A Far Cry Selected for the Barr-Klarman Massachusetts Arts Initiative

We are pleased to announce that A Far Cry was selected to participate in the Barr-Klarman Massachusetts Arts Initiative – as announced earlier today on the Barr Foundation’s blog. A partnership between two Boston-based foundations - Barr and The Klarman Family Foundation – the initiative is a $25 million, six-year investment in 29 arts and cultural organizations from across Massachusetts. Participating organizations receive flexible, multi-year operating support grants, in addition to training and technical assistance from TDC, a nonprofit consulting and research firm. A Far Cry’s engagement in the initiative begins with two grants totaling $300,000 from Barr and the Klarman Family Foundation over three years - a ringing endorsement of the organization’s work and potential.

“A Far Cry is honored to have received a grant from the Barr-Klarman Massachusetts Arts Initiative. Such support has significant impact for our organization, as we continue to grow and develop, and we are deeply grateful for such generosity,” said Tom Novak, Chair of the Board of Directors at A Far Cry.

“Organizations like A Far Cry are the cultural hearts of their communities,” said San San Wong, Director of Arts & Creativity for the Barr Foundation. “They are sites of public assembly and dialogue, often working to foster understanding and connection across cultural differences. It is our privilege to support A Far Cry in this journey to further strengthen its financial health and capacity to adapt to change – that it might deepen and continue this work for years to come.”

“Arts organizations, including A Far Cry, play a critical role in the health of our communities,” said Laura Sherman, Director, Greater Boston Grantmaking for The Klarman Family Foundation. “We are committed to strengthening this cohort of 29 arts organizations across the Commonwealth that have the ability to connect and enliven communities through culture, tradition and creative expression, and we are proud to be a part of this initiative.”

Representing diversity across artistic disciplines, geographic reach, stages of organizational development, and budget sizes, the 29 organizations participating in the Barr-Klarman Massachusetts Arts Initiative are:

·      Academy of Music Theatre (Northampton)

·      A Far Cry (Boston)

·      Barrington Stage Company (Pittsfield)

·      Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center (Boston)

·      Boston Modern Orchestra Project (Malden)

·      Cape Ann Museum (Gloucester)

·      Community Access to the Arts (Great Barrington)

·      Community Art Center (Cambridge)

·      Community Music School of Springfield (Springfield)

·      Company One Theatre (Boston)

·      The Dance Complex (Cambridge)

·      Design Museum Boston (Boston)

·      Double Edge Theatre (Ashfield)

·      Eliot School of Fine & Applied Arts (Boston)

·      Featherstone Center for the Arts (Martha's Vineyard)

·      Fitchburg Art Museum (Fitchburg)

·      Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center (Great Barrington)

·      Merrimack Repertory Theatre (Lowell)

·      New Bedford Art Museum/ArtWorks!(New Bedford)

·      New Bedford Symphony Orchestra (New Bedford)

·      Norman Rockwell Museum (Stockbridge)

·      Now + There (Boston)

·      Payomet Performing Arts Center (North Truro)

·      Provincetown Art Association and Museum (Provincetown)

·      Raw Art Works (Lynn)

·      The Record Co. (Boston)

·      SpeakEasy Stage (Boston)

·      Worcester Art Museum (Worcester)

·      Zeiterion Theatre (New Bedford)

A Far Cry and each participant in this initiative will receive multi-year, unrestricted operating grants. Additionally, through a grant to TDC, a nationally recognized nonprofit consulting and research group, organizations will also receive customized training and technical assistance, and be eligible for supplemental funds for targeted research, capacity building, and/or pilot projects. Last week, the foundations made the first set of three-year grants under the new initiative, marking the beginning of what is expected to be a six-year journey of learning, collaboration, and growth.

For more information about the Barr-Klarman Massachusetts Arts Initiative page, including the ideas underlying the effort, key elements of the experience for participating organizations, selection criteria, and evaluation findings, visit:

https://www.barrfoundation.org/what-we-do/barr-klarman-massachusetts-arts-initiative

“At a time when the arts are ever more important to healing our world, we are deeply grateful to the Barr Foundation and Klarman Family Foundation for once again demonstrating how deeply they care about and understand the needs of arts organizations. Thanks to the BKMAI, A Far Cry looks forward to working with the foundations and with our fellow cohort members to become even more effective in making a difference in our community.”
-Dr. Lisa Wong, Interim Executive Director, A Far Cry


About A Far Cry: A Far Cry is an 18-member Grammy-nominated string ensemble in Boston. Founded in 2007, the self-conducted orchestra operates as a democracy in which decisions are made collectively and leadership rotates among the players (Criers). Its mission is to increase the public’s understanding, appreciation, and enjoyment of classical music. A Far Cry has broadened the canon of music for string orchestra through new arrangements and commissions. To date, AFC has played over 20 world premieres. Equally committed to interdisciplinary collaborations, AFC has performed with artists from the worlds of dance, art and song. The core of A Far Cry’s work lies in its Boston programming, which, for the 2018/19 season, is comprised of a neighborhood series in Jamaica Plain and formal residencies at the New England Conservatory and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. A Far Cry takes its programming on tour, performing this season in New York City, Los Angeles, Santa Fe, and at Cornell, Wellesley and Yale Universities. It also operates its own record label, Crier Records, which brings the ensemble’s acclaimed performances to a wider audience. For more information, visit afarcry.org.

About the Barr Foundation: The Barr Foundation’s mission is to invest in human, natural, and creative potential, serving as thoughtful stewards and catalysts. Based in Boston, Barr focuses regionally, and selectively engages nationally, working in partnership with nonprofits, foundations, the public sector, and civic and business leaders to elevate the arts, advance solutions for climate change, and connect all students to success in high school and beyond. Founded in 1997, Barr now has assets of $1.7 billion, and has contributed more than $838 million to charitable causes. For more information, visit barrfoundation.org or follow @BarrFdn on Twitter and Facebook.

About The Klarman Family Foundation: The Klarman Family Foundation seeks to identify areas of unmet need and advance solutions to addressing them. Underlying all of the Foundation’s work is a passionate belief in the promise and importance of creative thinking, strategic leadership and strong organizations to help bring about change. As a way to learn and create greater impact, the Foundation values acting in partnership with other funders. Its work spans regionally, nationally and internationally and focuses on advancing understanding of the biological basis of health and illness; supporting the global Jewish community and State of Israel; expanding access to vital services and enrichment opportunities in Greater Boston; and ensuring a healthy democracy. Established in 1990 by Beth and Seth Klarman, the Foundation is located in Boston, MA. For more information, visit klarmanfoundation.org.

A Far Cry Media Contact

Ali Fessler

Marketing and Development Coordinator

ali@afarcry.org

617-553-4887

Barr Foundation Media Contact:

Stefan Lanfer

Director of Communications

slanfer@barrfoundation.org

617-854-3404


Fear and Wonderment

“The genuinely new creates either fear or wonderment. These two sensations equally close to the stomach always accompany the presence of Prometheus.”

-       Julio Cortázar


Obscure quote located and submitted; because I can’t quite put my finger on why the subject of explorers and exploring is so captivating, which is the premise of Edge of the World, A Far Cry’s program this weekend.

It might be because exploration is an especially pure combination of the two things we do, besides rest: the input (learning and sensing) and the output (doing and creating). The explorer goes out (does) in order to learn, battling unforeseen obstacles for the payoff of knowledge, knowledge that will hopefully bring about some kind of further benefit. We all do this in small ways every day without realizing, but for “the explorer” it’s the raison d’être, and that purity is compelling. Their mission is both exotic in content and familiar in process.

It maybe shouldn’t have come as a surprise, then, that there’s a lot of music inspired by this premise, and also not surprising that a lot of that music is very, very good; that a composer inspired by physical frontiers might also be scouting some exciting creative ones, too.


John Corigliano’s Voyage is an arrangement for string orchestra of a choral setting of Charles Baudelaire’s “L’invitation au voyage,” using Charles Wilbur’s English translation.

What I like about this piece is its unconventional angle. The poem itself is rather loaded: beautiful on its surface, but with a complicated subtext. The speaker implores its audience-of-one to run away to the incredible place it describes, but hyperbole and other hints belie that the other party may be unwilling: 

Drowned suns that glimmer there
     Through cloud-disheveled air
Move me with such a mystery as appears
     Within those other skies
     Of your treacherous eyes
When I behold them shining through their tears.

Why are these eyes “treacherous,” and why are they in tears, and why does the speaker build such an overwhelming case?

Corigliano takes an intriguing step back from this dramatic tension, though, and, rather than pleading, beckons instead. The music seems to appear from the place itself, using archaic-sounding harmonies and textures to create an effect of one eavesdropping on a church choir in the quiet morning streets. It’s the soundtrack of the place, rather than the narrator’s voice.


In baseball, you hear talk of a pitcher’s stuff, the combination of factors that make their pitches virtuosic and challenging to hit. In my estimation, not until Beethoven was there a composer with stuff like Jean-Philippe Rameau: vivid harmony, catchy tunes, a sense of groove and rhythmic play, a flair for the dramatic, and a fearless, cutting edge.

Les Indes galantes contains some of his most iconic music, from which our suite takes a small sampling,

… from austere beauty…

… to deep groove…

It’s important to note the overt and problematic cultural appropriation of the originating opera. Even in our textless, instrumental suite, seeing the term “sauvages” refer to North American First Nations stirs up a dark and painful history. For its time, though, Les Indes galantes posited an open-minded point of view in which all of the cultures represented (Turkish, Incan, North African, and First Nations) are cast in a favorable light and contain the protagonists of their respective acts. The music, too, does not stoop to caricature, but is uniformly great, vivid, and imaginative, with the North American portions specifically inspired by the visit of two First Nations Chiefs to the French court and the dances performed by their entourages. It’s the resulting sparks of curiosity and creativity, harnessed by Rameau to depict cultures at the fringes of his known world, that has drawn us to this music.


Claude Vivier’s Zipangu gets back to the core of the quote at the top: “the genuinely new creates either fear or wonderment.” This piece accomplishes both, its intensity leaving the listener both elated and shaken.

“Zipangu” is the name for Japan used by Marco Polo in his famed travelogue. In it he describes stores of “gold in great abundance,” and a palace whose “chambers, of which there are many, are paved with fine gold to a depth of more than two fingers’ breadth.”

He goes on to describe an ill-fated campaign to Japan sent by “the Great Khan” (Kublai), which failed owing to the “great jealousy between the two commanders” and their unwillingness to cooperate. Details of the campaign and their gruesome punishments upon their return are described, alongside other details and stories of the island nation and its people.

The salient context for all of this is the fact that Marco Polo never traveled to Japan, but, rather, relays his accounts based on legend and hearsay. It’s that air of mystery that Vivier encapsulates in his piece, an island that “no trader, nor indeed anyone else, goes from the mainland,” and a land that beat back Kublai Khan’s armies.

One of the curious threads running through all three pieces from Edge of the World’s first half is the depiction of imagined places: Baudelaire’s invented city, countries never visited by Rameau, and an island that even the great traveler Marco Polo could not reach. Our time faces an opposite problem – a world that’s too known, too within reach – a state which might be cause for some degree of subconscious claustrophobic existential angst; until we get warp drive, we’re stuck in this box.

But it’s all in our heads.

Just because we can Street View the Taj Mahal, doesn’t mean we can come close to understanding what it means to be in its presence. It also doesn’t mean that our memory of it won’t fade or that the place itself will stay the same, so that it might feel entirely new returning years, months, weeks later. We owe it to ourselves to explore, even if it’s a local neighborhood, in fact, especially if it’s a local neighborhood. There’s fear in taking that leap, but there’s wonderment, too.

-Michael Unterman

A Far Cry performs Edge of the World on Friday, September 21 at 8pm at NEC’s Jordan Hall and Saturday, September 22 at 7:30pm at Wellesley College’s Jewett Arts Center.

For background on Edge of the World’s final work, the premiere of Mehmet Sanlikol’s A Gentleman of Istanbul, see the composer’s note. A Far Cry will also present an in depth look at Sanlikol’s piece, featuring the composer’s commentary, on Saturday, September 22 at 3pm at St. John’s Church, presented free to the public with the support from the Free for All Fund.

A Gentleman of Istanbul

“A GENTLEMAN OF ISTANBUL”

Symphony for Strings, Percussion, Piano, Oud, Ney & Tenor

with Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol, piano, oud, ney, voice

and George Lernis, drum set, tam tam (gong), tubular bells, glockenspiel

Evliya Çelebi (çelebi: a title of distinction during the Ottoman period meaning ‘gentleman’) was an unusual Ottoman traveler, known today largely through his exceptional travelogue, the Seyahatname, probably the longest travel account ever written. Born in Istanbul in 1611 Evliya was a curious and an unconventional person who was educated in the Ottoman court. His is a sophisticated depiction of the known world through the eyes of a 17th century Ottoman Muslim; it has drama and color, darkness and light as well as tragedy and humor. Indeed, when these days the stereotyping of Muslims is so common it is this expansive cosmopolitanism I found in Evliya’s world that inspired me to compose this concert piece. I am convinced that anyone who enters this fascinating world will come out of it changed.

The four qualities I chose to emphasize from Evliya’s travelogue are the scientific (based on observation), the tragic, the fantastic, and the historic. While all excerpts share an element of fantasy (i.e. one hundred thousand men at Kaya Sultan’s funeral, Alexander with two horns, etc.) there is still a distinction in Evliya’s writing between the real and the surreal. For example, to preview the stories that inspired two of the movements you will be hearing, Ottoman Muslims truly believed that Alexander was a prophet who possessed two horns (4th movement); whereas the vegetarian dervishes of the 3rd movement are a completely made-up story, so far as we know. In fact, this has been a constant subject of debate among historians studying Evliya: what is real and what is not? In the end, no matter which quality he may be reflecting on he is always a storyteller, prone to exaggeration; observation is always amplified to better communicate the subject matter. So, in the first movement, we may think that Evliya is exaggerating when writing about the “clocks in the forms of various creatures, with moving eyes, hands and feet” (see the excerpt in the first movement below) but, it turns out that there really were such clocks back in 17th century in Austria and Germany!

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(A fully automatic German clock with all joints and eyes of the rider capable of moving (ca. 1610)

In order to best reflect on Evliya’s dizzying scope as well as the richness of 17th century Ottoman culture, I have incorporated an unusual variety of musical styles and solo instruments in this composition including concert music, jazz, African polyrhythms and various types of Turkish music. While the first movement, “The Clocks and Bells of Vienna”, is influenced by Bartok and features the oud and percussion, the second movement, “The Death of Kaya Sultan”, is a jazz ballad with piano. The third movement, “The Vegetarian Dervishes”, is a mixture of Turkish Sufi and African musics featuring the ney (end-blown flute), whereas the fourth movement, “Alexander the Great”, incorporates characteristics of classical Ottoman/Turkish music followed by Koranic chant which is then followed by Penderecki-like new music. However stylistically eclectic the piece may be, the four movements are based on the classical symphonic structure: a fast first movement in sonata form, a slow ballad for the second movement, a triple meter third movement (in this case alternating between six beats and three beats), and a fast last movement with which I take the most liberties inspired by the programmatic nature of the text.

In the end, my aim was to create a musical world as rich, colorful, diverse, and cosmopolitan as Evliya’s amazing travelogue. Ultimately, through this piece, I am aiming to be a 21st century Evliya.

Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol

***

The Clocks and Bells of Vienna – Allegro

Evliya the observer:

“Shopkeepers are to be found on a number of streets and, the bazaars of the watchmakers, goldsmiths, book-printers, barbers and tailors are so fancy that they are decked out like Chinese picture galleries. And the shops are unequaled in the operation of wonderful objects and strange instruments. Alarm clocks, clocks marking prayer times, or the month and day, or the signs of the zodiac, clocks on a monthly or daily calendar, chiming wall clocks are produced. And, they make all kinds of clocks in the forms of various creatures, with moving eyes, hands and feet, so the viewer thinks those animals are alive; whereas those great masters make them move with wheel mechanisms to turn them into clocks. Also, however many mills there are in the city, not a single one is turned by a horse or an ox or a man. The mills — and the kebab skewers, buckets of water drawn from wells, even the carriages traveling in the countryside — all move without horses or oxen but by way of devious and devilish yet artistic clockwork wheel mechanisms…

The largest clock bell is on this tower [of Stephansdom] which is as large as the dome of a Turkish bath. It’s hammer is as big as a horse’s belly so that when at noon time this clock hits twelve, the bell is heard from as far as two days’ journey. During Winter time in order to avoid the bell from cracking they place a felt cloth in front of the hammer as a result of which the hammer doesn’t have much impact. And, there are forty, fifty different ways of sounding the bell when the Tatars attack the city (and on similar terrible days) as well as on feast days of St. Nicholas, St. Demetrius, St. George, Easter, and on those days when the king has known duties. There are forty infidel servants who, at times, will sound the bell but, most times, when it’s time has come the bell will sound automatically… When the time has come, first this Stephansdom’s great bell goes off and before the sound of it’s first hit is over all of the bells of the clock towers inside the castle of Vienna will start sounding as they have found a surprising way of communicating.”

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The Death of Kaya Sultan – Jazz Ballad

Evliya the epic storyteller:

“Kaya Sultan’s months and days were fulfilled, and all the sultanas and sisters and friends, and all the experienced women and skilled midwives of physician-like disposition were present at the time of her delivery. God be praised, as on that blessed night forty complete Koran recitals and forty thousand invocations of the Prophet were being recited, Creator of the universe, God brought forth from Kaya a pure-starred daughter just as He had brought forth Salah’s she-camel. There were joy and celebration that night both in the Eyüb Sultan mansion and the city [Istanbul] until the morning by which time the pasha had given away ten purses as alms. Kaya Sultan also gave forty purses, and five hundred men were clothed in all sorts of garments after which they offered benedictions.

But God did not provide help as the placenta, which is supposed to come down the uterus and exit the mother’s womb during the afterbirth, in the case of Kaya, who was a big woman, remained stuck in the womb, attached to her heart. So that night and the next morning in the city of Eyüb, joy and celebration turned to grief and woe, and the bliss of the pasha and of all the retainers and servants turned to torment. They placed the sultana in blankets and shook her mercilessly. Twice they suspended her upside down and, they filled a honey barrel with orange-flower water and put her inside. To make a long story short, they tortured her so much for three days and nights that all the pleasures she ever enjoyed in this world were forced out of her… At last, four days after giving birth, Kaya Sultan died…

They carried the dead sultana to the mosque of Ebâ Eyyûb-ı Ensari, where one hundred thousand men performed a service crying and lamenting; then by the dock they placed Kaya’s bier on the Bostancıbaşı’s boat, reciting the verse “embark on it; both it’s sailing and it’s mooring is by the name of God. No doubt, God is most forgiving and protecting.” [Koran 11:41] And they proceeded to take Kaya with a thousand boats amidst the prayers of teachers and scholars…

In sum, if they were to compose an elegy of a thousand verses for this Kaya Sultan, they could not even begin to describe her noble character and pleasant disposition”.

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The Vegetarian Dervishes – Semai

Evliya the novelist:

“My slaves, Kazım and Sührab were up and observing in all directions as I was never in the absence of observers since I was advised to do so in the cities of Ibrim and Say [southern Egypt and northern Sudan]. Suddenly, “master, two men appeared and we cannot tell what they are riding but they are about to come here” said the servants. So I answered “be alert with your weapons as always” and got busy eating a watermelon. Then they came by, both white men, and as I was saying that I have never seen the animals they were riding, a beautiful Bektashi horn sounded upon which this poor one stood up and greeted the riders. As they approached I understood that these were two strong and handsome Bektashi dervishes, lovers of God, who eventually got off their animals and sat down with bridles in hand. I quickly said “servants, take the animals out for a walk” but the dervishes said “no, these animals do not come near men who eat the meats of dead animals that once had souls, and such men cannot approach them too”. Baffled, I said “really?”

One of them was riding a majestic rhinoceros… And the other one was riding an animal definitely not different than a mule but with thin black horns by the ears… Since we had camel meat and chicken I offered good food but they cried “no, we gave up eating those once living seven years ago”. I asked what the reason was, so they cried “we, three brothers, were traveling from India to Ethiopia on Indian ships when Portuguese infidels took our ships and jailed us as slaves inside the hold of a ship. The Lord works in mysterious ways: when one of our brothers died they made kebab out of his dead body and made us eat him – during an entire month we both ate him – but, after a month, while journeying in the ocean a storm destroyed our ship and we were able to escape to a great island where we purified our bodies in a river, offered two prayers of gratitude, and swore never to eat those who had souls. That’s why.” And they continued “the next day, these animals came to us in a friendly manner and by way of sign language asked us to ride them. So, we have been wandering with these animals during the past seven years”.

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Alexander the Great – Devr-i Kebir & Vivace

Evliya the historian:

“According to the true reports of, first of all, the historians of Greeks, Arabs and Persians; and the true historian Mıkdisi son of Bey Hakı-i Yarmeni; and his excellency Sultan Şerefeddin-i Abbasi, author of the Şerefname and the forefather of the noble Khan of the Abbasid dynasty: since Alexander had two horns of firm flesh on his forehead he was called Alexander the Zülkarneyn [lit. two-horned]. According to some, thirty-two years is called a karn and the sphere of the universe revolves once in thirty-two years. Since Alexander experienced two such karns or global revolutions, they called him Zülkarneyn but, karn also means horn in Arabic. So, the most correct report is that he was called Zülkarneyn because of his horns. However, Alexander could not get one hour’s restful sleep because of the pain from these horns, and none of his physicians could find a cure for it. Finally, while he was searching for a cure according to the suggestion of his physicians and scholars this blessed revelation from Lord God came upon Alexander: “O Zülkarneyn, Gog and Magog are ravaging this land.” [Koran, 18:94] Following this blessed command he went with all his doctors and physicians seeking the water of life to the land of darkness, passed beyond the sea of darkness, built the wall of Gog, and on his return he expended much effort again seeking the water of life for the pain of his horns and for eternal life; but when he found no trace of it he despaired for the cure of life and washed his hands of it”.

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*All of the above excerpts from Evliya Çelebi’s Seyahatname (The Book of Travels) were based on translations by Robert Dankoff which were further edited by Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol.  

I would like to thank my wife, Serap Kantarcı Sanlıkol, for her everlasting support and encouragement; my mother, Fethiye Sanlıkol, for setting me on this path as my first piano teacher; Carole Friedman for believing in my music and watching out for me; Robert Labaree for always coming to my help whenever I need him; Fatma Durmaz Yılbirlik for providing unconditional support toward my music; the TBF LAB grant team for understanding the importance of this project; and to all the criers for inviting me into their wonderful circle once again.

Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol


Edge of the World notes

John Corigliano (b. 1938) :: Voyage (1976)

John Corigliano is arguably one of our era’s most prolific and protean composers. Throughout his career, Corigliano’s works have moved audiences in both concert halls and movie theaters, garnering multiple Grammy Awards, an Academy Award, the Pulitzer Prize, and other honors. In addition to his work as a composer, Corigliano has instructed and guided numerous young composers as a member of the composition faculty at the Juilliard School, and elsewhere.

Charles Baudelaire’s L’Invitation au Voyage provides the inspirational backbone to the work, which, in its original version (1971), was written for a cappella choir (text translation by Richard Wilbur). In his own note about the piece, Corigliano writes: “Wilbur’s poignant setting pictures a world of obsessive imagination – a drugged version of heaven full of sensual imagery. The music echoes the quality of the repeated refrain found in this lush translation: ‘There, there is nothing else but grace and measure, richness, quietness and pleasure.’”

Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764) :: Suite from Les Indes galantes

Les Indes galantes (“The Amorous Indies”) premiered on August 23, 1735 in Paris. It was the third opera for Rameau, who had made a name for himself as a music theorist a decade earlier, then increasingly gained recognition and respect as a composer, first of harpsichord suites, and then opera. Elsewhere in Europe, Johann Sebastian Bach had recently celebrated his fiftieth birthday. Unbeknownst to either of them, the Baroque era was reaching its pinnacle—and now even had a name.

The composer was fifty years old in 1733 when he finally had the opportunity to make his debut as an operatic composer with Hippolyte et Aricie. It made an indelible impact, and it was the reviews of the opera as “baroque” (misshapen) that became synonymous with both the composer and his time.

Les Indes galantss was performed 64 times in the two years between its premiere and 1737, and underwent numerous revisions and changes over the next almost 30 years. The opera’s main literary conceit, told over the span of four acts (or “entrées”), is transplanting stories of mythological figures and the paths and fates of humans in love from European settings to the “Indies” (i.e. somewhere “exotic”). Specifically, these locales include an island in the Indian Ocean, South America, the Middle East, and North America. The last act, set in North America, contains one of Rameau’s most recognizable tunes Les Sauvages, which made its first appearance in his harpsichord suite in G major (RCT 6) approximately nine years earlier. It was directly inspired by the 1725 visit of several Native American tribal chiefs to the court of Louis XV and the tribal dances at they were invited to perform at court.

Claude Vivier (1948-1983) :: Zipangu (1980)

Often described as “visionary” and “distinctive,” the works of Claude Vivier are a testament to the vivid imaginative qualities held by this Canadian composer whose life was tragically cut short when he was murdered in his mid thirties. In the end, he left behind a rich catalog of around 50 works, which include a variety of genres (and an invented language). Perhaps the greatest influence on Vivier was his period of study with Karlheinz Stockhausen, the result of winning a scholarship to study in Europe when he was twenty-three years old.

In 1976 Vivier traveled throughout Asia, including Japan. With Zipangu, one of his final works, he turned again to the region, and to his obsession with Marco Polo. In his program note for the work, Vivier expounds:

“’Zipangu’ was the name given to Japan at the time of Marco Polo. Within the frame of a single melody I explore in this work different aspects of color. I tried to ‘blur’ my harmonic structure through different bowing techniques. A colorful sound is obtained by applying exaggerated bow pressure on the strings as opposed to pure harmonics when returning to normal technique. A melody becomes a color (chords), grows lighter and slowly returns as though purified and solitary.”

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

Musical portraits!

This weekend's concert set brings music and visual art right next to each other, with each work inspired by a painting. You'll hear the music - but here's your chance to take a good look at the art! 

Pictures at an Exhibition (arranged) 

Mussorgsky's amazing work brings a set of portraits by his friend Viktor Hartmann to ravishing life. Below are two of the surviving pieces (many are lost) - representing the Great Gates and the Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks. More info on all the pictures can be found here. 

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William Grant Still's exquisite "Mother and Child" was inspired by this mesmerizing work by Sargent Johnson, residing in the SF MOMA. 

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Respighi's "Botticelli Tryptich" focuses in on 3 sublime paintings: Spring, The Adoration of the Magi, and The Birth Of Venus. It's a match made in heaven, Respighi makes music sound straight-up ravishing, and Botticelli's works already have us swooning. 

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Finally, Jessica Meyer's "Grasping for Light" references Whistler's "Nocturne: Blue and Silver, Battersea Reach. You can look at it here, but... if you're seeing this concert, you'll be at the Gardner Museum, so if you possibly can, go stand in front of the original and take it in! 

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Grasping for Light: An interview with Jessica Meyer

A Far Cry is thrilled to be presenting a world premiere written by Jessica Meyer in our season opener this weekend at the Gardner Museum. Jessica's an inspiration to all of us; a brilliant composer and violist whose works have a freshness that allows you to "see" differently while you're listening to them. She spent a week with us in the Gardner Museum last spring, and this new piece, titled "Grasping for Light" started to emerge. We asked her some questions, and boy, did we get answers! 

You started thinking about this piece last spring, on a week-long residency at the Gardner. What was it like to spend that time in Isabella's space; what struck you? 

Isabella's space is simply... amazing.  To have art grouped together in such a beautiful yet specific way provided such a thought-provoking context.  It was an honor to live in the museum's apartment for a week, to wake up and read books about her and the artists she chose to surround herself with, and to visit (and revisit) the different rooms throughout the week.  I have since been to Venice and saw the palazzo that was her "home away from home".  The best part of all is that I got to know an extremely interesting person whose personality was as large as her collection.

"Grasping for Light" references a Whistler painting; what's your experience of the painting, and how do you think it might differ from Isabella's? 

Upon arriving, I was concerned that the collection was going to overwhelm me and that choosing just one (or a few) works for inspiration would be a struggle.  However, on the first day, from the moment I entered the famed "Yellow Room", this painting just sucked me in.  I stood in front it slack-jawed for quite a while, and knew without a doubt that it would be my inspiration.  

james-mcneill-whistler-nocturne.jpg

Here is an interesting tidbit from an article posted online which tells of how fascinated Isabella was with the painting:

..."when perplexed by an annoying problem" she liked to go and "sit quietly before a beautiful object . . . the problem tended to solve itself in the process." One such beautiful “object” was James McNeill Whistler’s Nocturne, Blue and Silver: Battersea Reach, considered a bold purchase in its day for its daring abstraction and supposed “lack of finish.”  But surely that’s what attracted Gardner most. Here was an acclaimed artist thinning his paint and quickening his brush strokes not to obscure the Thames night scene, but rather to depict it more accurately through a cloak of fog. It was mesmerizing.

Many people did not appreciate Whistler's work at the time - feeling it was too stark or thrown together.  However, I read that his use of color routinely caught her eye, and she defended his choices often.  For me, my first experience of the painting was intensely emotional, which might have been different from Isabella's.

Would you describe the genesis of the work and its inspiration? 

 Besides the mesmerizing effect the painting had, I was struck by how dense it was, and how the subtle layers drew you in.  However, I also came to see it as a metaphor - specifically about depression.   My father had just died a few months before my residency, and the depression that follows such an event can make you feel like you are trapped in that very fog you see in the painting.  It can be so debilitating.  It's as if you are wearing ten leaden dentist aprons at once and can't move.  As I found out more about Isabella's life and how her collection came about, I discovered that she had a son who died while he was a toddler.  He was her pride and joy.  Upon his death, she became depressed for quite some time, especially when it was clear that she could not have another child.  Eventually, the doctor simply prescribed "travel" as the best antidote, after which she discovered the world and her passion for art - so much so that she started routinely buying it.   Essentially, it was out of this darkest time she discovered what she was meant to become.  In the Whistler, you have these tiny specs of light colored paint that draw you through the fog the longer you look at the work.   The work I have written for A Far Cry uses sound to express the different feelings related to getting through a physical and mental fog in order to emerge on the other side of the river where the light is.

Does "Grasping for Light" feel like a natural part of your "catalog of works" or is it an outlier in some way? 

In one way, I feel it is a natural part of the collection of works I have written so far because it uses almost all of the compositional techniques I have been developing over the past few years.  I enjoy varying ensemble textures in different harmonic and rhythmic ways to express various emotional states, and it was really fun using the full palette of string colors I have come to know after so many years as a player.  However, what could make it qualify as an outlier is that this is the first piece I have written for so many solo parts.

What inspired you to write so many distinct solo string parts in this piece? 

Having played in many, many string sections throughout my life, there is one thing I find myself repeatedly explaining to my clarinetist husband: when winds and brass play in groups, often they are one on a part.  Of course, they have to blend, tune, match articulation, etc - but everyone usually gets ownership of their own part. Conversely, when you are playing in a string section, you are almost always playing the same part with many people and it is a specific craft to be able to play in a section well. On occasion, I have performed in viola sections that were so tight that if someone was bouncing in a slightly different part of the bow with a slightly different kind of stroke, it was very obvious.  One also usually has to know how different one needs to play when you are sitting in the front, middle, or back of a string section.  Therefore, when a string orchestra is playing with the typical 5 sections, the energy is simply different than when everyone gets to have their own part to express.  This was evident when I saw A Far Cry perform in Jordan Hall while I was there in March. Your performance of Beethoven's Op. 135 was gorgeous and elegant, but when you performed Strauss's "Metamorphosen - a study for 23 solo strings" ...the energy of all of you putting all of yourselves into your own parts blew me away.  I know how that feels as a player, and I wanted to give you all the opportunity to be able to "go there" again.

How does being a violist allow you to write the best music?  (AKA does that "middle perspective) inform your work? 

For the past (*cough*) 30 + years I have been sitting in the middle of everyone as a violist.  From that perspective, you get to hear most things equally from the bottom up, and your part is usually about being the glue between what the lower voices and upper voices are doing while influencing the phrasing and momentum as you can.   This is probably why I am so fascinated by rhythm, counterpoint, and texture as a composer - because those are things that violists are often most aware of.

What do you think A Far Cry will find challenging about your piece? And conversely, what are you looking forward to hearing? 

Having a piece that is so texturally dense at times will be a challenge for an unconducted orchestra to put together quickly (let's face it...time is always an issue).  However, I made it so that the pulse just clicks along at the same rate - so once everyone is grooving in the same way and knows how it goes, it will be OK.  I can't wait to finally get to hear it in rehearsal!  There will certainly be things to quickly tweak in regards to color and individual dynamics to make it gel and that moment is always nerve-wracking, but that comes with the territory.   However, I am really looking forward to hearing all of the expressive colors everyone can make, with the virtuosity that I know all of the Criers are capable of, while playing from the bottom of their hearts.

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.