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Boston Voyager interview

Boston Voyager sat down with Sarah Darling to talk about the experience of being a Crier. Read the result on their site, or scroll down below! 

Sarah, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today. 

A Far Cry started as a collective twinkle in a lot of eyes. A bunch of like-minded musicians who’d converged upon Boston for grad school, back in 2007, started doing what we love to do most – getting together in our off hours and reading music for fun. The fun stuck. We discovered that we loved playing together, and that we loved playing as a big group. Next thing we knew, we were planning our first concert.

Now back at that time, I personally wasn’t a Crier yet. I’d just come back from four years of music-making in Europe, returned to my hometown of Boston and found that this crazy group of musician buddies were tearing it up! I supported them as a friend, thinking “This is really cool, but… how will it work?” As soon as I went to the first concert, I was hooked. Eighteen musical minds up there, not a conductor in sight. There was a synergy and a joy, a shared intelligence, on stage, and I drank it up like a castaway who’s just found the island spring. From then on, my only question was “How can I get in on this?”

What was so special about what I saw that day boils down to two words: shared leadership. Every single person on that stage was shining with the same energy, totally committed to realizing the music together, whether that person was in the front or the back. As soon as one piece switched to another, the back players moved to the front, and vice versa – and the sound of the orchestra totally changed as a new set of principal players took the lead and everyone else committed to following them. The palette was endless. It was magic!

I ended up starting to perform with the group shortly thereafter. Behind the curtain, I learned how the magic was made. That communal intelligence came from long hours of rehearsal, and from a real commitment to lifting up all the voices in the group. Of course, everyone wanted to speak up during the process of preparing a program, and so we had to learn how to streamline our process. We allowed everyone just two comments, and you better believe that inspired people to think very carefully before talking! That rule also made sure that the introverts had as much of a shot at being heard as the extroverts, which was incredibly valuable, since of course everyone had something original to add to the pot.

Next thing I knew, the A Far Cry members went on a retreat, and a couple days later, I got a phone call. “Would you like to join the viola section? Everyone here unanimously voted you in.” That was how new members were added – and still is. Every single person has to be on board. And when you join the group, knowing that everyone is on your side, it’s the best feeling in the world.

That was the beginning of my adventure with A Far Cry. Eleven years later, it’s still unfolding.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome? 

Ha! It has not been a smooth road! But it’s been a wildly wonderful one. We’ve had some rough times, but have also had some incredible luck. The one trait which has stayed constant from the very beginning to now, is the following.

WE WORK OUR ASSES OFF.

We’re artists and arts administrators, simultaneously. During a concert week, we’re “on” in rehearsal 10-5 each day, listening to each other, giving our utmost, and then, on break, we dive for our phones and put the final touches on e-blasts, field audience inquiries, go over venue seating charts, plan to meet with donors, post to Facebook, figure out about mike setup, you name it, we are doing it. Did I mention we rehearse standing up? Comfortable shoes are a must. So is a nearby source of coffee.

Lucky breaks? They’ve come in for sure. The chance for an incredibly meaningful residency at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. The support of a brilliant and energized Board of Directors, pretty much from day 1. A strong press presence in Boston that identified our “story” early and has kept listening over the years. A GRAMMY nomination in 2014 that put us on the map in a brand new way. Granting organizations who believe in us. And small miracles that unfold around us every day – soloists who take a chance on us, composers who trust us with their new work. It was pretty fun, for instance, to commission a piece from Caroline Shaw just a few months before she was tapped for the Pulitzer! It was pretty darn fun to start working with Simone Dinnerstein on a brand new Crier-led Goldberg arrangement and then hear from her that she’d like to premiere a new Philip Glass piano concerto with us and record it too!

And struggles? So many. So, so, many. It is very, very, hard to run a nonprofit. Things are literally breaking all around you all the time. One unbelievably frustrating one that came out of left field was a letter from the IRS, telling us that they’d temporarily revoked our nonprofit status as a result of a perceived misfiling. A couple of audits later, it was revealed that we’d done nothing wrong. Unfortunately, by that time we’d lost half a year of fundraising and a whole grant cycle, which was financially terrifying.

That’s the kind of situation that can break a group that’s bound together by goodwill – as everyone tries to solve it in their own way. We had a number of disagreements over strategy, and it wasn’t easy, but we made a concerted effort to stay focused and to stay together, and to OVERCOME. And we did.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about A Far Cry – what should we know?

What does A Far Cry do? I’d say: we create complete musical experiences. We perform music, but we’re also the program curators, and the co-artistic directors in every sense. And, we’re a functioning democracy, one that depends on the participation of its members, while challenging and elevating them.

Our programming process, for instance, begins with a call for submissions orchestrated (no pun intended) by a group member called the Axle. Individuals can submit programs, or groups can workshop ideas together. Bit by bit, fascinating ideas flow in. They’re workshopped again by the whole group, then voted into a “Vault” that gets opened when it’s time to organize programming for the upcoming season. So many factors go into designing a season: program content, soloist availability, the “flow” of the season overall… and when we begin to design a season we usually have about 4 times as many programs as we have space for! To move forward, the Axle and the group work together to design a voting system that promotes clarity and preserves the will of the group. Flexibility is incredibly important. Trust is like gold.

We use the same sorts of principles across the entire spectrum of our artistic activities – whether it’s making a recording, designing an educational residency, or simply deciding… anything.

This democratic work, along with our commitment to rotating leadership, is, I think, the thing that lies closest to the heart of what makes A Far Cry what it is.

But hey, if you ask another group member, you just might get another answer!

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?

Ever since the group’s founding, we’ve held on to three words: Love, trust, and respect. For a group like A Far Cry, where member responsibility (and agency) is so massive, those words are crucial – and they only work in conjunction with each other. Love without trust or respect is delightful but hollow. Trust without love or respect is meaningful but cold. Respect without trust or love seems to suggest a hard, hard, world. But together, they’re a formula that works.

This is just so incredibly important when you’re working with others in a way that is both rational and emotional – as music-making inevitably is. How do you make decisions about how to embody a musical phrase? You have to be able to see through your partners’ eyes, to respect their work, to love the way they play, to trust the words they’re using to talk about Mendelssohn measures 14-17 or the Schnittke second movement.

This is the DNA that makes our democracy possible, and gives our shared leadership life.

Improperly #BostonsBest

Some excellent news hit today: we were voted Boston's Best Classical Ensemble by the Improper Bostonian! Here's their sweet writeup, focusing in on two of our favorite creative endeavours from the last year, and with a nice nod to our upcoming CD on Crier Records! 

This Grammy-nominated string orchestra is self-conducted, and since its founding in 2007 that independent spirit has come through loud and clear in the group’s creative programming. Take December’s AFC Challenge, a night of avant-garde works arranged by degree of difficulty and dissonance, or April’s In House program, featuring original compositions inspired by the art and architecture of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, where A Far Cry is chamber-orchestra-in-residence. The Criers also have their own label that launched in 2014—keep an ear out for their latest album, Visions and Variations, set to drop this fall. 

It's no secret that we aspire to be part of the fabric that makes Boston great. We've said to each other that we'll know we're on the right track when tourists start coming to the city to take in an A Far Cry concert! Very grateful to the Improper Bostonian for this honor - and thankful for a magazine that delves into so many of our favorite things about our home. 

And OK, we're kind of thrilled that Aly Raisman is on the cover of the #BostonsBest issue. Aly, if you're reading this, you're welcome at any of our concerts ANYTIME. 

A letter to our audience, our cheerleaders, our family of supporters

After hearing A Far Cry’s concert Loss and Resurrection, the critic Eric Fishman wrote for Arts Fuse:

Yet this temptation toward analysis [of the concert’s title] was shattered by the concert itself, which was such a human and heart-centered endeavor that I felt almost ashamed at having tried to approach it from the angle of abstract scholarship.

With that, we finish our 11th season of music making. As I look back on our dozen years together, one point has become radiantly clear to me: A Far Cry cannot do this without you. You are our audience, our cheerleaders, and our family of supporters. We notice when you’re not at our concerts, as you notice when a few of us are missing from the stage. To me, that sentiment reminds me that all of us being there for each other—in harmony—truly matters.

You get why we do what we do. In climates of upheaval and unrest, we strive for more transformative performances. Bringing inspiration, engaging our souls to rejuvenate our faith in humanity and in each other, and witnessing that in your eyes afterwards, is the most humbling work that any of us could hope to do. Through shared music, we feel deeply, shed tears of sorrow and tears of joy, and make meaning together. In the end, these are the moments that matter most, and we wouldn’t be able to experience them without you.

Make a gift today in support of our next season of performances, upcoming recordings and more meaningful connection-making. I invite you to continue to be our ambassadors to the world and to the next generation. It means everything to us. We appreciate your generous support and we cannot wait to see you at our next concerts.

Jae Cosmos Lee
Violinist and Co-Founder    
A Far Cry


TO MAKE A GIFT...

BY CHECK:

Make your check payable to “A Far Cry,” and mail it to:

A Far Cry
146A South Street
Jamaica Plain, MA 02130


BY CREDIT CARD:

Online gifts are accepted via A Far Cry’s website at afarcry.org/fundraising.


BY STOCK:

Stock can be gifted to A Far Cry via direct transfer or stock certification. To donate stock, please contact Mary at 617-533-4887 or at director@afarcry.org.


BY IRA CHARITABLE ROLLOVER:

Federal legislation in December 2015 made the IRA charitable rollover permanent.

Donors age 70 ½ and older can make a qualified distribution of up to $100,000 from their IRA, and it will not be treated as taxable income. An IRA charitable rollover is a great way to make a tax-wise gift to A Far Cry! Contact Mary at 617-553-4887 or director@afarcry.org for more information.

Next Generation notes

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), arr. Wood :: Variations on Ah! vous dirais-je, Maman, K. 265/300e


Mozart was twenty-five years old, and very ambitious. It was 1781, and he had relocated to Vienna. In the city, culture and glittering entertainment were in high demand from the bourgeoning middle class to the aristocracy, who, in particular, viewed patronage of the newest young talent a key to social superiority (over the next two decades that fervor rose to fever pitch, forcing some over zealous benefactors deep into debt, teetering on bankruptcy). In order to survive, as well as validate his reputation beyond the child prodigy paraded around Europe, Mozart had to secure either a court position, or devise ways to make it on his own as a freelancer. There was another motivation: to emancipate himself from his domineering father, and prove he could manage his own affairs. After some experimenting, Mozart discovered a winning formula, one that would support him for at least several years before changing his creative direction: 1) produce his own concerts in unconventional venues (the formal concert halls were always solidly booked, the logistics of which prohibiting him from presenting enough concerts from which to earn an adequate living), and 2) present himself as soloist. If he could sell enough tickets, he could make this venture work. Additionally, he would teach to pad his income. 

Of course, if you’re a talented composer, you can write your own piano lesson curriculum, and that is exactly what Mozart did. During 1781 he wrote multiple works on well-known French melodies for his students, including his Variations on Ah! vous dirais-je, Maman (Ah! Would I Tell You, Mama?), a tune to which both romantic poetry and children’s song lyrics were set. For those of us in English speaking countries the tune has yet another set of lyrics by Jane Taylor, published in the early 1800s: Twinkle, twinkle, little star.

Galina Ustvolskaya (1919-2006) :: Concerto for Piano, String Orchestra, and Timpani

By the time Ustvolskaya died in 2006, her career spanned 70 years with an official catalog of just 21 pieces. She did not count the works she had to write for official Soviet pomp and circumstance. She only acknowledged the music she wrote for herself. 

This bit of information should provide a clue that Ustvolskaya was one of the most staunchly individual creative artists of the 20th century. But, of course, she started as a student—as a member of the next generation learning the craft of composition. Her school years were spent at the Leningrad Conservatory studying with Dmitri Shostakovich. He became both a champion and admirer of her work, going so far as to quote musical passages of her Trio in his String Quartet No. 5. In turn, the music of her earlier period, before 1950, owed much to Shostakovich and other teachers and predecessors, melding traditional forms with angular melodic material infused with the rhythms of folk music. The Concerto for Piano, String Orchestra, and Timpani was written in 1946 and comes at the end of this period of her style. Things would change dramatically in the years immediately following. 

On trait unfailingly noted about Ustvolskaya is the unique quality of the works from her mature period. After the show is over, spend some time listening to her compositions written after 1950, or head to YouTube and watch the documentary “Scream into Space,” which follows the composer on a trip to Amsterdam late in life (one of her only visits outside of Russia/Soviet Union in her lifetime) for a performance of her Second Symphony. What you will find are works of breathtaking intensity and conciseness that convey deeply personal emotions. Dynamics are extreme, between silence and fffff, and instrumentation is unorthodox—something perhaps previewed with her specific inclusion of timpani in this piano concerto. 

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) :: Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, Op. 10

Many of us have one or more very influential teachers or mentors – individuals who recognized potential and strove to encourage its ultimate expression within a student. For Benjamin Britten it was Frank Bridge. Britten – the only composition student Bridge ever taught – commenced his studies at age 13.  Of the teacher who impacted his development more than any other, Britten said, "He really taught me to take as much trouble as I possibly could over every passage, over every progression, over every line...I, who thought I was already on the verge of immortality, saw my illusions shattered." 

In 1937 Boyd Neel commissioned Britten to compose a work for his orchestra to perform at the Salzburg Festival. Britten fulfilled order in a matter of weeks – his Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, the theme of which was culled from Bridge’s sublime Three Idylls for string quartet. After an arresting opening that grabs the listener, demanding attention, the lyrical theme emerges and travels through a breathtaking variety of iterations. 

Bridge sadly faded from public consciousness after his death – but thanks to his student, he was immortalized beautifully, faithfully, and fondly. 

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.

Composer Profile: Galina Ustvolskaya

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.
           

This is the opening of Seamus Heaney’s, “Digging,” one of his first published poems and a manifesto of sorts, naming the pen as his tool, his weapon.

A Far Cry’s program Next Generation (Friday, May 18 at Jordan Hall) includes two works that do very much the same thing: Benjamin Britten’s Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, ostensibly an homage to his teacher, but also an early creative masterpiece that put Britten’s name and compositional style on the map; and Galina Ustvolskaya’s Concerto for piano, strings, and timpani, the work she selected as her Opus 1 in her highly restricted, self-edited compositional catalog.

[The program’s third work, Ethan Wood’s take on Mozart’s “Ah, vous dirai-je, maman” variations is more of a Beethoven-Diabelli story; we asked him for an arrangement of a piano piece, and he came back with a virtuosic, complex, multi-layered thing that defies description. It's awesome.]

If Heaney’s pen was his shovel (his poem ends “Between my finger and my thumb / The squat pen rests. / I’ll dig with it.”), then perhaps Ustvolskaya’s was her hammer. Critic Elmer Schoenberger once referred to her as “the lady with the hammer,” in part a reference to the intensity and directness of her music, but also perhaps to “the cube,” an instrument of her own devising, used in her Dies Irae and Symphony No. 5: a wooden box struck with large wooden mallets, normally used for orchestral chimes. [watch a few seconds of this to get an idea]

The cube is emblematic of the arresting quality of Ustvolskaya’s music, achieved not only through sheer sonic power and contrasting quieter moments, but through an intangible x-factor. Dmitri Shostakovich, her teacher, said of her "I am convinced that the music of G. I. Ustvolskaya will achieve worldwide renown, to be valued by all who perceive truth in music to be of paramount importance.” That quality of truth-in-music, a deep and brutal directness, is immediate and apparent in all her works, piercing both the performer and the listener.

The Shostakovich connection is a whole other tangent. Ustvolskaya was his student, but in the end, it would be Shostakovich who came to her for advice on his works in progress, and even quoted her music in his String Quartet No. 5 and Michelangelo Suite. There was possibly also a deeper personal connection as well; it is thought they may have been romantically involved, and even that he proposed marriage, but was rebuffed. Then, much later in her life, after Shostakovich’s death, Ustvolskaya fully repudiated him, his music, and any influence he might have had.

Her Piano Concerto, however, does bear some resemblance to Shostakovich’s style, in some ways mirroring his Piano Concerto No. 1 which is also for piano and strings plus one, in its case, a trumpet. But where the Shostakovich veers into romanticism and sardonic fun, the Ustvolskaya Concerto keeps its laser-focused gaze firmly fixed on its target, its truth. In the manner of a manifesto, the concerto also lays the foundation for her later, more avant garde, work; instead of a cube, there is a timpani, but used to much the same effect, commanding the listener’s attention. There is also the obsessive repetition of the concerto’s closing, driving its manifesto message home, as if Ustvolskaya is saying “you will listen to me.”

So that you might get a better sense of Ustvolskaya's work, here’s a brief sampling of her output, spanning her career. Feel free to taste a bit of each, or go down the rabbit hole.

A section of her Grand Duet for cello and piano, written for Mstislav Rostropovich.

Dona Nobis Pacem, written for the brilliantly conceived trio combo of piccolo, tuba, and piano.

And her last published work, the haunting Symphony No. 5, “Amen,” a setting of the Lord’s Prayer for violin, oboe, trumpet, tuba, cube, and speaker.

If you’d like a sneak peek of the piano concerto, check out this performance by the concerto’s dedicatee, Alexei Lubimov. And for more information on Galina Ustvolskaya, check out the documentary “Scream into Space,” and this very thorough website dedicated to her life and work.

Happy digging.

-Michael

Project STEP night!

Our season closer, Next Generation, is quite literally on board to highlight the next generation of musicians! We'll be sharing the night with our partner organization Project STEP, the amazing training program that highlights and supports young musicians that are racially and ethnically under-represented in the field. 

At 7:30, Project STEP's Honors Quartet will take the stage to play selections from Dvorak's "American" Quartet. You're going to want to be there to hear these musicians - last year, their performance of Haydn and Daniel Bernard Romain at an A Far Cry concert brought the house down. These players are also near to our hearts because, as part of our educational partnership with Project STEP, we've been coaching them all year long.

Watching/helping a piece of music take shape over time, watching/helping a quartet become a group, and watching/helping musicians step out ever more confidently into their own abilities - truly taking charge of their artistic destinies - this is all incredibly meaningful to us. Besides, these guys rock. 

Finally, we'll have one musician - violist Jehan Diaz - join us on stage during the show as well! We're thrilled to have Jehan in the mix, she's a thoughtful person and a killer player! Here's some more info about her: 

Jehan Diaz began playing violin at the age of four. At 11, she picked up the viola and has been playing both instruments ever since. Since 2015, she has been a committed member of the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, having toured through Spain (2016) and South America (2017), and is currently preparing for a tour of five European countries. Jehan has been a member of Project STEP since 2014, the year that that program won the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award, conferred by First Lady Michelle Obama. She has performed at Governor Baker’s Inauguration, the 2018 Martin Luther King Memorial Breakfast, and the Museum of Fine Arts as a member of the Honors Quartet. Jehan currently studies with Boston Symphony Orchestra violist Michael Zaretsky. 

See you on the 18th! 

Fresco notes

Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725)Sinfonia from La caduta de’ Decemviri


Like the Bach family, the Scarlattis consistently produced a number of talented, and prominent, musicians over a series of generations. Alessandro Scarlatti, along with four of his eight siblings, pursued the profession, like their father (a tenor in Palermo) before them, and Alessandro’s son, Domenico, would go on to become a notable contemporary of Johann Sebastian Bach, and George Frideric Handel. 

When Alessandro was just twelve years old, family circumstances forced the Scarlattis to uproot from Palermo to Rome, a move that provided the budding young musician an opportunity to engage with the lively and virtuosic performances in the city. It also allowed him the proximity to make important connections. At eighteen years old, and newly married, he made the fortunate acquaintance of sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Bernini’s son Filippo, would become godfather to Scarlatti’s first child). As his list of illustrious patrons grew, so did his status in the musical world of Rome, eventually catching the attention of Queen Christina of Sweden, who famously relinquished her throne in order to live a life of artistic patronage, religious piety, and fierce independence.
An appointment in Naples followed in 1684, and it was in this city that their son Domenico was born the following year. Scarlatti was engaged primarily in writing operas, a genre still morphing and taking shape since the premiere of Monteverdi’s L’orfeo in 1607. It would be in this genre, as well as cantatas, that Scarlatti would be most prolific, and contribute the most musically. During Scarlatti’s tenure in Naples, the level of opera in the city rose to eventually “rival Venice as the pre-eminent operatic city” by 1700. His reputation gained a commission from Ferdinando de’ Medici. Scarlatti had reached a pinnacle of fame and prestige within his profession. The family would move from Naples back to Rome, then Venice, and eventually back to Naples over the remainder of Scarlatti’s life. 

La caduta de’ Decemviri, the dramatic content of which is drawn from histories of Ancient Rome, was written in 1697. It was his first collaboration with librettist Silvio Stampiglia, and is often referred to as representing the transition between Scarlatti’s middle and late compositional styles. 

Luciano Berio (1925-2003)Selections from Duetti per due Violini
Many people have an awareness of the history of music, but Berio was keenly aware of his place within it. In 1968 he wrote Sinfonia for the New York Philharmonic’s 125th anniversary, which quotes numerous compositions from Ravel, Debussy, Stravinsky, and Mahler, to name a few. Rendering, which he wrote between 1989-1990 inserts newly composed music between the fragments of an unfinished Schubert symphony. The questions he seems to be asking here are both about influence, and the eternal apprenticeship to the past that each artist undergoes. 

The Duetti per due Violini were written between 1979-1983. There are thirty-four of them, each named for a different person, and linked to a personal memory, interaction, or lesson learned. Furthermore, they are structured for use as pedagogical tools with one part often a bit easier than the other. Berio wrote his own program note for the Duetti. A portion of it follows:

“It can happen that a violinist friend tells a composer, one night, that other than those of Bartók, there are not enough violin duets today. And it can happen that the composer immediately sets himself to writing duets that night until dawn...and then more duets in the moments of leisure, in different cities and hotels, between rehearsals, traveling, thinking of somebody, when looking for a present...this is what happened to me and I am grateful to that nocturnal violinist whose name is given to one of these Duetti. Thus behind every duet there are personal reasons and situations.” He continues, “These Duetti are for me what the vers de circonstance were for Mallarmé: that is, they are not necessarily based on deep musical motivations, but rather connected by the fragile thread of daily occasions.”
Aidan Ng (B. 2003)Solstice Festival (World Premiere)

The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year; its daylight lasts around only eight hours. During these cold winter days, I find myself stuck at home, while the snowstorms outside pound on my window. However, I realize that no matter where I am, music allows me to escape reality and bypass my limitations. Through music, a freezing winter solstice at home can turn into a vibrant solstice festival.-Aidan Ng

Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868)String Sonata No. 3 in C Major
When we think of Rossini, we think of him in his adulthood, the composer of thirty-nine operas, and some of the most beloved tunes in the classical repertoire. But the music of his childhood also deserves notice since he was just as precocious as Mozart or Mendelssohn. Six string sonatas were written over a summer spent with a wealthy patron, Agostino Triossi, in 1804. Rossini was twelve years old. In the sonatas, the rising popularity of the double bass, due to the popularity of its virtuoso, Domenico Dragonetti, is evidenced with the omission of the viola in favor of the bass (Triosso was also an amateur double bass player, cementing the motivation for the instrumentation). 

Rossini said (with a touch of pride at his own young talent) when reminiscing about writing the sonatas: “First violin, second violin, violoncello, and contrabass parts for six horrendous sonatas composed by me at the country house (near Ravenna) of my friend and patron, Agostino Triossi, at the most youthful age, having not even had a lesson in thorough-bass. They were all composed and copied by me in three days and performed in a doggish way by Triossi, the Morini brothers, and the second violin by myself who was, to tell the truth, the least doggish.” 

Nicola Porpora (1686-1768)Calcante ed Achille
Born in Naples to a bookseller named Carlo and his wife Caterina, Nicola Porpora would become not only an important musician of the Italian Baroque, but also the teacher of some of the greatest composers and performers of all time, including the castrato vocalist Ferinelli, and Franz Joseph Haydn. 

In 1708, while in his early twenties, Porpora received his first opera commission and produced “L’Agrippina.” However, other opportunities to write music were limited until Alessandro Scarlatti, the preeminent figure in Naples at the time, moved away. Porpora then began to establish himself as a teacher, and opera composer, gaining a name for himself even in Rome (a sweet victory was the pronouncement that his opera Eumene was “superior’ to Scarlatti’s La Griselda). For a brief period of time he tried to create a career in Germany and Austria, but the effort was unsuccessful. After returning to Italy he collaborated with the famed librettist Metastasio on several operas. In 1733 opportunity took Porpora to London where he assisted with the development of an opera company that was meant to be in direct competition with Handel. When that dissolved, he returned to Italy. His oeuvre was enormous, including sonatas, sinfonias, and concertos, along with dozens of operas, serenatas, oratorios, motets, and various sacred works. Calcante ed Achille, a chamber duet for soprano and bass with strings, was one of the many secular cantatas he produced.   

Sadly the last years of Porpora’s life were spent in poverty, due to unfortunate circumstances. The musicians of Naples performed at his funeral for free, a testament to their respect for the native son. 

-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.

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.