NEC Prep School Competition Winners

For our season finale, "Next Generation", we'll be joined by the three extraordinary young musicians who won our annual New England Conservatory Prep School Competition. It's always a joy to judge this competition, since the level of musicianship and commitment is inspiring across the board. We look forward to jamming with these three new friends in a few weeks! 

Sean Diehl: 

I am so honored to play with such an amazing group. I look forward to making some great music!

Sean Diehl, an eleventh grade student at Walnut Hill School for the Arts, currently studies violin with Soovin Kim (NEC) and Robyn Bollinger (NEC). He began his violin studies at the age of four and quickly became a regular participant in Suzuki festivals and summer institutes throughout the Northeast (Maine, Washington, D.C., and New Hampshire). Former teachers include Jason Horowitz (Boston Symphony Orchestra, NEC Prep) and Cate Howard (NEC Prep). 

Sean has been a student at the New England Conservatory Preparatory School (Boston) for the past ten years, where he is currently concertmaster of the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra, under the direction of David Loebel. Sean has toured both Iceland (2015) and Norway (2017) with YPO. He was the winner of the 2013 NEC Preparatory School Concerto Competition (Category B) and performed Symphonie Espagnole, by Edouard Lalo, with the Youth Repertory Orchestra, under the direction of Jane Ezbicki, in NEC’s Jordan Hall. In addition, Sean is an avid chamber musician at Walnut Hill and NEC Prep, where his coaches have included Laura Blustein, Kyoko Horowitz, John Ziarko, Joshua Peckins, Laura Thielke, and Jennifer Elowitch. In 2017, as a member of the Dela Quartet, Sean participated in the Fischoff Chamber Music Competition. During 2017-18, he has participated in the Boston Music Institute Artistic Performance Program. 

Sean attended Kinhaven Summer Music School (VT, 2011-2012) and Greenwood Summer Music School (MA, 2013-2015).  He attended Boston University Tanglewood Institute (BUTI), in Lenox, MA, in 2016 and 2017, as a member of the Young Artists Orchestra. In 2017 he earned the honor of performing as concertmaster, under the direction of Ken-David Masur, for the last concert of the summer (Lutoslawski - Concerto for Orchestra). This summer Sean will return to BUTI and will also participate in the Conservatory Audition Workshop (VT). 

Sean enjoys tennis, creative writing, history, reading, nature, and cooking.

Keina Satoh: 

I’m very excited to perform with A Far Cry  because I always thought about the joy that comes when playing chamber music in a large string ensemble. I cannot wait to be inspired by the members of A Far Cry and I’m sure that this opportunity of performing with the professional musicians will give me a life-long experience.

Keina Satoh, cello (Aichi, Japan), began playing the cello at the age of 3 through the Suzuki Academy. She won first place at various competitions including the Classical Music Competition, the Kariya International Music Competition and the Gifu International Music Competition in Japan. She made her debut in 2015 with the Japan Classical Music Orchestra, playing Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme for Cello and Orchestra. She also performed with the Chamber Orchestra of Nagoya, and the Nagoya Philharmonic Orchestra, a concert which was aired on television in 2016. Last spring, she also collaborated with the world famous violinist Kyoko Takezawa in Aichi, Japan. She has attended several summer music programs including the Mozarteum Summer Academy, Curtis Summerfest and the Summer Seminar at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna. Keina currently attends the Walnut Hill School for the Arts and New England Conservatory’s Preparatory School, studying with Emmanuel Feldman.

Julide San: 

I am so honored to perform with A Far Cry as I hope to inspire other bassists who may be in the audience!

Julide San is a 17 year old Turkish-Singaporean double bassist. In 2017, Julide won second prize in the New England Conservatory Concerto Competition. She has performed in concert halls such as Carnegie Hall, New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall, Oslo Konserthus, Grieghallen, and Stavanger Konserthus. 

Julide was born in Singapore, and lived there for 8 years. She started music at the age of 6 with the piano, and then progressed to playing drums after she moved to Japan at the age of 8. Her interest in the double bass came after she moved to Victoria, Canada, where she began to play at the age of 11. Under the tutelage of Mary Rannie, the principal of the Victoria Symphony and Gary Karr, world famous double bassist, Julide discovered her love for the double bass. In 2014, she joined Gary Karr's Karr Kamp as the youngest student ever to attend, and returned to the camp again in 2016. In 2015, Julide was accepted to the prestigious Walnut Hill School For the Arts and moved to Natick, MA, from Toronto. She began her studies in the U.S. with Pascale Delache-Feldman at the New England Conservatory (NEC) Preparatory Program and currently studies with Lawrence Wolfe, NEC Studio Faculty and Assistant Principal of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Principal of the Boston Pops. Julide has been a part of the Greater Victoria Youth Orchestra, Toronto Youth Wind Orchestra, and has been the principal bassist of New England Conservatory's Youth Philharmonic Orchestra since she was 15 years old. Julide will be attending the Perlman Music Program this summer. 

Young Composers Competition Winner

Our first Young Composers Competition was won by New York highschooler Aidan Ng! His energetic work "Solstice Festival" will be performed on our April 28/29 concert "Fresco." 

Ng writes:

"Solstice Festival," was inspired by the film score composed by Hans Zimmer. I especially liked how Hans Zimmer was able to take one melody, and portray great emotion. Inside my composition, I tried to create a prominent melody that would capture the feeling of joy and festivities. Additionally, I added a wide range of dynamics in order to further dramatize the piece.

Aidan Ng is a fourteen year old composer who has been composing for four years. He has worked with various different groups of professionals and student orchestras, such as the Staten-Island Borough-wide Orchestra. Throughout middle school, he has composed a dozen unique pieces that have been played during concerts and composition workshops. He currently attends Stuyvesant High School as a freshman, where he continues to compose new pieces.

We're delighted to be performing this work, and had a great time reading through the entries from all the young composers who participated! 

In House: Notes from Crier composers

In House challenged the Criers to take on a completely new project: find an inspiration in the Gardner Museum and write a piece! From scratch! Many drafts, workshops, and cups of coffee later, we're proud to present this program that relates and reacts to the extraordinary collection in a deeply personal way. Here are the notes that each Crier composer has chosen to share: 

 

Les Fleurs

Philibert Delavigne (1690-1750)

Curated by Jason Fisher

Inspiration: Isabella’s courtyard and the museum’s greenhouse

Bringing Isabella's colorful courtyard into Calderwood Hall, we will feature curious combinations of Criers in a peppering of eponymous duets from Philibert Delavigne's early 18-century work, Les Fleurs.

 

Glass Portal

Alex Fortes

Inspiration: The glass corridor connecting the museum’s New Wing and historic Palace

Walking through the glass corridor that connects the Renzo Piano–designed New Wing to the original structure provides glimpses within seconds of Persephone, queen of the underworld, looming over the courtyard, blooming flowers, the John Hancock Tower peeking over the grove arranged to give the glass corridor a semblance of nature, and the sleek postmodern staircase up to Calderwood Hall. This piece imagines traversing this corridor in emotional and subconscious space.

 

Books of Isabella

Zenas Hsu

Inspiration: Pages of Book of Hours (early 16th century), Moore’s A Book of Day-Dreams (1883), Lear’s A Book of Nonsense (1846), Kakuzo’s The Book of Tea (1906)

Isabella Gardner was more than an art appreciator and artifact collector. Her literary interests are evident from her collection of letters from the world's poets, musicians, and public figures, and books from different cultures and eras. The latter are indeed on display at the museum, many collected in bookshelves framing doorways, complimenting sublime paintings, and even hidden behind velvet curtains in the Long Gallery.

I wrote Books of Isabella in search of how a few of these works could have had a hand in shaping Isabella’s whimsy and view of the world. Pages of an illuminated 16th century book of hours reach back to a burgeoning middle class coveting these devotional books. Charles Leonard Moore’s Book of Day-Dreams (1883) collects earnestly written sonnets contemplating love, life, and spirituality.

The opening lines of one of Moore's sonnets: 

A voice! Is it a voice? A sense of ruth
Or joy too mighty to be understood,
The unintelligible cry of Truth,
O'erwhelms and drowns out every other mood;

Following that, limericks of non-sequitur and deflected punchlines are tossed around in A Book of Nonsense (1846) by champion of the limerick form, Edward Lear.

A limerick from Lear: 

There was an Old Man with an Owl, 
Who continued to bother and howl; 
He sat on a rail, and imbibed bitter ale,
Which refreshed that Old Man and his Owl.

The piece concludes in meditation and reflection, in The Book of Tea (1906), by Okakura Kakuzo.

Dear Isabella

Sarah Darling

Inspiration: Gentile Bellini’s Seated Scribe (1479-81)

The genesis of Dear Isabella came from an artwork I've enjoyed at the Gardner for most of my adult life; Gentile Bellini's Seated Scribe. In fact, I remember purchasing a postcard of this painting in high school, just to have it around; I was utterly taken with the look of intense, relaxed, concentration on the scribe's face. What was he writing? And why does writing create that meditative state? In creating this piece, those inquiries blended together with another fascination of mine: the trope, explored in a certain genre of martial arts movie, that calligraphy and swordsmanship are one and the same. I wanted to see if the bows of our instruments could do what swords and brushes did, and I wanted to re-create that special kind of concentration that writing produces. 

So, the musicians of A Far Cry are in a literal calligraphy lesson during the course of Dear Isabella; experimenting with what our bow-brushes are able to produce; we are actually tracing letters and other shapes on our instruments! We begin by getting familiar with the equipment, and then learn, together, how to write the first words of a letter to Isabella. At a certain point, each musician will then take that basic knowledge and write a brief personal message to her. It may sound like utter cacophony - the scratching of a dozen pens as we all write simultaneously - but I am optimistic that within it, that certain special concentration that I spied on the face of the seated scribe may also come to grace us for a moment or two.

 

PS 95

Megumi Lewis

Inspiration: 14th century choir book page in the museum’s chapel, two small Chinese frog sculptures, the feather in Rembrandt’s Self Portrait, Age 23 (1629)

This piece was inspired by 3 items in Isabella's collection: the feather in Rembrandt’s Self Portrait, Age 23 (1629), two small bronze Chinese bear sculptures, and a 15th century choir book page. The Rembrandt has always been incredibly moving for me. In this instance I was captivated by the parabolic shape of the feather in Rembrandt’s hat. It is an inviting shape, and one that has a beautiful sweeping motion. To me, this shape is echoed in the shape of the curve of the backs of the two bears. I am also intrigued by Isabella’s faith and her personal chapel, and as I thought about the shape, it felt like a voice reaching from darkness to light and vice versa, much the way that Rembrandt’s face and shoulder seem to be spotlighted, brought about by the fact that other parts of the painting are in shadow. This reaching feeling seems very vocal to me, and the most vocal piece I know of in the museum is the choir book page. This page seems to be waiting to be sung, but because it is in an old style of notation, people can’t actually sing it as they walk by. Many thanks go to Brother Matthew, who helped to translate both the words and the notation from this page. The middle stanza on the page is the Antiphon, what is sung right before the reading, for Psalm 95, which contains the verse "In whose hand are the depths of the earth, the peaks of the mountains are His also." Sweeping from the depths to the peaks has the same motion and reaching sensation that moved me in the Rembrandt and the bears.

 

Castles

Karl Doty

Inspiration: Dodge Macknight's Towering Castles, Grand Canyon (1914)

There's something special about bringing together elements of history with elements of something new. When I was a child, we went through several summers of heading out west as a family - to the Badlands, Yellowstone, Glacier, Black Hills. There's an element of the American west that sparks this sense of wonder even when it's a place we've been to many times. In a collection as refined as Isabella's to still come across a painting like Dodge Macknight's Towering Castles, Grand Canyon (1914) put a smile on my face. 

I wrote this tune after traveling to my home state of Minnesota for the first time with my son Pekka after his birth.

 

Empty Frames

Evan Premo

Inspiration: Rembrandt’s Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee and Vermeer’s The Concert

Empty Frames contains two musical responses to paintings stolen in 1990 from The Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum.  The music represents not only the paintings themselves but also their eery absence.  It is almost as if we're not seeing the paintings but remembering them.   

In the first movement, after Rembrandt's Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, we are dropped into the story of Mark 4:37-41 moments before the scene Rembrandt captured. The narrative of the music moves through Rembrandt's scene with the sun breaking through the storm clouds untill after Jesus commands the sea: "Peace. Be Still." Twice during the movement this narrative is interrupted so the listener is left alone in the museum's Dutch Room standing before an empty frame.

The second movement is inspired by Vermeer's intimate musical scene entitled The Concert. As its source material, the movement uses a song by Dutch composer Constantijn Huygens, a contemporary of Vermeer. We can imagine hearing the subjects in the painting realize this melody. This, however, is haunted by an unsettling simple motive in a foreign key representing the absence of the painting from its home in front of Ms. Gardener's desk.

 

Sargent’s Gypsy Dance

Annie Rabbat

Inspiration: John Singer Sargeant’s El Jaleo (1882)

I remember the first time I entered the Gardner Museum, when one of the first things I saw was John Singer Sargent's El Jaleo. It was so striking and lively, and reminded me strongly of trips to Spain in my early twenties. When selecting a source of inspiration from the museum, for me the choice was a no-brainer. 

In honor of John Singer Sargent's beautiful canvas, Sargent's Gypsy Dance begins with a mysterious recitative-style solo in the double bass, which carries into a response in the solo viola. These opening phrases usher in the main dance theme: quiet yet brooding and charged in its minor key and 3/4 time, presented first by the cellos with viola counterpoint. The violins take up the dance in its second verse before introducing a more light-hearted dance, a playful scherzo section where nimble 16th notes pass around the orchestra. After all the scurrying and bustle comes a tranquil, spacious, balletic tune with ornamental violin flourishes, which leads back into the original dance theme. As the dance picks up steam, the lower strings of the orchestra imitate Spanish guitars. The dance whirls faster and faster until it comes to a sudden halt, where brief recollections of the opening return before one final dancing flourish.

Credo [to believe]

by Jae Cosmos Lee

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about this particular quote by the potent, American Catholic writer and mystic, Thomas Merton:

Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice. It demands greater heroism than war. It demands greater fidelity to the truth and a much more perfect purity of conscience.

It resonates so much, because it intuitively has the message of patience, firmly suggesting the suppression of rage and hate, and a straightforward promotion of altruism, all woven inside a few words. I often go back to it and read it out loud, also because I enjoy hearing the consonants of Peace, Perfect and Purity. 


A Far Cry was on tour performing in Palm Beach, Florida on Valentine’s day, which was precisely the day, when the Parkland shootings took place, only a mere 40 miles away. We were going about our day, without the knowledge of what had happened (at least for me) until after our concert was over that evening, also because we are usually pretty focused on making sure that we play and convey the best performance possible to an audience, especially if they’re a crowd we haven’t played for before, and at a short run out concert like this one, our schedule tends to be pretty jam packed.

I remember seeing the news reel on Twitter the next morning as we left early to travel back to Boston, and tears just kept running down my face as I watched the footage of the cries of the victims’ families, as we waited for lift off on the runway. Ironically, on our way to Florida from Boston two days before, I was reading on one of the news outlets that there had already been 40 mass shootings in the first 6 weeks of 2018, and being just flabbergasted by the statistics. And then those 17 students at Stoneman Douglas High School lost their lives on Valentine’s morning the next day, and things have not quite been the same since.


A Far Cry initially had a project of expanding Schubert’s monumental G Major string quartet for string orchestra (which we performed during our 9th season at Jordan Hall in 2015), and knowing that the Miró Quartet was performing the specific work that whole season, I got in touch with Will Fedkenheuer, the second violinist of the Miró Quartet (whom I had known when he was the second violinist of the Borromeo Quartet, when I first landed in Boston in 2004), to see if the Mirós would be available and interested in leading the work as a collaboration with us. Not enough lead time and scheduling conflicts sidelined that project but we took rain checks to try doing something in a later season. When we finally got on the phone the following summer, I suggested that we try programming Richard Strauss’ anti-war masterpiece for 23 solo strings, Metamorphosen, which A Far Cry hadn’t performed since our 3rd season. Will suggested a companion piece by the New York composer, Kevin Puts, a concerto for string quartet and orchestra, that the Mirós had commissioned and was performing a fair number in recent seasons, called How Wild the Sea, which the composer had written after seeing the images of a man on a rooftop, alone and being pulled out to sea during the horrible Tsunami that hit the Japanese coasts in 2011.At the end, Kevin’s busy schedule wouldn’t make it possible for How Wild the Sea to be re-orchestrated for a strings only accompaniment, so the next suggestion by Will and the Quartet members, was still a piece by Kevin, titled, Credo. Originally written for the Miró Quartet back in 2007, the composer said this about the piece in his program notes:

When Daniel Ching of the Miró Quartet asked me to write a quartet for a program he was planning exploring ‘the lighter side of America’, I wasn’t sure I could deliver. It was hard to find things to sing about. The government stubbornly and arrogantly continued to pour young lives and billions of dollars into a hopeless war, one to whose protest millions at home and abroad marched with what E.L Doctorow described as “the appalled understanding that America was ceding its role as the best of hope of mankind,” that “the classic archetype of democracy was morphing itself into a rogue nation.” Also around this time, a disturbed loner finally enacted his plan to gun down a record-breaking number of his fellow students at Virginia Tech and—amazingly—this failed to prompt any heightened talks over gun control by politicians who feared they might offend their gun-loving constituents before the next election. One day on my weekly commute from New York to teach at the Peabody Conservatory, I noticed as the train pulled into Baltimore the word believe emblazoned across a building. I later learned this was part of a campaign by the city of Baltimore to do something about the fact that ten percent of its population is addicted to either heroin or cocaine. As one who relies little if at all on blind faith, I found this to be a rather alarming approach. On the other hand, sometimes it seems all you can do is believe.

We decided that the Criers would make a new arrangement for A Far Cry and Mirós to join forces on Credo and additionally for the concert, Beethoven’s last quartet, the F Major, op. 135 would be the opener to fill out the program. And that was all in the summer of 2016.


Surprisingly enough, Kevin Puts’s Credo, is an extraordinarily hopeful piece of music. Beautiful in texture, virtuosic and adventurous in counterpoint among the four voices, engaged, but ultimately serene in his harmonic choices, from the first hearing of it (The Miró Quartet has a fantastic live recording of the piece recorded right after its premier), it really pulled me in. The composer, rather than dwelling on the tragedies that he talks about, goes onto write a quartet comprised of 3 different scenes and then finally a prayer, culminating in a 5 movement work that would be played without pause. 

..in the workshop of a stringed instrument specialist in Katonah, New York, you can believe nothing in the world matters but the fragile art of violins and violas hanging serenely from the ceiling. He listens chin in hand as his clients play excerpts for him, then goes to work on their instruments with sage-like assuredness...
...on the jogging path along the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh, you encounter above and below you the steel girders, asphalt and railroad ties of infrastructure, an immovable network of towering bridges and highways engineered by some deific intelligence...
...from my apartment, I watched in a window across 106th Street a mother teaching her daughter how to dance.

I was convinced to do the arrangement myself for the expanded forces and as I started living with the piece, for weeks, months, and after a year, at some point, Credo started to remind me of the Thomas Merton quote, like a neon sign. In the days of endless protest songs, images and art works that portray the devastation and chaos, Kevin chooses to write a piece about finding solace, and inspiring hope, a prayer to believe that things will be okay. More than 10 years after the Mirós first premiered the piece in 2007, I wanted to reach out to Kevin to hear what he had to say, on the eve of us finally performing Credo together.

Jae: In the wake of our current mass protests happening thru everyone of the conscientious High School students all over this country after the Parkland shootings (without forgetting Sandy Hook or Las Vegas prior to this one and the gun control issue still in stalemate nationally), and how the Iraq war that you talk about in your program notes written back in 2007, having indirectly and eventually spawning the Islamic State, as that entity's warfare in Syria has turned an ancient kingdom into utter rubble, and never mind the millions of refugees and countless who've perished on those grounds in the last 8 years. And now in 2018, have things really changed?

Kevin: I would say things have not changed in the slightest. But we artists need to keep commenting on the sad state of affairs in the best and most convincing way we know, through the power of music and the possibility of hope which music can communicate. 

Jae: For me, Credo has this sort of "When they go low, we go high" type mantra to it, because in the face of despair, rather than writing something like the the war movement of Shostakovich's 3rd quartet, which vividly depicts the brutality of war, or a Penderecki like display of horror, instead you chose to write about the beauty and gestures that made you appreciate your surroundings. Obviously we all know that the underlying problems didn't go away, but admittedly for me, the kind of peace that you decided to find instead has a searingly a powerful message, and I feel its timeliness and hope resonates even clearer now. From the statement, "As one who relies little if at all on blind faith", I hope it's not presumptuous of me to guess that you're not a religious person, and if you're not, do you have a favorite author, thinker, a piece of literature, a favorite movie, a director, that have inspired you to find a common filament in your compositions?

Kevin: Music is a refuge for me. I do not dwell on feelings of anger of hopelessness. I escape into the solace of harmony and the music I love. And the music I write is naturally a reflection of the music I love. I could write angry music, and it could be somewhat cathartic for the listener to experience this, but this is not where I want to spend my energies. I am not religious in the slightest. I believe in the potential of humankind and I am as amazed by our achievements as I am horrified by our evils. I am inspired by many books, films, composers. I do not know where to start with that! My admiration for one just leads to another and another. We are all interconnected in our desire to understand ourselves and the universe. I was recently inspired by the film Interstellar in which love is explained in its likeness to gravity, which of is of course the most powerful governing force we know of in the universe. It's a beautiful idea.

Jae: Have you ever written a piece of music that conveys a political statement? Credo, in my opinion, is in no way a piece of music that protests our gun control issues nor our military spending, but by way of your words and giving the music its context, by letting us know why your beliefs and hopes mean what they do, it does make us, especially the musicians who play it, very conscious of why we're performing it. That is what we do as artists and curators right? We find the materials to share that are not only constructed intelligently and possess exquisite beauty, but to help our audience find joy and catharsis, giving a frame of reference to all of our lives and times.

Kevin: I have never meant to make political statements, the pieces I write come from the emotions I feel toward certain events. For example, my new oboe concerto which will premiere this summer was one of the hardest pieces I have ever had to write, because I had to work on it during and after the last presidential election. I felt utterly drained, hopeless and disillusioned in the wake of that madness (which continues). My feelings are clearly reflected in the music, and I will be quite clear about it in the program notes. There would have been no way for me to avoid writing about these feelings because they were so much a part of my daily life, especially in the year following the election.


As I walk past the numerous protesters at the Boston Common on an overcast Saturday afternoon, the last movement of Credo is playing in my head. Some 50,000 people are gathered here, to give credence to an international movement that a core of courageous and eloquent Stoneman Douglas High School students have emblazoned, they are people of all different sizes, generations, race and nationality. The plethora of protest signs are as unique as the faces themselves, but a united voice shouting, “Enough is Enough!”, is too powerful an energy to ignore, and I find myself joining in. The thousands of kids who are here remind us that they are the generation who will represent this change in this country and they’ll be the ones not too long from now, who will become the leaders, and I want to believe that day be one where a day like today was the catalyst to making it a reality. Although, I’d be lying, if I didn’t feel a tinge of sadness witnessing these precocious kids with worldly issues, because they’re forced into having to think about these all too dangerous and devastating problems of 2018, when they really should be trying out different flavors at the local Ice Cream store, and running around playing Dodgeball. A part of me hopes that they still get to on most weekends. But the collective spirit this afternoon is awe inspiring and the passion is infectious. We listen to a teacher who is on stage, who’s strong but shaking voice is raging out to the politicians and the NRA that she doesn’t need to be armed with a gun, but rather arm her with more books, art supplies and an instrument, which brings a thunderous ovation thru the crowd. I see a couple of teenagers in the distance wiping away their tears, and I’m reminded once again of those Thomas Merton words: Peace, Perfect, Purity.

(photo: March For Our Lives, March 24, 2018, Boston Common) 

Loss and Resurrection Notes

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) :: String Quartet op. 135

Last works of composers are often met with a sense of wonder and reverence mixed with curiosity. It is as if they as whispering to us from their death beds, and we desperately want to know what it is they mean to say. In the case of Beethoven’s op. 135—the last work—he “speaks” directly to us with two brief sentences written in the score, which are uttered extraordinarily clearly to the ears of the audience by the syllabic rhythm: Muss es sein? Es muss sein! (Must it be? It must be!)

Op. 135 has been described as “…a brilliant study in Classical nostalgia” by a man who had, in many ways, helped ushered in the Romantic era and tested the boundaries of all the forms (sonata, variation, fugue, etc.) by the time his life came to a close. Indeed, compared to the adventurous musical terrain covered by the (in)famous last quartets and piano sonatas, Op. 135 seems almost conservative while still punctuated with unmistakably defiant Beethovenian gestures (and the seemingly ever-present in the late works suggestion of a fugue). 

In his last decade the great composer was busy, focused on the Symphony No. 9, sketched a 6th piano concerto (unfinished), wrote the string quartets nos. 12-16, piano sonatas nos. 28-32, along with the Diabelli variations, and a smattering of songs, smaller piano works, cannons, and more. Amidst the triumph of his successes and fame, there was ample perpetual personal tragedy with dysfunctional and/or crumbling relationships. Then there was the hearing loss that threatened to catastrophically derail his livelihood and life’s passion. But, it didn’t. 

Young Ludwig, the son of a drunkard who physically abused him in alcoholic rages and ambitions for the next wunderkind had to confront the question “Must it be?” many times throughout his life. Each time, through his music, he answers, as he does in his last work, “It must be!” and carries on. 

 

Kevin Puts (b. 1927) :: Credo

Program note by the composer

[Credo (krÄ“’dÅ ) first person sing. of Latin credere, to believe]

When Daniel Ching of the Miró Quartet asked me to write a quartet for a program he was planning exploring ‘the lighter side of America,’ I wasn’t sure I could deliver. It was hard to find things to sing about. The government stubbornly and arrogantly continued to pour young lives and billions of dollars into a hopeless war, one to whose protest millions at home and abroad marched with what E.L Doctorow described as “the appalled understanding that America was ceding its role as the best of hope of mankind,” that “the classic archetype of democracy was morphing itself into a rogue nation.” Also around this time, a disturbed loner finally enacted his plan to gun down a record-breaking number of his fellow students at Virginia Tech and—amazingly—this failed to prompt any heightened talks over gun control by politicians who feared they might offend their gun-loving constituents before the next election.

One day on my weekly commute from New York to teach at the Peabody Conservatory, I noticed as the train pulled into Baltimore the word believe emblazoned across a building. I later learned this was part of a campaign by the city of Baltimore to do something about the fact that ten percent of its population is addicted to either heroin or cocaine. As one who relies little if at all on blind faith, I found this to be a rather alarming approach. On the other hand, sometimes it seems all you can do is believe. For example, many of us believe we’ll find our way out of the mess. In the meantime, I have found solace in the strangest places:

...in the workshop of a stringed instrument specialist in Katonah, New York, you can believe nothing in the world matters but the fragile art of violins and violas hanging serenely from the ceiling. He listens chin in hand as his clients play excerpts for him, then goes to work on their instruments with sage-like assuredness...

...on the jogging path along the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh, you encounter above and below you the steel girders, asphalt and railroad ties of infrastructure, an immovable network of towering bridges and highways engineered by some deific intelligence...

...from my apartment, I watched in a window across 106th Street a mother teaching her daughter how to dance.

Credo was commissioned by Chamber Music Monterey Bay, and premiered by the Miró Quartet in 2007.

 

Richard Strauss (1864-1949) :: Metamorphosen

In the early 1930s, Richard Strauss reached out to the author Stefan Zweig asking him to write the libretto to his new opera, Die schweigsame Frau (The Silent Woman). It would be their first, and last, collaboration. The Nazis soon intervened to forbid Strauss, head of their Reichsmusikkammer (Reich Music) institution, to continue collaborating with the Zweig, who was Jewish. It was one of the early blows. Soon they would accumulate and quite literally destroy Strauss’ world.

As World War II progressed, Strauss was in a precarious position between his professional aspirations and his personal life. Professionally, he worked within the restrictions imposed upon him by the Nazis, while personally he worked to secure the safety of his daughter-in-law and grandson, who were Jewish. Strauss’ refusal to protest by taking an overt political and ethical stance against the Nazis has tarnished his reputation to posterity, though it is widely agreed that he probably internally disagreed with the ideologies of the party, and remained silent in order to secure the ability to continue writing music in his homeland. Often quoted is Arturo Toscanini’s succinct appraisal: “To Strauss the composer I take off my hat; to Strauss the man I put it back on again.”

Metamorphosen was written in the direct aftermath of the bombing of Munich—Strauss’ hometown. The opera house where his father, Franz, had performed as principal horn player was destroyed. Strauss mourned the loss tremendously, viewing it both as a personal loss, and a societal loss of hundreds of years of German culture. He wrote: “The burning of the Munich Court Theater, where Tristan and Die Meistersinger received their first performances, where I first heard Freischütz seventy-three years ago, where my father sat at the first horn desk for forty-nine years—it was the greatest catastrophe of my life; there is no possible consolation, and, at my age, no hope.” 

In Metamorphosen Strauss embedded a musical quote: the funeral march from Beethoven’s Eroica, Symphony no. 3. 

By the time Strauss completed the work, the war was over. Paul Sacher, who had commissioned the work, conducted its first performance on January 25, 1946 in Zürich to a very different world than they had all known as children. 

In his beautiful and touching autobiography, The World of Yesterday, written in South America where he had fled to avoid the war and persecution, Zweig writes: 

“Even from the abyss of horror in which we try to feel our way today, half-blind, our hearts distraught and shattered, I look up again and again to the ancient constellations that shone on my childhood, comforting myself with the inherited confidence that, some day, this relapse will appear only an interval in the eternal rhythm of progress onward and upward.” 

Executive Director Transition

A Far Cry's first Executive Director, Bridget Mundy, has accepted a new position with our friends The Knights. Board Members Mary Jaffee and Lisa Wong will serve as Interim Executive Directors while we undergo a search process for a new administrative leader. Press Release

The Criers thank Bridget for giving so much to our organization these past two years. She has brought a wealth of talent, intelligence, and dedication to our operation each day. A Far Cry was founded on the idea that the right group culture can empower the individual to find their voice, and in turn a vision for their vocation. It has been rewarding to witness Bridget’s development within our fold and we are excited for the next steps on her journey.

Introducing Caitlin Lynch

A Far Cry is pleased to introduce our first new violist in 10 years (!) Caitlin Lynch sat down with Sarah for some getting-to-know-you questions and answers:

What were your first experiences like playing with AFC? 
ELECTRIC!! I first played with AFC on a tour to Corning. I remember it vividly because I was so in awe ...I was beyond moved, inspired, and impressed. We played the Shostakovich Octet and Tchaikovsky Serenade. I remember the electric intensity, commitment, and energy in the Shostakovich, and the musical freedom and joy of the Tchaikovsky (no joke, it was so fun, I’m pretty sure I was actually dancing while playing). The energy of the group was totally gripping, and I was SO impressed by their warm collegiality paired with such a professional and impressive work ethic. The process was so open, yet beautifully structured. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. The whole experience had a profoundly strong impact on me...and its been that way literally every time since! I always feel inspired making music with the Criers.

How'd you start playing viola? 
I had a strong case of sibling envy when I was growing up. My older sister started violin lessons when I was quite young, which naturally led me to ask for them as well. The teacher refused, citing my lack of maturity evidenced by my love of sucking my thumb. She said that if I wasn’t mature enough to stop sucking my thumb, then I certainly wasn’t mature enough to take violin lessons. I certainly did not stop sucking my thumb, but I did get better at hiding it from her until she let me start lessons of my own! Fast forward to middle school. My youth orchestra was playing Brandenburg 3 and we only had one violist (you need three!). My conductor asked me if I would be willing to play the viola for that piece. I agreed, never having read a note of alto clef in my life. I figured I would lean on the sole actual violist to help me out. Which is why I was surprised when at the first rehearsal, he leaned over, and, pointing at the music, asked, “what note is that?” That is not a viola joke. It is a true story. I was hooked on the viola, the C string, alto clef, and violists (such nice people. I even married one!) from that moment on. My conversion was complete!

Any favorite recipes? 
Since I can remember, steak with sheepherder’s potatoes has been my go-to comfort food (and birthday dinner request!). Originating on the cattle ranch my dad grew up on, the steak needs no explanation, and the sheepherders potatoes are a mess of potatoes, bacon, onions, and butter. Super heart healthy! My husband’s braised short ribs are another favorite, and I also have a mean cowboy cookie recipe that has changed my life. Also, do cocktail recipes count? Because thats a whole other list...

Sheepherder’s Potatoes
Ingredients
Lots of butter
About 2 cups of water
1 lb thick cut bacon, chopped
1 softball-sized sweet onion, 1/8th inch slices
3 large russet potatoes, washed, 1/8th inch slices
Gear
Stove or camp fire
Big pot
Wooden spoon
Recipe
Cook bacon until almost crispy

Put bacon on a paper towel lined plate
Dump out all but 2(ish) tbsp bacon fat
Cook onions in the bacon fat until they begin to brown
Add potatoes
Add water
After the water cooks down a bit, add 3 tbsp butter
Cook until potatoes are soft and everything is falling apart
Serve with steak and red wine!

What's your favorite Boston thing? 
Is it ok to say AFC?! It’s true! I had never spent a significant amount of time in Boston until I started playing with AFC, so its creativity, openness, integrity, warmth, passion, and fun has happily shaped my concept of and experience in the city. ...Aaaaand the ducks! My daughter is obsessed with ducks, so we spend a lot of quality time in Boston Common with our friends the Make Way For Ducklings ducks. My favorite was this winter, when someone had knit all the ducks cozy winter hats.

Craziest Story?
The very first time I played with the Cleveland Orchestra, I got a penny stuck in my viola as I was walking onstage for the concert. I was attempting to pull my mute out of my purse. It was stuck in my headphones. When I yanked on the headphones, a penny shot up out of my purse and fell directly into my viola. I couldn’t get it out, and ended up playing the whole concert with the penny in my viola. Every time I moved my instrument to play, the penny would slide the length of my viola and then slam against the side. I ended up having to hold my viola frozen up in playing position the entire concert. The embarrassment was compounded by the fact that it was a concert of piano concertos...with extensive cadenzas...through which I had to be frozen in place with my viola held high, despite not having a note to play for 10 minutes at a time.

Tell us about your beautiful kid:
Clara! My husband Tim and I are parents to a nearly-2-year-old daughter that is excited to join the honorable ranks of AFC groupies (do we sell onesies that say Crier yet?!)

Responsibility in Action

I have often wondered what truly sets professionals apart from music students in conservatories. When you are young and still learning, you go through life with horse blinds thinking that the level of playing is the most important aspect of being a professional. But since I started college and began meeting, mingling, learning, and working with professionals, I have discovered great playing is only the beginning of success. The week that I spent with A Far Cry as their fellow in Albion was an excellent example of what it takes to be a successful professional. 

The most important thing I have learned from A Far Cry is personal responsibility. Contrary to popular belief, personal responsibility does not mean to direct your focus on yourself - it is exactly the opposite. Personal responsibility is the ability to direct your focus on your surroundings and adapt as quickly and as seamlessly as possible. I was surprised that in rehearsals, the Criers did not have arguments over interpretation. Whatever suggestion anyone offered, it was rehearsed and immediately applied. It did not matter if someone theoretically disagreed with a suggestion: they tried it anyway and played it so convincingly as though it was their own idea.

Criers trust each other in performance 100%. If someone takes a risk, everyone goes with them. It is this alertness and personal responsibility in catching others that creates an extremely meaningful artistic experience. You can rehearse something from sunrise to sunset but in the end, no two performances are ever the same. If you are too busy reading your own notes and are not present, you will not be ready to face a challenge or catch a curveball. This is something that students in conservatories still lack: to substitute their concern for their own notes and playing for presence and adaptability. It is never the environment’s fault - it is only your mistake that you were not there to witness it and catch on. 

The second important thing I learned from A Far Cry is personal responsibility in management. In order for A Far Cry to exist, everyone needs to take part in sharing, voting on decision making, leading rehearsals, and sticking to the rehearsal plans. Everyone in the group is a leader and plays a crucial role, even if it means taking turns to listen out for balance. Everyone takes on a personal responsibility to be a leader not for their own ego-boost but for the greater common goal of creating a quality product.

If there’s one huge point that conservatory students like me can take away from a week with A Far Cry is that personal responsibility means using your peripherals, understanding how you fit into a whole, and taking risks. Until now, I often translated being “responsible” as not doing anything to make others uncomfortable or not deviating from what is expected. However, being responsible as an artist means that you are a role model, inspire others to be fearless, and let them know you’ve got their backs. The only way you can inspire others to get out of their comfort zones is if you step out of that box first and be constantly ready for the unexpected. Only then a great performance like Albion can happen.

- Gergana Haralampieva 

Gergana Haralampieva is a violinist, and one of A Far Cry's Season 11 NEC Fellows

Guardians of the Groove Program Notes

Program notes by Kathryn Bacasmot, Michael Atkinson, and Sufjan Stevens, for A Far Cry's program Guardians of the Groovethis Saturday, January 27, 4pm at St. John's Church in Jamaica Plain and Sunday, January 28, 1:30pm at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

 

JEAN-BAPTISTE LULLY (1632-1687) :: SUITE FROM ACIS ET GALATÉE

Lully lived a fortunate life until an unfortunate injury brought about his death at the age of fifty-five. Equipped with cleverness, humor, musical talent, physical gracefulness, and a keen sense of drama, he lifted himself from the common workman’s livelihood of his Italian childhood. He was born Giovanni Battista Lulli in Florence, and would land in the home of a member of the French royal family when he was merely fourteen years old (as an Italian language tutor). He would not return, and would die a naturalized French citizen.

Every step of the way he charmed those around him, and drew their favor in the form of artistic educational opportunities—music lessons and dance lessons—that led to his talents being noticed and rewarded with increased responsibilities around the royal household. He would eventually encounter the young Louis XIV (six years his junior), and maneuver his way to becoming Louis’ favorite musician at court. Once Louis was crowned King, Lully secured the position of surintendant de la musique de la chambre du roi, overseeing musical activities at court, as well as the King’s famous string bands. He would enjoy the King’s encouragement and support almost his entire career. 

With his talent and resources, Lully’s outstanding compositions set the bar for the French Baroque style with regal musical overtures and epic musical tragedies and comedies for the theater and the opera. One of his last operas, Acis et Galatée, a love triangle between gods and mortals, was written immediately following a falling out with Louis XIV over his disapproval of a court seduction that Lully pursued. It may, or may not, have ever been seen by the King. Its private premiere was for the entertainment of a hunting party at the château of Anet for the dauphin. It was later performed at the Paris Opéra on September 17, 1686, six months before Lully’s death.

    —Kathryn J Allwine Bacasmot


SUFJAN STEVENS (b. 1975) :: SUITE FROM RUN RABBIT RUN (ARR. MICHAEL ATKINSON)

Originally premiered by the Osso String Quartet, these four movements became a point of departure for many other projects, including an orchestration for Justin Peck and the New York City Ballet’s production of “Year of the Rabbit,” which premiered in 2012; and, in a mixed ensemble arrangement by yMusic. This expanded version is based on Atkinson’s original arrangements. In a program note for the premiere in 2007, Sufjan Stevens shared his thoughts:

“... this arrangement draws upon the material of the original suite, including colorful extended techniques and textural improvisations in tandem with more conventional sounding music. They are uncomplicated impressions of theme and variation that bring to light, through careful condensation, a project previously heavy laden with conceit… Atkinson’s scores do not, however, ignore the experiments of sound and improvisation that inspired many of the original recordings.  His arrangements paint abstract sequences, odd shapes and angular arches on the staff, open to interpretation.  The strings are forced to mimic gestures previously generated by the computer: sampled beats, digital glitches, and mechanical guffaws.  At one point, for example, the players are cued for a few bars of shushing, imitating the sound of rain.

“These songs… have become, to my ears, more alive, more capable, more fully realized than their original recordings. It’s as if, in initially piecing them together, years ago, in the solitude of my computer, I was constructing Frankenstein’s monster, with the wit and wildness of a mad scientist. Atkinson’s arrangements distill these vulgarities in vinegar, pulling away all the ugly skin lesions, the moles, the gimmicks, the stitching, and the layers of gauze.  What is revealed is a full-grown man, with consciousness, hair parted to the side, a track suit, running shoes, a baseball cap.  It’s alive! It’s
alive! Of course this is where the analogy breaks down, for these songs are more animal than human.”

— Michael Atkinson and Sufjan Stevens


ANTONÍN DVORÁK (1841-1904) :: SERENADE FOR STRINGS, OP. 22

Dvořák found fame as a composer later in his life, spending the earlier portion of it making a living as a teacher and orchestral musician (he even played under the baton of Richard Wagner three times). It wasn’t until he was thirty-years-old that he openly revealed his true career ambition: to be a composer. 

There were a few setbacks along the way toward this goal, including being denied the opportunity to meet and study with Franz Liszt, but eventually things began to come together. Often artists have their one big break, and Dvořák’s came in 1877. Since 1874 he had applied yearly to the Austrian State Stipendium, and consistently received the honor of a financial award. In 1875, Johannes Brahms, who was the prime of his career, stepped in to replace one of the jurors. This was Dvořák’s chance to impress, and two years later when Dvořák submitted his application that included the Serenade for Strings along with the Theme with Variations for piano, and Moravské dvojzpěvy (‘Moravian Duets’), Brahms wrote to his publisher, Fritz Simrock saying, “As for the state stipendium, for several years I have enjoyed works sent in by Antonín Dvořák (pronounced Dvorschak) of Prague… Dvořák has written all manner of things: operas (Czech), symphonies, quartets, piano pieces. In any case, he is a very talented man. Moreover, he is poor! I ask you to think about it!” Brahms also mentioned to his friend, the famous violinist Joseph Joachim, mentioning the only other serenade Dvořák wrote (this time, for winds): “Take a look at Dvorák's Serenade for Wind Instruments… I hope you will enjoy it as much as I do… It would be difficult to discover a finer, more refreshing impression of really abundant and charming creative talent. Have it played to you; I feel sure the players will enjoy doing it!”

The rest, as they say, is history. With these auspicious stamps of approval Dvořák rapidly gained an audience for his music. He became a rising star, and would eventually be one of the most respected Czech composers in history. It is no wonder that the Serenade for Strings, with its luminous lyricism would help launch his career, and still be one of the most beloved works in the repertoire well over one hundred years later.

    —Kathryn J Allwine Bacasmot

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