Thoughts on The Blue Hour

How do you measure a life?

It's not a new question for us. Ever since humans, ever since art, ever since memory, we've been wrestling with this one. 

How does it move? How does it grow? Is it linear? Circular? Does it have one trajectory? Does it have one meaning? What are the forces that lie behind any one specific moment? Are they the same as the ones that rise to inform the next? And what about memory? What does it conceal? What does it reveal?

"now appears to us in a mysterious light"

is the first line of a gigantic poem by Carolyn Forché that tackles these questions in a profoundly comprehensive and courageous way. Forché's "On Earth" takes a good look at a life that is ending, and explodes it into the million individual images and instances that make it real; the flashes that you see before death. Reading this poem, you swim through a chaos of experiences and visions, each one bound up in just one sentence. And rather than string a narrative through, Forché instead uses a distinctive ordering system of her own: the alphabet itself. There's an exactly ordered place for everything written - but, much as within the synaptic chaos of our own minds, that place makes no linear sense. Stripped of context, it becomes more vibrant, more real. 

the early summer's green plums
the empty wet shirts on the line waving
the endless, unbroken lines
the evacuation of ghosts
the flautist's breath in a stairwell
the flumes of white phosphorous marking the city

This was the jumping-off point for A Far Cry, and for five composers we love - in order, from above, Angélica Negron, Rachel Grimes, Sarah Kirkland Snider, Caroline Shaw, and Shara Nova. Over a year ago, a group of us sat down together on Sarah's porch in New Jersey to talk about turning this poem into an evening-long collaborative composition. We sat and talked, sharing ideas and simply taking each other in. At a certain point, the composers kicked the Criers out and went to work. 

between here and there
between hidden points in the soul
between hidden points in the soul born from nothing
between saying and said
between what one has oneself done

We started receiving musical numbers - one by one, large and small. Some dealing with a single image... 

a syllable a dove

... others with a whole flowing group of them. Five different composers, five different means of expression, further ignited by the text itself. We read them, sending back impressions, ideas, and cool bow tricks. 

The nature of the collaboration was at once frustrating and thrilling. We had to build something in three dimensions. The composers had to figure out how to devise systems to allow them to work creatively as individuals while finding a way to keep all eyes on the whole structure - that kept slowly coming more and more into being.

languid at the edge of the sea
lays itself open to immensity
leaf-cutter ants bearing yellow trumpet flowers along the road
left everything left all usual words behind
library, lilac, linens, litany

Thousands of distinct images, brought to life by a poet, brought into music by five composers, workshopped and rehearsed by eighteen musicians and one radiant singer.  At any point along the way, that process could have broken down. There were countless opportunities. But if a work that's so dependent on every single individual involved does not break down - if it survives - then it becomes truly formidable. 

When I think of The Blue Hour, I always think of a sphere. I imagine us constructing it, climbing here and there, balancing on stepladders, looking across distances, tossing materials back and forth, thinking about balance. And then suddenly the sphere is complete, supported from every angle - and from the center comes its own gravity. 

This is a beautiful thing. And yet, I think what I love most of all about The Blue Hour is that we decided, together to collaborate on a work where every image has equal resonance. This poem, this composition, defies the easy hierarchy of narrative. It offers up another way of seeing this world that we're moving through. 

What else is art for? 

-Sarah Darling

The Blue Hour in the news

We've had a lot of press circulating around our Blue Hour project! Here are several of the features and reviews that have come out regarding this special collaboration: 

WBUR's ARTery: From A To Z, A Far Cry cycles through Carolyn Forché's Blue Hour

I’m starting to think of this like a modern-day ‘Winterreise,’ ” Unterman says, referring to Schubert’s famous song cycle. “The structure is like a catalog, like telling the story of a life that is coming to an end, choosing the most poignant moments.

I Care If You Listen: 5 Questions to the composers of The Blue Hour

We’re at a pivotal moment in time when we’re critically aware of the need to bring all voices to the fore—in politics, in the workplace, and in arts and culture. Contemporary music has a unique opportunity to contribute to this conversation, to give voice to the ineffable aspects of our shared humanity in a way that no other art form can. 

National Sawdust Log Journal: The Art of Collaboration

There was never, ever a moment – I don’t think anyone felt that we didn’t have something to inspire us. The musicianship of A Far Cry, for one thing, is profoundly wonderful, an ideal type of opportunity to be able to compose for, because you all are so collectively led. That means that we’re really talking to you all about this. We’re not dealing with a hierarchy where we’re submitting music to a conductor who’s then going to interpret that and direct you in that. You all will have your own conversations about how to interpret what we’re making… of course, we’re all going to be in the room together in a week or two, which I’m so thrilled about, and then we’ll have further micro-dialogues about articulations, little moments.

Washington Post: "The Blue Hour" song cycle mesmerizes

Working together, composers Rachel Grimes, Sarah Kirkland Snider, Angélica Negrón, Shara Nova and Caroline Shaw, the Grammy Award-winning singer Luciana Souza and the 18 string players of A Far Cry have come up with a gorgeous and remarkably unified work.

The Blue Hour: notes

One way that humans strive to control uncontrollable realities such as death is by imposing arbitrary rules and structures on the chaotic and inevitable. Another is by participating in the difficult but necessary act of being active members of a community or communities. The Blue Hour, in its conception, its process, and its content, lives and breathes these paradoxes. The work, on its premiere tour this November after a long process of composition and workshopping, is an ambitious collaboration between five composers (Rachel Grimes, Sarah Kirkland Snider, Angélica Negrón, Shara Nova, and Caroline Shaw), a vocalist (Grammy-winner Luciana Souza), and the democratic, self-conducted string collective A Far Cry.

The work uses as its text Carolyn Forché’s poem, “On Earth,” which catalogs the scattered thoughts, visions, and imagery of a life passing ever closer to death, organized through the objective but arbitrary tool of alphabetization. This explicitly rationalized poetic form simultaneously evokes cold modernism and its ancient predecessors in biblical and gnostic abecedaries. The music that sets the poem draws similarly from an eclectic set of influences, at times setting the text quite literally (as with explicit references to Bach and settings that evoke plainchant and Renaissance polyphony), and at times using extended string techniques to create kaleidoscopic sound-paintings of Forché’s moments of fantastical, jarring imagery. The work also gleams with power ballads - unapologetic lyricism and no-nonsense songwriting that is often associated with contemporary non-classical genres but which here contributes to the intimacy and universality of the subject matter. The various movements, each entirely written by one of the composers, access the personal vernaculars and interests of each composer as they pass through the ordered but nonlinear narrative of Forché’s poem, contributing to the scope and scale of the work and its underlying subjects.

When the five composers and members of A Far Cry sat down for a meeting in the summer of 2016 about the possibility of bringing this song cycle to life, the group discussed in depth what justification there was for attempting a collaboration on such a scale for such a deeply personal work. As collaborators shared their own takes on the meaningful urgency of the project, the following statement took hold as a sort of “mission statement:”

In a time when we are seeing masses of people dehumanized - by war, displacement, poverty - we are looking here at a single life, the beautiful detail of one human existence. There is something precious in that; that through our sense of empathy with this one individual, we are given a lens through which to see our own world with greater clarity.  

- Program note by Alex Fortes

Music in Migration notes

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) :: Overture in B-flat major from Les Nations, TWV 55:B5

Count Erdmann II von Promnitz returned from a trip to Paris obsessed by music in the French style. At his court in Sorau (in modern day Poland), he demanded and enjoyed a rich supply of new compositions in that French vein where a grand overture peppered with regal rhythms is followed by a suite of shorter (typically dance-derived) pieces. In the early part of the 1700s that task fell to Georg Philipp Telemann. Having recently deserted studying the career path of a lawyer at the University of Leipzig, Telemann’s appointment at Sorau was an education in the musical stylings of Louis XIV’s court.  

In an era before recording technology was available, the ways to become familiar with international musical trends were to make a personal visit, to learn from a master of that style, or have access to the musical manuscripts or copies. At Sorau, Telemann (in his own words) “ hold of works by Lully, Campra, and other good composers…... I now studied it more closely and completely devoted myself to it, not without good success.” The last half of Telemann’s account seems to be a bit of an understatement, as it is known that he composed no less than 200 overture-suites during a short period of time in the early days of his career, and an estimated total of 600 works in that style over his lifetime.

Some of Telemann’s overture-suites bear nicknames. Les Nations derives its title from the short character pieces that follow the overture and minuets, including the Turks, Swiss, Moscovites, Portuguese, and so on.

Elena Ruehr (b. 1963) :: Piano Concerto No. 1

Writing a piano concerto for one of the best pianists I know, Heng-Jin Park, has been a sustained dream of mine.  When approached by A Far Cry about the possibility of writing a concerto for her, we discussed its focus.  It was very important to me to write a concerto for Heng-Jin, not just as a pianist but as a person with a complex and interesting story.  Heng-Jin’s specific history of how she grew up in South Korea and immigrated to the US at the age of 10, all the while practicing and preparing for a life as a pianist, is both intense and inspiring, and I decided to write a  programmatic piece that loosely outlined that story.  Although the final work does have an unstated program, what became most interesting to me as I worked was how Heng-Jin’s practice of the great piano literature from Bach to Brahms was the guiding force of her life from her early childhood.  It seemed to me that this literature needed to be referred to as part of the story, so, although there are no actual quotes, there are references to the

standard piano repertoire itself that form the basis of this story.  The piece follows a narrative that starts with Heng-Jin as a young girl in Korea, moving to the US, growing up  and working as a world-renowned musician, all the while practicing, practicing and practicing.  As for the title, rather than use a colorful descriptive title, the most important aspect of this work is that it is a story of the concept of a piano concerto, imbued with a sense of history and personal experience. 

--Elena Ruehr

Mieczysław Weinberg (1919-1996) :: Symphony no. 10

Mieczysław Weinberg was a prolific composer of twenty-six symphonies, seventeen string quartets, and dozens of other works in various genres, who suffered tremendous personal losses at the hands of political tyranny over a number of decades. Several members of his family were executed by the Nazis or the Soviet authorities. Weinberg, himself, was imprisoned for nearly a year in 1953. Still, he wrote music. For many years, that music was far less well known in the West than the works of his contemporaries, Shostakovich and Prokofiev. Recently, that has begun to change.

Sheets of dissonance descend in block chords to open the Symphony No. 10, triggering in the listener’s mind echoes of the initial gestures Tchaikovsky wrote in his Serenade for Strings. This is music of remarkable intensity in both its passion and melancholy. Occasionally, all falls silent but the soliloquy of a solo instrument. There are hints of folk music rhythms. Moreover, Weinberg’s 10th symphony seems to have a life of its own—communicating something deeply intimate to anyone who will listen. May we never experience the level of pain expressed through this music, but use it as a path toward empathy towards those who have lived,, and continue to live, amongst the remains of what could have been a beautiful life.

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.

Glass program notes

Philip Glass (1937) :: Piano Concerto No. 3

“Several years ago, Simone Dinnerstein visited me at my home in New York City and played a short program of Schubert and Glass. She played with a complete mastery of technique, depth of emotion, and understanding. Right away I knew I would someday compose music for her. 

The opportunity presented itself soon after when she asked for a new piano concerto.  About a year later I heard a rehearsal of the new work - Piano Concerto #3.  I am very pleased with the result of our work and hope our audiences will enjoy our work together.” – Philip Glass

The idea for Philip Glass’s Third Piano Concerto came after that fateful meeting between pianist Dinnerstein and Philip Glass at the composer’s home on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in September 2014.  The following spring, on March 27, Dinnerstein had her first interaction with
A Far Cry and immediately found a special artistic spark with the orchestra. 

Glass was aware of Dinnerstein’s interpretations of Bach on recording and had the occasion to hear Dinnerstein play privately at his home the music of Schubert as well as Glass, and he first heard her perform live at the end of 2016, when the composer was awarded the Eleventh Glenn Gould Prize in Ottawa.     
It was on that program that Glass finally heard Dinnerstein play his music in front of the public, and he instantly recognized the rapport between the pianist and her audience.  Concurrently, A Far Cry had been diving head-first into Glass’s music with performances in Boston of his Third Symphony for Strings as well as his Company for String Orchestra. (And, in addition to the new concerto this evening, A Far Cry will perform Glass’ piece Echorus later this season).  The stars had aligned, and this all led directly into the composition period for Piano Concerto No. 3 in the spring of 2017, culminating in tonight’s world premiere performance.

— Richard Guérin

Philip Glass (1937) :: Symphony No. 3

Classical and Romantic era symphonies relied on the momentum of key change—the harmonic propulsion that comes from the tension and release of dissonance to consonance. What one finds in the Symphony No. 3 of Philip Glass, a chamber work written originally for the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, is more of a reliance on variations of rhythm and pace. As with many works in the “minimalist” vein, there are many bars where specific patterns are repeated numerous times. The ear of the listener becomes accustomed to the pattern (ideally to the point of being lost within it) so that even a slight change can play a significant role.

In a brilliant gesture of tying this idea to the past, Glass employs the ancient repetitive chaconne structure in the third movement of the symphony; in the chaconne, a harmonic sequence and/or bass line is recast over and over again, creating a foundation for a series of variations built “on top.” The composer elaborates a bit on this and the surrounding three movements in a previous set of liner notes from a recording of the work:

“The opening movement, a quiet, moderately paced piece, functions as a prelude to movements two and three, which are the main body of the symphony. The second movement mode of fast-moving compound meters explores the textures from unison to multi-harmonic writing for the whole ensemble. It ends when it moves without transition to a new closing theme, mixing a melody and pizzicato [plucked strings as opposed to being bowed] writing. The third movement is in the form of a chaconne, a repeated harmony sequence. It begins with all three celli and four violas, and with each repetition new voices are added until, in the final variation, all the players have been woven into the music. The fourth movement, a short finale, returns to the closing theme of the second movement, which quickly re-integrates the compound meters from earlier in that movement. A new closing theme is introduced to bring the Symphony to its conclusion.”

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) :: Concerto for Keyboard and Strings, BWV 1058

When was the “birth” of the solo keyboard concerto? In short, no one really knows, exactly. But many point to Bach’s Brandenburg No. 5 as a key moment in the composer’s own progression toward penning the collection of seven keyboard concertos. Why? That Brandenburg not only features a harpsichord as part of the group of soloists, but contains an extended solo keyboard cadenza. Considering that the harpsichord was typically used as a supporting instrument in an ensemble context (essentially functioning as the rhythm section), keeping the bass line and tempo, it was quite a moment when the instrument moved toward the spotlight.

In 1723 Bach moved his family to Leipzig for a new job as Thomaskantor, or cantor of the St. Thomas church, which included overseeing the music for four of the churches in town. Several years after the move, Bach also took over responsibilities as director of the Collegium Musicum, a music society associated with the University. In the nascent days of public concerts (recalling that most organized concerts previously were the private affairs of royals and nobility), members of the society (many of them students) could gather at Café Zimmerman coffee house to hear new compositions—including Bach’s new solo keyboard concertos.

Bach aficionados might notice that BWV 1058 sounds familiar. The keyboard concerto in G minor is a reworking by the composer of his BWV 1041: the violin concerto in A minor.

Johann Sebastian Bach :: Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, BWV 1048

The six Concerts avec plusieurs instruments (Concertos with several instruments), or “Brandenburg Concertos,” derive their nickname from the Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg. Presumably, Bach met the Margrave in Berlin while he was in town checking on a new harpsichord for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen, for whom he served as Capellmeister. It’s also assumed the Margrave commissioned some music from Bach. It would have been inappropriate for Bach to accept a commission for new music from the Margrave while serving as an employee of Prince Leopold, which suggests the concertos might have originated in earlier compositions. Also, Bach sent them three years after the initial meeting, leading to the hypothesis that the concertos were sent as a kind of résumé. During those three years devastating change swept through Bach’s household: out of town on duty with musicians and the Prince, Bach returned in July of 1720 to find his wife had died several days before and was already buried. Not only was he heartbroken, he was left to care for their children alone. Perhaps he remembered meeting the Margrave and saw him as a ticket out of town. Whatever his motivation, they were sent and met with silence. No reply. The Margrave never had them performed.

In the Brandenburg Concertos Bach riffed on a structure made popular by the Italians, the “concerto grosso,” where a smaller group (“concertino”) functions as soloist in conversation with the whole (“ripieno”). The astounding variation of form in Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 is that the concertino of nine instruments, with separate solo lines, combine in various unisons to form the typical ripieno parts throughout the piece, attesting to Bach's endless innovations that brilliantly transcended the limits of traditional structure.

- Kathryn Bacasmot 

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:


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.


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