Gravity program notes

Arvo Pärt (b. 1935) :: Silouans Song

The Estonian Pärt had compositional beginnings in serialism and atonality, which earned him an official slap on the wrist from the Soviet government. That, however, was not the catalyst for his change of style. After taking time to reevaluate his compositional methods in the late 1970s, along with studying Bach, Gregorian chant, and Russian Orthodox sacred music, Pärt arrived at a new compositional philosophy that he called “tintinnabulation” (“bells”). He explained: “Tintinnabulation is like this. Here, I am alone in silence. I have discovered that it is enough when a single note is beautifully played...I build with the most primitive materials – with the triad, with one specific tonality. The three notes of a triad are like bells. And that is why I call it tintinnabulation.”

Tintinnabuli, the ringing/sound of bells, alludes to the mathematical division of a note’s sound wave into the overtone series - the basis of Western music theory and its harmonic progressions - which is heard in the chaotic timbre of a ringing bell. Essentially, if you strike a single note, you are not just hearing that note but an entire sequence working together. Thus, when you hear A-natural you also sympathetically hear other tones from the A scale in a sequence of 5ths, 4ths, 3rds, and so on: A, E, A, C-sharp, E, etc.—a musical universe orbiting a single note.

Silouan’s Song is named for the monk St. Silouan, reflecting Pärt’s personal devotion to the Russian Orthodox Church. In the music, you hear aspects of tintinnabulation, the simple revolution and contemplation of a select sequence of notes, buffered intermittently by silence, and a subtext of yearning for spiritual renewal.

Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001):: Aroura

Some artists bring to the world a very particular style of creative energy. They are skillful not only in producing works of art, but on a grander scale, fabricating entire parallel, metaphysical universes. Hieronymus Bosch and Franz Kafka are examples. Iannis Xenakis was amongst them.

Xenakis, however, had a unique perspective. He had experience building actual physical structures, too, as he went to work for famed French architect Le Corbusier whilst residing as a Greek refugee in Paris during World War II. The City of Light also gave him Olivier Messiaen as a composition teacher.

Trying to explain Xenakis briefly is difficult. The Readers Digest guide to Xenakis could be titled, Xenakis: Wagnerian Techniques on Steroids. Replace terminology like leitmotif with “set” and sliding chord transitions with “pitch time transformation” and off you go. The result might sound like total chaos on the surface, but the supporting theories on which the entire musical structure is built are exquisitely elegant. A newspaper article once aptly described the music of Xenakis as “craggily, joyously elemental music” that “turned collections of pitches and rhythms and instruments into a force of nature.” Music critic Alex Ross described Xenakis’ process as “looking at the orchestra as a scientist looks at a gas cloud.” In other words, what’s happening is far beyond the outer limits of traditional music theory. Architecture, mathematics, disregard of traditional tonal systems, and a consuming obsession with pitch time dimensions translated into music in the mind of Xenakis. His ideas emerge on paper as excruciatingly complex works, dense with layer after layer of scientific and philosophical properties.

Aroura (sometimes spelled Arura), composed in 1971, is preoccupied with “sonorous textures” of the earth, sound, and other scientific and natural phenomena. Throughout the music, these various textures are expressed through an assortment of traditional and extended instrumental techniques including a wide range of dynamics, pizzicato, ricochet, glissando and harmonic glissando, tremolo, and scratching, to name a few.

Aaron Jay Kernis (b. 1960) :: Musica Celestis

Medieval music theorists believed the universe, in its mathematical purity, vibrated with a kind of “music.” There were three types, musica universalis, musica humana, and musica instrumentalis. They descended in levels of perfection.

The concept is beautiful. Followed through, its logical conclusion is that everything is music – including you and me. The act of composing music is then something like ripping open the fabric of our universe, grasping the edges with your hands and stepping through to participate in an ongoing concert. Musica Celestis (“heavenly music”) takes that principle as its inspiration, as well as the music of the 10th century German mystic, Hildegard von Bingen.

Kernis says the work “follows a simple, spacious melody and harmonic pattern through a number of variations (like a passacaglia) and modulations, and is framed by an introduction and codas.” Within the overarching harmonic progression of the piece there is tucked inside an implied harmonic progression that traverses the endless interlocking relationships of every key signature by the interval of a 5th. Using that circle, it tosses a lasso out into space, catching the infinite within the small confines of measures dotted with notes.

Béla Bartók (1881-1945) :: Divertimento for Strings (1939)

Bartók was in the twilight of his life when Paul Sacher (1906-1999), founder of the Basel Chamber Orchestra, approached him with the commission for a new work, which emerged in the space of just fifteen days as the Divertimento for Strings. By definition, divertimenti are meant to be somewhat casual in nature. To some degree, that holds true as a description for this piece, but just as the creeping shadow of war continued to haunt Europe, the “night music” (a term apparently approved of by Bartók as a descriptor for his compositions with a shaded quality) of the middle movement seeps under the door frames of the outer movements adding a jolting chill. Germany invaded Poland just after Bartók fulfilled this commission.

Contrasts abound. Dance-like qualities sit next to morose melodies; folk idioms and raw shifting meters are juxtaposed with the polish of a Baroque concerto grosso, pitting a small group (concertino) against the whole (ripieno). Multi-voiced fugues inject order into chaos. It’s music that’s trying to live up to its title, acting as a not-so-serious diversion from a world about to be turned upside down, injecting the hope of first light into threatening darkness. The intense whirling energy of the final movement seems to clench its fists and grit its teeth with determination toward that end.

In a poignant turn of events, the composer who put so much effort into documenting the folk music of his native Hungary and integrating it into his work was forced to leave for New York City, and watch from across the water as his homeland sided with Germany. The Divertimento for Strings was the last piece he wrote in Europe. He would die of leukemia in the United States.

Osvaldo Golijov (b. 1960):: Tenebrae

Golijov explains: “I wrote Tenebrae as a consequence of witnessing two contrasting realities in a short period of time in September 2000. I was in Israel at the start of the new wave of violence that is still continuing today, and a week later I took my son to the new planetarium in New York, where we could see the Earth as a beautiful blue dot in space. I wanted to write a piece that could be listened to from different perspectives. That is, if one chooses to listen to it ‘from afar,’ the music would probably offer a ‘beautiful’ surface but, from a metaphorically closer distance, one could hear that, beneath that surface, the music is full of pain. I lifted some of the haunting melismas from Couperin’s Troisieme Leçon de Tenebrae, using them as sources for loops...The compositional challenge was to write music that would sound as an orbiting spaceship that never touches ground.”

Namesake to Golijov’s composition are the three Tenebrae (Latin for “darkness”) services, on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday of Holy Week in the Christian faith. Each night begins in light and ends in shadow as fifteen ceremonial candles are extinguished one by one following the reading of each Psalm. Eventually all candles in the church are put out and the congregation is engulfed in utter darkness – save for the light of one candle representing hope. The people then dismiss into the night.

The tension of the shadows sustain this haunting music in mid-air, caught between darkness and light, their metaphorical doubles of despair and hope in prolonged meditation.

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.

Reflections on Legacy

It’s not every day that you meet a new group of people and immediately feel a familial warmth and comfort as they invite you in, all smiles, to their cozy storefront home.

Sure enough, it happened on the first day I walked into rehearsal with A Far Cry for the Legacy program. I was nervous but excited about joining the Criers for this program, especially being invited to join the illustrious Pamela Frank as a soloist in Vivaldi’s concerto for four violins. But as soon as we tuned up and began reading Haydn’s “Trauer” Symphony, I knew it was going to be amazing.

Throughout the week, I got to know the Criers and their stories. Rehearsal breaks were always a lively opportunity to talk to someone new and try a homemade brownie. I observed the Criers seamlessly transition between productive rehearsal mode and relaxed social mode. I had a heartwarming conversation with Karen, who happens to be a Toronto native like myself!

I asked a lot of questions. I got to try some of the Criers’ instruments. I got a 20 minute consultation session with Howard about my posture, and did a spontaneous short video for the concert livestream. I learned how to express a musical idea in the most eloquent and positive tone of voice. I adopted Karl’s catchy way of saying ‘cool’ when the group agreed on something.  

What was perhaps most inspiring was simply hanging out with this dynamic and passionate group, not so much older than I am, doing incredible things in and outside of A Far Cry. Some members are baroque performance practice experts, others maintain active teaching studios, AND they have cool hobbies and beautiful families.

Being on the border of conservatory student and full time professional, I’m asking the ‘big’ questions about my profession and my contribution to the classical music community. (ex. Why did I choose to do this for life, and what unique values am I bringing into this industry? What makes my music worth listening to, and why should people be excited about classical music in 2019?) Getting to talk about the birth of AFC, of what it took to make them such a successful group both on and off-stage, gave me tons of bright ideas. Playing with the group gave me lots of answers.

It was truly a privilege to work with such thoughtful, respectful and uplifting personalities. From the get go, I felt like I could express myself through the music as freely and passionately as possible. The floor was open to individual ideas, which found their way to integrate into one cohesive musical interpretation. A Far Cry is a model of leadership, musical excellence and creativity, and I want to thank them once again for having me!

Sophia Szokolay

Sophia is an NEC Fellow for the 2018-2019 season

Arranging the Goldbergs

There’s a reason why the Goldberg Variations do what they do.

But what – exactly – is it?

I can’t say that that was the specific question on my mind when I first proposed this project to the members of A Far Cry. But it wasn’t far off, either.

The Variations are such an amazing study in creativity; in the power of mathematics, in the use of memory in music. They conjure up worlds, one by one. Big ones, small ones, profound ones, funny ones, cathartic, tragic, egotistical, jazzy, pastoral, you name it, JSB has it warmed up and waiting for you.

That’s why arranging them is such a pleasure. So many different things are possible – and the greater the forces at your disposal, the further down the rabbit hole you can go. The thing is: each variation is perfect for keyboard but also holds little clues within it that open up more possibilities. Is it evoking a trio sonata? A French overture? Or is it channeling a jazz bar with a perfectly swinging bass line? What about that Quodlibet?

But that sense of possibility also opens the door to a danger: in releasing – or evoking - the spirit inhabiting the variation by re-arranging it, you’ve now produced a perfectly nice… arrangement. Well, that’s great. But why not simply stick to the keyboard version and let the listeners create their own evocations for themselves? Why mess with it?

This is exactly why we knew that one of the most important things we’d have to do to make this meaningful would be to partner with an exquisite keyboardist who loved the Goldberg Variations as much as we did. I still can’t believe Simone Dinnerstein said yes to us when we approached her with this idea… but she did. And that made all the difference.

With Simone’s presence in these arrangements, we can actually combine what Bach wrote with what he implied. Sometimes, it’s as simple as having a variation played by the strings repeated by the piano, or vice versa. (Those repeats are really, really necessary – they make the piece three-dimensional! And we exploit most of them; it’s rare that we won’t explore new territory on a repeat.)

But really, that’s just the beginning. It can be just as fun to have the piano and strings intermingle, and there are a million ways to do that, tracing Bach’s different figures and pulling them apart, looking at them from every possible direction.

Fundamentally, what I love about arranging with these forces is that I never feel as though I’m arranging the Goldberg Variations “for” anything. Instead, I simply feel that I’m arranging the Goldberg Variations. It may seem like a small difference, but it puts you in a place defined by possibility and creativity, instead of restriction. If anything, as these variations continue to evolve and to grow, I hope that they move beyond anything I’ve imagined so far… into a new realm of creative purpose.

We’ll see how it goes!

- Sarah Darling

Introducing Zenas Hsu!

A new Crier! This might be our favorite part.

Zenas played with A Far Cry for years as a guest before joining the group in the way that every single new member does - by unanimous vote. And not just that; in the process, we also changed the number of violins in the group from 9 to 10! That’s like a thumbs-up that turns into an ice cream sundae that turns into a rainbow that turns into a Mozart melody.

And the truth of the matter is, Zenas was a Crier way before we ever voted. Last year when we were doing a program at the Gardner museum featuring Crier compositions, we extended an invitation to all the guests playing that set as well. Next thing we knew, we were playing a lovely piece by Zenas called “Books of Isabella.” On our most recent recording, Visions and Variations, Zenas doesn’t just play the violin - he’s also on the editing team. His curiosity, deep thinking, and joie de vivre have been making our rehearsals better since the very first time he played with us.

Also, his beautiful sound has DEFINITELY been making our rehearsals better. Most definitely.

Welcome on board; let’s see what we can create together!

The Goldberg Variations Program Notes

Within our musical vocabulary, there are a handful of pieces whose nicknames conjure up a wealth of emotional and intellectual wonder, visceral electricity, and pure, joyful adoration. “Tchaik 5” (or 6), “Hammerklavier,” or “Winter Wind,” for example, and “the Goldbergs.” Memorably, the Goldberg variations’ debut to modern society occurred in 1955, when a young, eccentric, Canadian pianist named Glenn Gould stepped into a recording studio. There, he made what has since become an iconic and legendary recording of the work (Pablo Casals did something similar for Bach’s Six Suites for Solo Cello in 1936). Since then, they have been recorded hundreds of times. Far from being redundant, each new rendition recaptures the imagination with seemingly endless nooks and crannies for exploration (aptly described in one NPR article as a “Rubik’s Cube of invention and architecture”). Like the dialogue of a fiercely witty movie, the interplay of relationships between the notes of the variations reveal themselves to the listener on a deeper level with every listen. There are even inside jokes, if you know them (and you will, by the end of this annotation).

Aria mit verschiedenen Veränderungen, “Aria with Diverse Variations,” was the original title for BWV 988. The nickname Goldberg comes from an account of events that has been revealed to be apocryphal due to lack of compelling evidence. That said, the compelling story has had such an impact on the music that it bears a brief re-telling. It originates in 1802 with Johann Nikolaus Forkel, Bach’s first biographer, who related an anecdote about Johann Gottlieb Goldberg—reportedly one of Bach’s students: “The Count [Hermann Carl von Kaiserling of Dresden] was often sickly, and then had sleepless nights. At these times Goldberg, who lived in the house with him, had to pass the night in an adjoining room to play something when the Count could not sleep. The Count once said to Bach that he should like to have some clavier pieces for his Goldberg, which should be of such a soft and somewhat lively character that he might be a little cheered up by them in his sleepless nights.” Thus, so the story goes, Bach wrote the Goldberg variations.

More likely, Bach wrote the variations as the culmination to his Clavier-Übung (“Keyboard Exercise”), a collection of harpsichord and organ works published in four parts from 1731-1741. Part I included the six Partitas, Part II consisted of the Italian Concerto and the Overture after the French Manner, Part III is a master compendium of organ works, and Part IV is the Goldberg variations. As a whole, the Clavier-Übung traverses every style and skill set a keyboardist would need to know.

The opening theme in the Aria owes its harmonic structure to one of Bach’s contemporaries, whom he admired greatly: George Frideric Handel. A side-by-side comparison of Handel’s Chaconne avec 62 variations (HWV 442) reveals an identical base in the first eight bars between the two works. One of the marvels of the Goldberg variations is the beautiful symmetry of the entire work. The thirty variations are divided into two “sections” of fifteen: Nos. 1-15, and Nos. 16-30. Including the Aria that appears both at the outset and the conclusion, Goldberg consists of thirty-two parts total. This macro piece structure is reflected in the microstructure of each variation, most of which are either 16 or 32 measures in length. There are only three minor key variations, the first being No. 15—the last variation of the first part. Variation No. 16 is marked “Overture” to herald the beginning of the second half. Every third variation is a canon at an increasing interval (i.e. No. 3 is a canon at the unison, No. 6 a canon at the second, No. 9 a canon at the third, etc.) up to the ninth, and culminates at No. 30 with a quodlibet—a combination of counterpoint and popular song. Here, towards the end of this lengthy musical journey, is where Bach’s sense of humor shows most prominently. The quodlibet includes popular melodies from Bach’s day, the words of which translate to “I have been away so long from you” and “Cabbage and turnips have driven me away (had my mother cooked meat, I’d have opted to stay).” After meandering through all the musical possibilities, staying almost entirely in the major mode and home key of G, the variations come to an end, and return home to the Aria once again.

Legacy program notes

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) :: Andante cantabile

By the time Tchaikovsky died in November of 1893, he was a famous man, not only in his homeland, but internationally as well. Just two years before, in 1891, he had been invited to be the shining centerpiece in the grand festival of concerts kicking off the opening of America’s first major orchestral concert space, Carnegie Hall. With six symphonies completed, plus multiple instrumental works (Serenade for Strings, 1812 Overture, etc.), operas, chamber music, and ballets, Tchaikovsky had firmly cemented his spot in history as one of the greatest Russian romantics.

He came to music a little late, since his parents never imagined he would become a musician. Soon he realized that music was his true passion, and so he left to begin studying at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory.

One characteristic that we appreciate and remember Tchaikovsky for is his great talent for melody. During his student days he became familiar with the works of Mozart—who is also remembered for his beautiful tunes—and would later exclaim, “I don’t just like Mozart, I idolize him.” Melody and emotion were Tchaikovsky’s hallmarks from the start, and that trait shone like a rare jewel catching and embracing the light in the slow movement of his String Quartet No. 1, Andante cantabile, that would later become a freestanding work of its own.

Its beauty famously captivated one legendary personality—Leo Tolstoy. Tchaikovsky recorded the following in his dairy: “Probably never in my life have I been so moved by the pride of authorship as when Leo Tolstoy, sitting by me and listening to the Andante of my Quartet, burst into tears.”

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) :: Concerto No. 10 for 4 Violins in B minor, RV 580

Italy has been home to virtuoso string instruments, players, and composers for hundreds of years. Among them, Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713), Francesco Geminiani (1687-1762), and Antonio Vivaldi. Each of them had a profound influence on music of the Baroque, and on composers such as Handel and J.S. Bach.

Vivaldi has contributed a vast amount of literature in the concerto form (totaling around 500). Some of these were written for solo instruments, while most were written in the Baroque concerto grosso format of concertino (or a small group of soloists functioning together) contrasted against the ripieno (the whole large ensemble). His first collection of concertos entitled L'Estro Armonico, or “harmonic inspiration,” was written in 1711. Included in L'Estro Armonico were twelve concertos for various combinations of two to four solo violins (like No. 10) with some including solo cello. These were written during Vivaldi’s tenure as master of violin at the Ospedale della pieta, an orphanage in Venice. Therefore, amongst the first musicians to perform L'Estro Armonico would have been the exceptional girls who formed the ensembles at the Ospedale.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) :: Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major, K. 218

In the years after Mozart’s tours of Europe as a child prodigy, he became a prolific teenager/twenty-something. Before moving to glittering Vienna to launch his adult career as a superstar, he was back in his hometown of Salzburg unhappily employed by the Archbishop, yet as productive as ever. During this time, he penned a list of compositions that reads like the lyrics to the holiday song, “12 Days of Christmas”:  sixteen minuets for orchestra, eight minuets for piano, six piano sonatas, five violin concertos, four symphonies, two church sonatas, two masses, and an opera. That’s not even half of his output during the decade, for included are a smattering of divertimentos and serenades—nearly one of each per year.

In his adulthood, Mozart primarily performed on the piano, but he was also exceptionally talented as a violinist (amazing his father at the ripe age of seven with his prowess on the instrument)—which is evident in the virtuosic demands of his concertos. In all, he wrote only five concertos for the violin. All of them were written in Salzburg, and all but one were written in 1775.

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) :: Symphony No. 44, Trauer”

We refer to Haydn as the “father” of the symphony, not because he invented the genre, but because he helped (along with Mozart, and Beethoven, his later contemporaries and successors) bring the form to its fullest potential and maturity. This was, in part, the luck of being born at the right time in history. The widespread establishment of equal temperament (tuning instruments so all pitches were equally spaced) in the 18th century was leading to broader possibilities of modulation between tonal centers, and as a result sonata form (the main building block in a symphony) was blossoming. As a master of form and structure, Haydn foresaw the possibilities.

It was in 1761 he went to work for the Esterházy family at their private estate—a stroke of fortune and opportunity. Up until then he had made a living as a freelancer, and then briefly as Kapellmeister in another court. Most of Haydn’s musical education had come from years of training in a Vienna choir school (until his voice broke, apparently embarrassingly in front of Empress Maria Theresa, herself), then self-instruction through books, and some formal training. The Esterházy family kept an orchestra comprised of some of the best instrumentalists in the region, which was a tremendous gift to Haydn (the more talented your musicians, the more interesting and challenging music you can write). At its largest point, the orchestra included between 22-24 members. Haydn not only wrote for them and directed them, but also enjoyed a close relationship with his colleagues. James Webster notes, Haydn “had full authority over the musicians, both professionally and in terms of their behavior; but he was close to many of them personally as well, often serving as godfather to their children.”  

Charles Rosen notes in his book The Classical Style that “what is most exceptional, not what is most usual, has often the greatest claim on our interest.” What made Haydn remarkable, and why we remember him, was his ability to explore the exceptions to the “rules” of form and style that were prevalent during his lifetime. He was constantly finding a way to modulate to a key that was unexpected, for example, and a sense of drama, humor, and dialogue seems to pervade his works even though the music is completely abstract.

Symphony No. 44, “Trauer” (“mourning”), which was completed in 1772, represents a work composed during Haydn’s “Sturm und Drang” (often translated as “storm and stress”) period—a kind of precursor to the more fully romantic style symphonies to come along with the next generation (including Haydn’s pupil, Beethoven). The transcendently beautiful slow movement of the symphony was apparently a favorite of the composer. He requested that it be performed at his own funeral.

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.

Contemplating a Legacy

Some thoughts from Jesse Irons on the two mentors celebrated in this weekend’s concert - Pamela Frank and her teacher in turn, Shirley Givens. The following has been published by the Boston Musical Intelligencer here!

When I first met Pam I was a freshman violin student at Peabody Conservatory, and my dear teacher Shirley Givens was so excited that her star pupil Pamela Frank was coming to solo with the Baltimore Symphony. Miss Givens had her ways and she finagled the entire studio to come to a dress rehearsal where Pam performed the Beethoven Violin Concerto and then had a chat with us directly after. It was a stunning performance and Pam had a incredible ability to to weave in and out of the orchestra texture: to soar above when needed, and to almost embed and strengthen the orchestra when that's what the part called for. It was an entirely egoless performance all about Beethoven's intention and the music was just alive and moving. 

About a year after that I had my first lesson with Pam. Miss Givens was away for the week, and had arranged for a very special guest teacher for all of us in her studio. I was extremely nervous but pulled out the concerto I've been working on: Mozart's 4th Violin Concerto in D Major. I remember playing through the first movement and being out of breath. Pam with a smile asked "how do you feel?" I said I was tired. And Pam looked at me and said, "You better not be tired, you have two more movements to play!" I was instantly smitten. After the lesson I bought her recording of the Mozart violin concertos and I've probably listened to her recording of the fourth concerto 100 times. In fact I used to tune my violin to it!

Eventually I ended up studying directly with Pam for 3 years. It was a dream come true. Every week new delights, new laughter, new insights, and my entire musical personality was fostered and nurtured and blossomed with her help.

Since helping to start A Far Cry in 2007, I made a habit every few years of checking in with Pam to see if she would play a concerto with us. Many of the Criers have personal connections with Pam, and when, a year and a half ago, Pam said "Yes!" we immediately got to work.

When I asked Pam what she was most excited to play with A Far Cry she said, "Well I just can't wait to play with you guys! With my old students!" Approximately a year ago, Pam and my mutual teacher Shirley Givens passed away, and commiserating about that and continuing discussions about what to play together, the program gained a new depth and richness. We're calling it Legacy and dedicating it to Miss Givens, but unlike many A Far Cry programs, there's no profound insight behind this this collection of pieces. It's really a chance to celebrate our favorite people, our favorite music, and the bonds - indeed the legacy - of teachers through generations. Miss Givens's favorites composer by a mile was Mozart - she once kicked a student out of her studio when they insisted they did not like Mozart - so Mozart figures prominently. Miss Givens was the consummate performer, always putting the audience fully at ease through her own obvious joy at being on stage. This is perhaps the most important lesson I learned from her, and I believe it's part of her legacy that AFC audience members often comment after concerts, "it looks like you Criers are having so much fun."

At the end of each year in Pam's studio, we would have a final studio class that would end with a bunch of multi-violin concertos all played together for fun. This Vivaldi concerto for four violins in b-minor was one of the ones we played. The four violin soloists will be Pam, two Crier violinists who are her former students, myself & Omar Chen Guey, and a wonderful current New England Conservatory student named Sophia Szokolay. In fact we're featuring young people throughout the orchestra from not only New England Conservatory, but NEC Prep School, as well as Project STEP. One of the most important things we Criers can do is work to pass on her own legacy to the next generation of string players, one of which I was shocked to learn has been attending AFC concerts since she was 5 years old.

This video is a treasure - Shirley Givens appearance on Chance of a Lifetime!

Legacy's generational guests

We’re thrilled to welcome an array of musicians from the next generation(s) to the stage to join us for Legacy this weekend! Our NEC Fellow, Sophia Szokolay, our Project STEP Fellow, Mateo Vidali, and our two NEC Prep Competition winners, Katherine Feng and Julide San, all came to this concert as a result of slightly different AFC programs and paths - and now, we’re all making music together.

Canadian violinist Sophia Anna Szokolay (pictured above) made her international solo debut in 2013, touring with the Győr Philharmonic Orchestra and giving recitals in Hungary. She has since performed throughout Canada, the United States, and Europe, and as a soloist with the Toronto Sinfonietta, Etobicoke Philharmonic, Laurentide Festival Orchestra, Taylor Academy Chamber Orchestra, Scarborough Symphony, Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra, and Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. A passionate chamber musician, Sophia is a founding member of the Ivani Quartet, first prize winners at the Plowman International Chamber Competition and Bronze medalists at the Fischoff Chamber Music Competition in 2017. Festival appearances include the Taos School of Music, Juilliard String Quartet Seminar, Orford Musique, Holland Music Sessions, Bowdoin String Quartet Fellowship, Toronto Summer Music, and Banff Masterclasses. In her spare time, Sophia enjoys working with organizations in Boston such as the New England Conservatory Preparatory School as an orchestral coach and student manager, and the Eureka Ensemble as co-concertmaster.

Hailing from a multi-generation family of musicians, Sophia began her violin studies at the age of 3. At 13 she was invited to study with David Zafer, Professor Emeritus of the University of Toronto. Sophia graduated from the Royal Conservatory of Music Taylor Academy under the tutelage of Barry Shiffman and Victor Danchenko in 2015, and is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree at the New England Conservatory, studying with Miriam Fried. Sophia plays on a 1679 Giovanni Grancino violin and Émile Ouchard bow, on generous loan from Tutti Violini.


Katherine Feng began her violin performance and music studies at the age of 5 at New England Conservatory Preparatory School. Since 2011, she has studied under Magdalena Richter. Previously, she studied under Susan Jarvis. She is currently a senior at the Lincoln Sudbury Regional High School.

Throughout her musical journey, Katherine has earned many accolades, including 1st Prize Bay State Competitions and 2nd Prize NEC Concerto Competition. She was the concertmaster for the Eastern District Orchestras, as well as numerous NEC Orchestras, including STO, SRO, JRO, and YRO. In 2016, Katherine's trio was invited to play in the Boston Chamber Music Society at MIT.

She is currently a member of NEC’s Youth Philharmonic Orchestra, and will be attending their upcoming tour to Central Europe this summer. In the past, she has toured with the Rivers School Orchestra to Venice and Croatia, and with the Youth Symphony to Ireland. This past summer, Katherine played alongside the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra as the youngest member of their summer program in Austria.

In her free time, Katherine teaches violin at the Lincoln Middle School and plays in many community performances. In addition to her passion for music, Katherine has a love for the sciences and is working towards her black belt in Krav Maga.


Julide San is an 18-year-old Turkish-Singaporean double bassist. In 2017 Julide won second prize in the New England Conservatory (NEC) Concerto Competition, and went on to win the 2018 and 2019 A Far Cry / NEC Prep Competitions consecutively. She has performed in concert halls such as Carnegie Hall, New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall, Harvard University Sanders Theater, Oslo Konserthus, Grieghallen, and Stavanger Konserthus.

Julide was born in Singapore. She started learning the piano when she was six, and then progressed to playing the drums after she moved to Tokyo, Japan when she was eight years old. Her interest in the double bass came three years later, when she moved to Victoria B.C., Canada. Under the tutelage of Mary Rannie, the principal of the Victoria Symphony and Gary Karr, world famous double bassist, Julide discovered her passion for the double bass. In 2014, Julide joined Gary Karr's Karr Kamp as the youngest student ever to attend, at the age of 13, 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 with Pascale Delache-Feldman at the NEC Preparatory Program and she currently studies with Lawrence Wolfe, NEC Studio Faculty and Assistant Principal of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Julide has been a part of the Greater Victoria Youth Orchestra, Toronto Youth Wind Orchestra, and has been the principal bassist of NEC’s Youth Philharmonic Orchestra since she was 15 years old. Julide attended the Perlman Music Program in 2018. Julide’s hobbies include traveling, scuba diving, community service, writing for the International Society of Bassists Magazine and her school’s newspaper, as well learning new languages and busking.


Mateo Vidali is a 9th grader at Wachusett Regional High School in Holden, MA.  He is a member of the Honors Quartet at Project Step and also plays in a quartet at NEC Prep.  Mateo is in the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra under the baton of Benjamin Zander. He studied for five years with Timothy Terranella at the Joy of Music in Worcester and currently is a student of Emmanuel Feldman at NEC Prep.  Mateo spent a year living in Madrid, Spain where he studied with Eduardo Palao, Artistic Director of Cfest, an international cello festival in Puebla, Mexico. Mateo’s passion is playing chamber music and his home away from home is Greenwood Music Camp where he has been a camper for the past five summers.  In his free time he loves to play ping pong, drink bubble tea, play Super Smash Brothers and spend time with friends. Mateo is extremely honored to be participating in this concert with A Far Cry!

Visions, Variations, GRAMMYS

We woke up this morning to a wonderful surprise! Visions and Variations has been nominated for TWO GRAMMY Awards, in the “Best Small Ensemble” and the “Best Engineered” category that highlights Jesse Lewis’s and Tom Caulfield’s outstanding work on the album.

Today has been a wonderful whirl of congratulations flying back and forth, musicians and groups going out of their way to recognize each other and wish each other well in the next stages. (Boston did beautifully in the nominations stage, and we’ll be heading to LA alongside members of the Boston Symphony and Boston Baroque in their respective categories.)

The feeling of instant validation is - let’s face it - hard to beat. It’s especially meaningful in this case because Visions and Variations is a stand-alone project; dreamed up by the Criers as an album that would really feature the orchestra as itself. 100 percent A Far Cry playing, frankly, some of the hardest music we’ve ever attempted. 45 different variations on this album. Perfectly wrought miniatures that we had to turn on a dime and execute, one after the other.

We were sweating blood by day three! There were snowstorms swirling and and stomach bugs flying as we shuttled to and from Worcester’s beautiful Mechanics Hall. We just kept going. Show up, drink some tea, rustle up some chocolate, warm up the fingers, make a plan, break’s over, time to tackle Variation 7. Alex made a habit of making up little poems to remind us to put our phones in Airplane Mode. Then Jesse’s voice would crackle over the speaker and we’d be on.

Funding was all accomplished through a Kickstarter project and we are so so SO grateful to everyone who stepped up in that process and became “a part” of the album. Without you, this project would never have come to pass. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

It’s the beginning of an adventure; now let’s see what happens at the awards in February!

Chamber Music with the Criers, Mary Berry, and Informality

I’ve been mulling on the concept of informality lately, spurred, I think, by an episode of The Great British Baking Show (original cast) in which a comment, delivered by Mary Berry on a contestant’s pastries - “they look a bit… informal” - was the most cutting critique I’ve witnessed in a while. In certain circumstances (or with a certain tone of voice) there can be nothing worse than to be informal, and a typical concert of classical music might be an apt example. Happily, then, the works on this program serve to push back against that premise, all intended for informal contexts, even as they exhibit consummate ingenuity and craft.

There’s an important informality about chamber music in general, in both its process and content. Particularly in the context of A Far Cry, there is a certain intensity of experience that comes with the full group dynamic, in which we must, by necessity, measure our words and take in others’ input a great deal more. Those skills of restraint serve us well in rehearsing chamber music, but we can also let loose a little more. Consequently, I’ve always looked forward to these opportunities as they allow me to see my AFC colleagues in a new light.

For composers, too, chamber music is often a step back from the big orchestral and operatic stages; not that the music is any less great, rather it’s a chance to get to know them on a sort of first-name basis. This was partially how we chose the works on this program, to have a chance to acquaint or reacquaint ourselves and our audience with some of these composers whose larger-scale works are upcoming in our season.

Grażyna (Bacewicz) [bah-TSEH-vich] was 34 when she wrote her Suite for Two Violins and already a superstar in the European musical scene, an extremely gifted, multi-faceted musician who had studied both violin (with André Touret) and composition (with Nadia Boulanger) at the Paris Conservatory. She was later scouted to be the concertmaster of the Polish Radio Symphony, a position which not only featured her playing, but also several new compositions. Of her pace of work, she said:

“I think to compose one has to work very intensely. One has to pause between composing different works, but interruptions shouldn’t be made when you are in the middle of writing a piece. I’m capable of working on one composition for many hours daily. Usually I take a break in the middle of the day, but even during the break my brain keeps on working. I like to get very, very tired. It’s sometimes then that I suddenly get my best ideas.” 

Grażyna’s burgeoning career was significantly curtailed during the occupation of Poland. The Suite for Two Violins was one of the few pieces written and premiered during that time, first performed in 1943 at one of the many underground concerts Grażyna took part in, in cafés and people’s homes. AFC will play her Concerto for Strings next month, a piece written in 1948, during a period of bursting creativity that followed the war.

Mozart en Route (or, A Little Traveling Music) by Aaron Jay (Kernis) was the piece written immediately following his Musica Celestis (which AFC will perform in April), representing a necessary and proverbial ridiculous to its predecessor’s sublime. Both pieces were a departure from Aaron Jay’s norms in that they were both inspired by Classical elements, in the case of Musica Celestis, by classical form, and for Mozart en Route, by classical content, as it quotes a section of W.A. Mozart’s Divertimento, K. 563, for string trio. The piece was inspired by a letter, written by Mozart, that describes a rough ride in a stagecoach: “for two whole stages I sat with my hands dug into the upholstery and my behind suspended in the air.” Now imagine that stagecoach had a mix CD in its stereo system that skipped from track-to-track at every bump and that pretty well sums up Mozart en Route.

Joseph (Haydn) published his Op. 20 string quartets in 1772, the same year as the “Trauer” Symphony that AFC will perform in January. Joseph became known to many as “Papa Haydn,” a reflection of his reputation as a teacher and an archetypal figure in the music world. He is also regarded as the father of the string quartet, and Op. 20 is often considered to be its official birthday, experimenting as it does with fully conversational interactions between the instruments. While the “birth of an art form” moniker puts the Op. 20 quartets on something of a pedestal, it’s important to remember that these quartets were not written for public performance in the concert hall, but for amateur performance in the home. Mind you, sometimes these amateurs were professionals, most notably, the quartet that featured the four composers Johann Vanhal, Karl von Dittersdorf, W.A. Mozart, and Joseph Haydn, who must certainly have played these quartets. The G Minor quartet, Op. 20 No. 3, is very much cut from the same cloth as the “Trauer,” severe and dark with a slow movement in the modal major (ie. G Major to the surrounding G Minor). 

Wolfie (Amadeus Mozart) was a kind of musical mercenary; the original self-made freelancer, he rebelled against his father and made his own way as a composer outside official church or court positions, writing music on his own terms with debonair swagger and audacious beauty. Anton Stadler, the clarinetist for whom he wrote both the Clarinet Concerto and Clarinet Quintet was a bit of a scoundrel himself. His first mention in Wolfie’s letters is as one of the “poor beggars” who performed his Wind Serenade, K. 375, and Wolfie later gave him the nickname “Notschibinitschibi,” which essentially means a folly-prone dunce. The quintet is a fair reflection of this chummy dynamic, predominantly warm and friendly, but giving way to more lighthearted hijinx in the later movements.

A Far Cry will perform these works with special guest clarinetist Rane Moore on Saturday, November 3, 3pm at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Jamaica Plain.