of subtle rebalancing in places due to the particular numbers of our group forces - as of Season 11, A Far Cry is essentially double string octet, minus one cello, plus one violin and two double basses.  When we're playing traditional repertoire for string orchestra or string quartet, the difference between five first violins and three cellos is well within conventional parameters of balancing (numerically speaking) towards the top; pretty much any standard orchestra will have more violins than cellos.  Splitting our group into eight parts, however, you end up with three players in one of the violin sections, and one player in one of the cello sections - and the acoustic difference between three players and one is quite a bit more noticeable.  In the case of the cellos, of course, the basses are always there to help out (thank you, basses!) - but not all cello parts work well on bass, and while some moments in the Enescu invite reinforcement with the lower octave, others politely request otherwise.  So a little bit of part switching in places was helpful to smooth over some of these numerical irregularities.  (Because of this, there are actually eleven different string parts in my arrangement, which overlap the eight distinct voices of the octet in different ways.)

What, in fact, to do with the basses was the other big consideration in preparing this arrangement - each moment in the piece was a new opportunity to have the basses double the first or second cello line, either an octave lower or at the same pitch, either one or both of them, or simply not to play at all.  In some places, it was more effective to have the basses simplify one of the cello parts down to its root structure rather than play every note.

Putting the arrangement of the Enescu together was wonderful and intense and a little crazy - I had to go from 0 (knowing nothing about the piece) to 60 (having eleven performance-ready parts) in fairly short order!  Here are a couple of the the lessons I (re)learned along the way.

Your first instinct is usually the best.  Unless it's terrible.

Before I sat down for a serious exploration of the score with determination and coffee, I did a little casual listening on the drive back from my summer festival.  Somehow the movements came up in the wrong order on my playlist, and so the first notes of the piece that I heard were the opening strains of the third movement, doleful and otherworldly, vacillating every measure between major and minor tonality.  Immediately I knew how I wanted to present this theme: alternating the inner and outer ring of the ensemble, with the major on the inside - slightly closer to the listener spatially, visually, and aurally - and the minor on the outside, subtly more distant and less visible to the audience.  When I sat down to map things out more specifically, however, I came fairly quickly to the conclusion that alternating these groups every bar and every tonal change would start to feel a little heavy-handed, possibly to the point of seasickness.  Expanding the cycle to two bars, however, creates a little more continuity, gives each of the ensembles a little time to settle into the sound, and ensures that the alternation of subgroups doesn't happen so many times as to become tedious.  (It also lines up nicely with the two-bar repeating cycle in the bass - much more organic.)  This was my first concrete idea in the piece, and it's still my favorite moment in the arrangement.

enescu mvt 3 open.jpg

Not all of my first impressions were so successful.  Initially, I toyed with the idea of breaking the first theme up antiphonally, with the two sides of the group egging each other on.  I also considered using a couple of key players to emphasize structural pitches in the theme to add a bit of dimension to the phrase:

unnamed.jpg

But ultimately this kind of partitioning of the theme felt more than a little tawdry.  In the end, it made sense to leave the shaping of the line to the deft artistry of the ensemble.

Proofread until you can't.  But allow yourself happy little accidents.

Because almost all of the players switch back and forth between different parts at various times, I had to do a lot of (digital) cutting and pasting.  It's easy if you're not careful in such operations to repeat sections inadvertently, or to accidentally eliminate measures entirely.  My greatest worry during this process was that I would bring parts to the first rehearsal, the group would sit down to read them, and everyone would have a different number of total measures.  As our initial reading devolved into chaophony, everyone would turn to me and sigh disappointedly.  Fortunately, that didn't happen - I did indeed botch a few of my part splices, and I caught them all in relatively short order.  I checked and doublechecked and recounted measures until I couldn't count straight.  But I still missed a few minor details.

One such detail made itself evident at our first rehearsal, at a moment in the slow movement where the two cello parts had traded roles: the first cellos were plunking along on the bass line, while the second cellos had a little melodic gesture higher up.  I realized that I had made a notation in my practice score to switch the basses over to the first part, but had neglected to actually make that change in the parts.  I quickly scribbled a note to myself - “FIX BASSES BEFORE 50!!” but as the reading went on, I realized that I actually really liked the way this mistake sounded: the delightfully slurpy envelopment of the bass line by the subterior doubling of the melodic gesture veils the sound of the group in a very pleasing way.  I left the distribution of the basses as-is and it's now one of my other favorite moments.

Less is more.  But more is still the most.

One of the trickiest things about working on a piece of this dimension is managing the pacing.  That's certainly true for all of us as performers, and it was likewise true for me as arranger.  There were a lot of fussy little decisions to make throughout, but there were also long swaths of music (like pretty much the entire fourth movement!) that I left entirely untouched apart from bass/cello redeployments.  This was partly because the sweeping, slightly maniacal waltz that is the fourth movement lent itself so well to orchestral fullness, and partly because I wanted the overall arc of the entire piece to have as its ultimate goal the glory of the entire ensemble playing continuously.  I love the moments of solo shadings and textural thinning - but, when all's said and done, there's nothing like the sound of eighteen players pouring their hearts out, united in purpose and transfigured by the joy of making music together.

Rafi

Welcome, Rafi!

We're overjoyed to introduce the newest member of A Far Cry!

Rafael Popper-Keizer's incredibly generous and thoughtful playing has been a source of inspiration for us during A Far Cry's entire existence. Seriously! Anyone who's heard him - and if you live in Boston, you probably have - understands exactly why. 

Every time we've gotten to make music together has been a joy, and now we get to do it a whole lot! 

Welcome, Rafi, we're so glad to have you on board for this adventure!

-

Hailed by The New York Times as "imaginative and eloquent" and dubbed "a local hero" by The Boston Globe, cellist Rafael Popper-Keizer maintains a vibrant and diverse career as one of Boston's most sought-after artists. He is principal cellist of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as a member artist of Emmanuel Music, Chameleon Arts Ensemble, Winsor Music, the Ibis Camerata, and Monadnock Music. Praised by The Boston Globe for his "melodic phrasing of melting tenderness" and "dazzling dispatch of every bravura challenge," Mr. Popper-Keizer has appeared as a soloist throughout the United States, including recitals in New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall and the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. In recent seasons he has performed the Saint-Saëns Concerto in A minor, with the Boston Philharmonic; the Beethoven Triple Concerto, with the Indian Hill Symphony; and the Dvorak Concerto, with the University of Santa Cruz Orchestra.

In April of 2009, Mr. Popper-Keizer was the subject of an in-depth profile inThe Boston Globe in which he was recognized as one of the area's busiest and most versatile musicians, his career routinely encompassing everything from continuo in 17th-century motets to solo recitals to avant-garde improvisation to indie rock. He has collaborated with members of the Borromeo and Muir String Quartets, the Museum of Fine Arts Trio, violinist Curtis Macomber, and flutist Eugenia Zuckerman, and has toured extensively with the CORE Ensemble, a nationally acclaimed percussion trio with over twenty commissions to its name, through which he was invited to appear as both soloist and chamber musician in the contemporary music festival "Contrasts" in Lviv, Ukraine. Mr. Popper-Keizer has made guest appearances with innumerable ensembles throughout New England, including the Fromm Chamber Players, Boston Musica Viva, the Boston Trio, the Rockport Chamber Music Festival, Walden Chamber Players, Firebird Ensemble, and John Harbison's Token Creek Festival, among others.

Mr. Popper-Keizer has been featured on over a dozen recordings, with five new releases in 2010 alone. They include the premiere of Robert Erickson's Fantasy for Cello and Orchestra with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project on New World Records, Ralf Gawlick's Piano Trio and Piano Quartet, on Musica Omnia; Lisa Bielawa's Why Did You Lie To Me? for unaccompanied cello, on BMOP/Sound; and, on three separate Albany Records releases, Martin Boykan'sSong Lines and Motet, Malcolm Peyton's unaccompanied Cello Piece, and Gunther Schuller's Piano Trio and Yehudi Wyner's De Novo for cello and small ensemble with Ibis Camerata.

Rafael Popper-Keizer is an alumnus of the New England Conservatory, where he studied intensively with master pedagogue and Piatigorsky protégé Laurence Lesser, and of the Tanglewood Music Center, where he served as Yo-Yo Ma’s understudy for Richard Strauss’ Don Quixote under the direction of Seiji Ozawa. He also studied with Stephen Harrison, at Stanford University, and Karen Andrie, at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

New Album: Visions and Variations

Dear Friends,

We're making an album! 

"Variations and Visions" features three dynamic pieces that we've fallen in love with. We've performed them all for you, both here and on tour, and now it's time to turn all of that goodness into a recording. 

Britten's "Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge" anchors the disc - one of the great works of the string orchestra repertory, and something we've been fielding "when are you going to record this" questions about for years now! Next, Prokofiev's "Visions Fugitives" - a collection of bite-sized character pieces sketching out Prokofiev's friends in aphoristic perfection. Finally, we're thrilled to be introducing Ethan Wood's madcap, brilliant, mind-blowing variations on Mozart's "Ah, vous dirai-je Maman" to the world. 

We're running a Kickstarter campaign to cover some of the project funding and encourage you to check it out - it's a great way to pre-order the CD or a digital download, and as you might expect, there are a lot of fun Crier-driven "perks" to explore as well. (Scotch tasting with Jason or a loaf of fresh bread baked by Erik or a full-group hang at our release party!) 

We hope to see you soon, either in real life or online!

With love and music, 

The Criers

Introducing Season 11!

We're thrilled to share our new season with you! It's stuffed full of collaborations, new projects, commissions, and some of the freshest programming out there. 

A Simone Dinnerstein collaboration that features the premiere of a new concerto by Philip Glass; a Luciana Souza concert-length song cycle dreamed up between Rachel Grimes, Angelica Negron, Shara Nova, Sarah Kirkland Snider and Caroline Shaw, a quartet exploration with the Miró Quartet, an evening of old and new British music with Nicholas Phan, a new migration themed work by Elena Ruehr, some crazy cantatas featuring Sonja Tengblad and Bradford Gleim, piano concertos by Heng-Jin Park and Alexander Korsantia, a festival of Crier compositions, a hard-core audience challenge, a YOUNG composers' competition, a celebration of the virtuosic violin tradition... and a bunch of really, really, really good music.

Take a look at the official press release here: 

A Far Cry Announces Season 11

 

Silk Road Notes

KAYHAN HALHOR (b. 1963)
GALLOP OF A THOUSAND HORSES

Born in 1963 in Iran, Kayhan is of Kurdish descent. He began studying music at the age of seven, and is considered a master of the kamancheh, a bowed Persian spike fiddle. Gallop of a Thousand Horses is based on the folk melodies of the Turkmen people, who live in northeastern Iran, Turkmenistan, and parts of several other nations. The nomadic Turkmen are deeply connected to their horses, and this piece suggests the wild freedom of a large herd crossing the plains. The rhythms of the tombak (Persian drum) are complemented by the sense of motion provided by the kamancheh and other strings. Gallop of a Thousand Horses was recorded by the Silk Road Ensemble and Yo-Yo Ma on Silk Road Journeys: Beyond the Horizon (Sony Classical 2005). 
 

ZHAO JIPING (b. 1945)
SACRED CLOUD MUSIC

Born in Xi’an, China, Zhao Jiping is perhaps best known for his award-winning film scores to Farewell My Concubine, Ju Dou, and Raise the Red Lantern. His work Sacred Cloud Music is built around one of the earliest extant pieces of Chinese music, Qingyun Yue (“Auspicious Cloud Music”), dating to 640AD. Originally written for guqin, a seven-stringed Chinese zither, Qinyun Yue was transnotated from two later manuscripts by ethnomusicologist Rembrandt Wolpert and interpreted for pipa (Chinese lute) by Wu Man.
 

KINAN AZMEH (b. 1976)
IBN ARABI POSTLUDE

Ibn Arabi Postlude was adapted for the Silk Road Ensemble by Syrian composer and clarinetist Kinan Azmeh and comes from his orchestral work The Ibn Arabi Suite (commissioned by the Osnabrück Symphony Orchestra). The work was inspired by the writings of Ibn Arabi, an Arab Muslim mystic and Su philosopher who traveled from Andalusia to Damascus in the 13th century seeking knowledge. Kinan was struck by Ibn Arabi’s philosophy that love and free thinking are as sacred as any religious beliefs. About the music, which is in a 15/8 meter, he says, “The piece blurs the lines between the composed and the improvised and can be described as an obsessive ritualistic dance in the maqam, or melodic form, known as Kurd.”


BELA BARTOK (1881-1945)
ROMANIAN FOLK DANCES (arr. Arthur Willner)

One of the greatest contributions Bartók made to the music world, besides his own array of works, was the magnitude of field recordings of traditional folk music he gathered, collected, and organized over the course of his life. His discovery of their tonal world also was reflected in the scope of his output: “the outcome of these studies was of decisive influence upon my work because it freed me from the tyrannical rule of the major and minor keys. The greater part of the collected treasure, and the more valuable part, was in the old ecclesiastical or old Greek modes, or based on more primitive (pentatonic) scales, and the melodies were full of the freest and most varied rhythmic phrases and changes of tempi. It became clear to me that the old modes, which had been forgotten in our music, had lost nothing of their vigor. Their new employment made new rhythmic combinations possible.”

Realizing that much of the folk music that had found its way into the Romantic music of Liszt, for example, had little to do with the original songs, Bartók set out to write simple accompaniments, altering the original tunes as little as possible. Thus, rather than dismantling them and repurposing the parts, he simply provided frames in which to showcase the content.
 

KOJIRO UMEZAKI (b. 1968)
FOR ZERO

What seems most central to this piece is that it follows a process of accumulation and subsequent reversal. The opening descending dyads, followed by a repeating bass line over which the melody eventually enters, all feed into an electronically sustained accumulation of sound. Then, a pivot. The process reverses in a slightly different context, each new note subtracting itself from the amassed sonic material until none remains. Alongside working on this piece I was reading Charles Seife's wonderful Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea in which embracing zero as its own entity and an equal partner to infinity, among many other attributes, was an attractive thought to reflect upon. This work was commissioned by and written for Joseph Gramley. (Kojiro Umezaki)
 

VIJAY IYER (b. 1971)
CITY OF SAND (SPECULATIVE DUNHUANG) - NEW AFC/SILKROAD COMMISSION 

The two-millennium-old Central Asian interzone that appears to us in and around the town of Dunhuang sheds light on our current moment as much as it tells us about the past. A splendid assemblage of painted murals found in several hundred hand-carved cave temples nearby – the so-called Mogao (“Peerless”) Grottoes, built up over nine centuries – reveal to us a deliriously hybrid Buddhism informed by Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, early Islam, Taoism, Confucianism, and Manichaeism. In these caves we see evidence of an organic globalism emerging in Dunhuang from the movements and interactions of Chinese, Indian, Central Asian, North African, and Middle Eastern peoples along the Silk Road. Dunhuang itself was known in earlier eras as Shazhou, from the Arabo-Persian Saju, which means “City of Sand.”

Theater director Peter Sellars brought this improvised cultural aggregate to my attention, through his project on the Vimalakirti Sutra, a Mahayana scripture that is depicted in some of the murals in Cave 17. In this text, the titular protagonist, a layman, performs miracles for a gathering audience of bodhisattvas, monks, and disciples, and offers insights on a number of central Buddhist tenets, most famously the “voidness” of all worldly phenomena, which he expresses in a “lion’s roar” of silence.

The experiences we associate with the Silk Road -- migration, discovery, encounter, interaction -- all depend on improvisation: our capacity to sense, decide, and act in relation to each other. Composing this piece was a puzzle for me at first; it was not immediately obvious how to merge different musical sensibilities and sonic languages. Eventually, through speculating about Dunhuang’s deep past, I realized that just as in these caves, and just as in culture as a whole, individual and collective improvisation would help us make the most of our shared presence. I thank the wonderful performers of A Far Cry and Silk Road Ensemble for rising to this occasion. (Vijay Iyer)
 

SANDEEP DAS (b. 1971)
TARANG (ARR. JESSE IRONS)

Tarang is based on the exchange of improvised and extemporaneous solos between non-Western percussion instruments and Western strings. As Sandeep explains: “I imagined that the merchants or early travelers of the Silk Road may have interacted at first very simply – for example, through rhythm. When I composed this piece, I wanted to bring common elements of rhythm from the Silk Road countries such as a six-beat cycle (Dadra) and 16-beat cycle (Teen Taal).” The strings provide a drone and melodic lines to support these rhythmic weavings.
 

JPP
HALE BOPP AND SPEEDY SLAM (ARR. KARL DOTY) 

In the heart of Finland, in the region of Central Ostrobothnia, is the small county of Kaustinen, a municipality that has become known as the nation’s fiddling capital. It is home not only to the Kaustinen Folk Music Festival, the largest in Scandinavia, but also to the Finnish fiddling group Järvelän Pikkupelimannit, more commonly known as JPP. In English this name translates to “Little Fiddlers of Järvelä,” Järvelä being both a village in Kaustinen and a family from that village that employs a fiddling tradition dating back to the 19th century. Founded in 1982, JPP is comprised of fiddlers Arto Järvelä, Mauno Järvelä, Matti Mäkelä, and Tommi Pyykönen, bassist Antti Järvelä, and harmonium player Timo Alakotila. (Karl Doty) 


MARIN/MARIN
REGNVALSEN AND POLSKA MEDLEY(ARR. ERIK HIGGINS)

I came across the Swedish fiddling duo of Mia and Mikael Marin in the summer of 2013 on the recommendation of a friend who had just attended one of Mia’s fiddling workshops. I was instantly taken with their music, both their original compositions as well as wonderful arrangements of traditional Swedish Polskas, a whirling dance with a combination of light (short) and heavy (long) steps. Their album Skuggspel quickly became one of my favorites and I started to imagine these tunes on a larger scale for string orchestra. My deepest gratitude goes out to Mia Marin for her graciousness and enthusiasm for these new arrangements. (Erik Higgins)


TARAF DE HAÏDOUKS
TURCEASCA (ARR. OSVALDO GOLIJOV & LJOVA)

Throughout musical history, the transcription of folk melodies has been an abundant source of compositional material. Turceasca, the signature piece of the Romanian gypsy band Taraf de Haïdouks (the Band of Brigands), is based on a traditional Turkish song and reflects the richness and complexity of a truly international collaborative work. In 1991, Taraf de Haïdouks, Roma musicians from a small village in southwest Bucharest, performed outside their country for the first time. Their music drew such interest that filmmaker Tony Gatlif featured them in his documentary film about the music of the Roma, Latcho Drom. Composer Osvaldo Golijov, whose broad, eclectic musical training (including Western classical, Jewish liturgical, klezmer and Argentinian tango) made him an ideal translator, worked with the band to arrange Turceasca for the Kronos Quartet as well as subsequent arrangements for the Silk Road Ensemble and A Far Cry.

Program notes written by Kathryn Bacasmot, Nicholas Cords, Karl Doty, Erik Higgins, Isabelle Hunter, Vijay Iyer, and Kojiro Umezaki.

Dawn to Dusk notes

Enjoy the program notes for our upcoming "Dawn to Dusk" concert! 

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

Symphony No. 6, “le matin,” Symphony No. 7, “le midi,” and Symphony No. 8, “le soir”

Within Haydn’s three early symphonies, Nos. 6 (Morning), 7 (Noon), and 8 (Evening), audiences can observe a fascinating concatenation of factors: homage through symbolism to a new aristocratic employer, the utilization of talented musicians via extensive solo sections, and a celebration of Enlightenment era astronomical discovery.  

In 1761 Haydn entered employment in the aristocratic Esterházy family household—a stroke of fortune and opportunity. Up until then he had made a living as a freelancer, and then briefly as Kapellmeister in another court. Most of Haydn’s musical education had come from years of training in a Vienna choir school (until his voice broke, apparently embarrassingly in front of Empress Maria Theresa, herself), then self-instruction through books, and some formal training. But here, in one of the wealthiest environments, the young composer had the chance to explore his ideas, and the ability to hire some of the best musicians to execute them.

Paul Anton Esterházy had snatched up Haydn when the composer’s previous employer had to dissolve his court orchestra due to diminishing finances. There was one small glitch, however: he already had a Kapellmeister, an elderly man named Gregor Werner whom his mother had hired many years prior (in 1728), and whose compositional style was perhaps a little less fashionable and cosmopolitan than Paul Anton desired. In order to keep Werner, but hire Haydn, Esterházy created the position of Vice-Kapellmeister, and divided up the musical responsibilities: Werner to largely church music, and Haydn to “theater” music (general entertainments). After Werner’s death in 1766, Haydn was elevated to full Kappellmeister.

How, then, to impress your new employer? Write your first three symphonies for him in quick succession, and fill them with hat-tips to his favorite things. Columbia University professor Elaine Sisman notes in her excellent article, “Haydn: The Tageszeiten Symphonies,” that the Prince happened to own the music (by Joseph Starzer) to four ballets titled Le matin, Le midi, Le soir, and La nuit. The family palace was also decorated with ceiling murals depicting those stages of the day, accented with the appropriate mythological figures. Additionally, the main theme of Symphony No. 6 is played by the flute—which, just happened to be the instrument that Paul Anton played, himself—and in its opening solo melodically resembles a hunting horn call (one of the Prince’s favorite pastimes). Furthermore, structurally, each symphony features sections of highlighted solos or smaller ensemble sections. It happens that the Prince’s library held a vast collection of Vivaldi, and while Haydn’s symphonies are not in any way concerti grossi, they do utilize the “concertino” features of that previous era in a kind of homage. There might have been a secondary reason for the scattering of beautiful solo sections: to endear himself to his new orchestra through a little harmless flattery of his musicians (besides the fact this was one of the best bands in town, so he could afford to exploit them for an audience).

What about the overall theme between the symphonies of the sun in its various positions? Again, Sisman notes two insightful details: the language of honor that was bestowed on nobility, minor nobility, and aristocrats, and the simple fact of Haydn’s daily schedule, as outlined in his contract. The former harkens back to the idea of the sun as symbolism (think Louis the XIV, the “Sun King”):

“That Prince, by virtue of his rank, could be perceived as a kind of light-form. Princes of the realm were generally addressed with the title ‘Durchlaucht,’ which the dictionary will say means ‘Your Serene Highness,’ but is actually closer to what the Oxford English Dictionary charmingly refers to as its ‘burlesque’ form, ‘Your Transparency.’ The verb durchleuchten, to shine through, also means ‘to fill or flood (something) with light, light up, illuminate,’ suggests that ‘Durchlaucht’ might best be translated ‘Your Luminance.’ Court musicians were often reminded of the light emanating from their prince by the presence of ceiling painting showing Apollo with his sun-like attributes.”

Regarding the latter, Haydn was expected to present himself to Paul Anton before noon, and afternoon, to inquire about any musical needs or desires for the day for which he would need to prepare a performance with the palace orchestra. While this was likely not a direct influence or factor into the music, Haydn’s own life moved in direct tandem with the household and its activities dependent on the position of the sun in the sky (the time of day) and the son’s (Paul Anton’s) requirements.

Furthermore, the three Tageszeiten symphonies beautifully capture the 18th century Enlightenment zeitgeist. Music and astronomy have been grouped together since ancient times, from Plato to Boethius and on. There has been the “quadrivium” of studies including arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy, as well as the idea of “Musica universalis” or the “music of the spheres,” relating the proportional dimensions of the universe to the proportions of the harmonic series of a scale. Music is, after all, a science—the physics and properties of sound. Largely forgotten today is the fact that William Herschel, himself, the great astronomer and discoverer of Uranus, began his life as a musician, composing symphonies as a contemporary of Haydn before devoting himself full time to science (and they are delightful—give them a listen). It was a time of great general fervor for all things scientific. A few decades later, toward the end of Haydn’s life, London’s first one-way street would be created as a necessity due to the sheer volume of people trying to get to events and presentations at the Royal Institution. As Sisman points out, the year the symphonies 6, 7, and 8 premiered saw the highly anticipated Transit of Venus, where the planet could be visually followed passing between the earth and the sun, allowing for the measurement of the distance from the earth. Just before, society stood in awe as the comet Edmond Halley predicted would return, did. The Esterházy household joined in the general excitement at these events.

As his tenure with the Esterházys began to wind down, Haydn’s celebrity grew, and he became particularly beloved in London. Often called the “Father of the Symphony,” it was his time (annoying as it was to him on occasion) with the Esterházys that allowed him to work and experiment in what was essentially a luxurious laboratory. Greisinger’s biography of the composer, published directly after his death in 1810, contains the following quotation of Haydn:

“My sovereign was pleased with all of my works and honored me with his approval. As master of an orchestra I was free to experiment. I could observe how a desired effect was created, and what weakened it; I was able to improve, add, cut, even take risks. I was entirely removed from the outside world; no one close to me could make me doubt myself; no one could harass me. I therefore had to become original.”

We often hear the final part of that quote, and it is sometimes framed as a statement more about potential artistic loneliness and lack of creative community, than anything else. However, in its fuller context we can see the positive aspect to his situation: he was free to experiment, without harassment—and with a cracker-jack collection of instrumentalists, to boot. From our perspective we see how crucial those years were to the story of musical development over the centuries, and it started as the “dawn” of No. 6 broke.

Program Notes by Kathryn J Allwine Bacasmot. Kathryn is a pianist/harpsichordist, musicologist, music & cultural critic, and freelance writer. She is a graduate of New England Conservatory, and writes program annotations for ensembles nationwide.

Crying with Teeth

The official version of this post is on the website of the Boston Musical Intelligencer and can be read here. Complete text follows. Enjoy!

Getting ready for our Celebrity Series concert tomorrow at Sanders, I’m standing with a violist and a singer to my left, a cellist to my right, and another singer just behind us. Across the stage, the 18 musicians of A Far Cry and the 8 singers of Roomful of Teeth have interspersed themselves into a single space. We’re about 10 seconds into our first pass at Caroline Shaw’s arrangement of Josquin des Prez’s lament Nymphes des Bois, and frankly, we haven’t found our way quite yet. Our individual polyphonic strands are trying to match up with the others, and to be in sync across the stage. Waves of sound and intention collide, unintentional dissonances form and subside, glances shoot up from the score as we try to right ourselves. It seems like we’ll need to stop and try a new strategy when suddenly, the feeling of shared pulse just clicks into rightness, and like that, we’re good.  Instrumental lines and vocal lines merge into a single intention, harmonies bloom, and we move forwards through the piece, suddenly dancing together in what T. S. Eliot would call “a formal pattern.”

Moments like that one reveal a lot about music. When everything is working, we take it for granted. But when we run a little bit off the rails, we see everything in a new way. Who doesn’t remember their fist time driving in slippery conditions? Everything swims into focus—the weight and momentum of the car, the feeling of the road, the friction of the tires. You learn so much, so quickly.

As I watched our musical vehicle swerve and right itself (the whole thing took maybe 10 seconds, but, as it does when you’re in a car, it felt longer) I was suddenly totally aware of what was happening physically in the rehearsal. Bowed string instruments were trying to match up the cadences of their arm movements with voices powered by breath and unlocked by words. Bodies moving to their own rhythm were trying to find a way to come into sync with each other. And—of course —there was no central figure waving a stick. Twenty-six musicians had to learn how to find a common groove, simply by feeling it and making micro-adjustments to each other. We had no choice but to embody the music with everything we had.

I’ve been thinking a lot about embodying music, in the context of this upcoming concert at Celebrity Series, the last stop on an extended tour with A Far Cry and Roomful of Teeth. Traveling and working with this insanely tight group of singers has made me aware, as an instrumentalist, of how much we share under the surface. So different at first glimpse, our two groups are both immensely physically involved in what we do—and the differences are ultimately minor.

Adding in one more twist, our program features works by Caroline Shaw and Ted Hearne, both of whom will be singing in the concert on Thursday. Composers and musicians, perhaps, are also not quite as far apart as we initially think, and there’s something great about watching the traditional line between creator and performer blur and change into something different.

A Far Cry has been playing Ted’s music for years. His “Law of Mosaics,” which we’ll be performing excerpts from on Thursday, is fiendishly tactile. Bows interact with strings in a way that never lets you forget that you are scraping sticky taut horsehair across a piece of metal-wound sheep gut. They skid, they drag, they slide, the instrument squeaks and crackles, new sounds come bubbling up and bursting out. Meanwhile, your arm muscles pump and your center of gravity shifts, and yes, you will probably be sweating by the end of the page. In a movement like his “Beats,” an electronic track emerges from an all-acoustic set up by sheer force of will. Meanwhile, in “Palindrome for Andrew Norman” the record needle skips (in a formal pattern) across centuries—so that one second, we’re in the relaxed and bright “Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto no. 3” setting and in the next, we’ve instantaneously shifted to “Mahler,” “Ligeti,” “Barber’s Adagio for Strings” or Andrew Norman. Each one of these shifts demands total physical involvement; I think of it as similar to the form of intense exercise that’s in vogue these days, where you push yourself to the limit in short intervals. 45 seconds ofPalindrome is probably equal to 10 minutes of regular practice.

When Ted talks about Law of Mosaics he describes what we’re doing in the piece as “activating the subconscious” of the entire history of string literature. We’re bringing these intense, iconic moments into the foreground and then making them come alive in a new body and talk to each other. In a session with schoolchildren, Ted beautifully described his compositional craft by saying “Being a composer is great because you get to pick all of your favorite sounds and put them in a piece.” Whether those sounds are Mahlerian swells, electronic crunches or brand-new tunes is beside the point.

“Embodying” the music means something quite different when we move to Caroline Shaw’s piece Music in Common Time—written jointly for Roomful of Teeth and A Far Cry. The piece is so suffused with resonance that it was honestly quite difficult for us to rehearse at first—the acoustic curves were so supple that they distracted us from our usual rhythmic pattern, and we had to come up with a new way of feeling the collective pulse that honored all the “cosmic” sounds we were hearing.

Moments in the work snap in and out of focus as the sound flows from strings to voices, and from one kind of harmonic profile to another.  A sweet chord takes on a different quality when the high, bright, overtones of a Tuvan throat singing technique are added. Divided parts on the lower strings bring aspects of a chord into the foreground, and then the background, elegantly and naturally. In an extended passage in the center of the work, we collectively participate in a sound-illusion; a chord progression that seems to slide upward and forward forever, much like a Shepard tone (here). Playing this piece, it’s easy to feel as though we’re in dialogue with pure sound.

Talking to Caroline about Music in Common Time reminds me of something aquatic that she said in our most recent concert; describing an unconducted ensemble as a “school of fish.” She talks about the voices in Roomful of Teeth “swimming” on top of, and in the midst of. the string sound. In many places in the piece, she’s left syllables out entirely to give the singers the maximum ability to “amplify the resonance” that’s already present in the air (or the water!)

But in the middle of our acoustic deep dive, words appear.

“Years ago / I forget / Years to come / Just let them.”

Suddenly, we’ve moved from a world of pure, shared, sound, to a human place that holds action, emotion, and history. It’s jarring and thrilling, every time.

The first time that A Far Cry presented Caroline’s piece, in 2014 (one year after Law of Mosaics!) I remember wondering what those words, pointed towards the future, would sound like at some later point. They’re like a time capsule, – or, as Caroline puts it, a “letter to myself years from now.”

Paradoxically, hearing them again doesn’t draw me to assess the current moment; it only makes me more curious about what they will sound like further in the future. Like the Shepard tone, they roll forward without ceasing, giving us the gift of a present which is constantly in motion.

Perhaps the final stop on the journey of “embodying the music” is simply that we all are able to embody the present moment as it continues on. But I’m inclined to think that there are also further stages, more left to discover in this elegant dance between composers, performers, and listeners, singers, and instrumentalists. Let’s see what happens next.

Law of Mosaics notes

The composers' own notes for A Far Cry's program Law of Mosaics, Thursday, April 6, at 7pm, at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

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ANDREW NORMAN (b. 1979)
THE COMPANION GUIDE TO ROME

During my year as a fellow at the American Academy in Rome I made it my goal to visit every church in the city. Though I did not come even close to achieving this goal, I did discover many unique spaces that I came to know well over the course of the year. This piece is a series of portraits of some of my favorite Roman churches. The music is, at different times and in different ways, informed by the proportions of the buildings, the qualities of their surfaces, the patterns in their floors, the artwork on their walls, and the lives and legends of the saints whose names they bear. The more I worked on these miniatures, the less they had to do with actual buildings and the more they became character studies of imaginary people, my companions for my year abroad. (AN)
 

TED HEARNE (b. 1982)
LAW OF MOSAICS

"Thomas Jefferson went through the New Testament and removed all the miracles, leaving only the teachings."

"Meaning is a matter of adjacent data."

"The law of mosaics: how to deal with parts in the absence of wholes."

These passages, along with many others, are appropriated from a variety of sources and arranged by David Shields into his 2010 book, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto. It is a patchwork treatise on art and digital culture, and is an inspiration for Law of Mosaics, a 30­-minute piece for A Far Cry.

The musical material from the first movement, “Excerpts from the middle of something,” is lush and climactic­ but it is also a fish out of water, removed from surrounding music that might help it be better contextualized. It could follow a tense build­-up, or precede a climax and resolution, but instead we hear it repeated and revised. As the material circles in on itself, it begins to make sense on its own, but never really "goes" anywhere.

The second movement, “Palindrome for Andrew Norman,” is constructed entirely of samples lifted from other pieces of music. Each plays an important or climactic role in the piece from which it is lifted, but is used here as a single building block in the construction of a symmetrical (and rather arbitrary) formal structure: the palindrome. Each sample is altered from its original composition in some way: it may appear backwards, or re-voiced, or as a canon with itself, but an element of its essential character is always preserved.

Andrew Norman is a contemporary composer from New York whose 2010 string trio The Companion Guide to Rome is heard among the many snippets of source material in this movement.

In some way, the rich history of works written for the string orchestra informs and influences every performance by every individual string orchestra active today, whether they choose to perform those works or not. “Climactic moments from ‘Adagio for Strings’ and ‘The Four Seasons,’ slowed down and layered on top of one another” explores what can happen when two "staples" of the repertoire (likely to be found on a Best Classical Hits CD) are stretched out and mashed up.

The fourth movement, “Beats,” is driven by noise, punk and electronic music more than classical music influences. A simple and clear form is filled with music that plays with the space between pitch and non-­pitched sound.

“Climactic moments from movement three, three times as slow as before” is simply a reframing of music you have already heard.

“The warp and woof” refers to the lengthwise (warp) and crosswise (woof) threads that together create the texture and foundation of a woven fabric. It is a fitting end for a piece that imagines the framing of musical content to be as integral to the structure of a work as the way that content is framed. (TH)


Image of San Pietro in Montorio, depicted in "Pietro" from Andrew Norman's The Companion Guide to Rome.  Photo by Peter1936F - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49747903