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.  

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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


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


BY STOCK:

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


BY IRA CHARITABLE ROLLOVER:

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

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

Next Generation notes

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Composer Profile: Galina Ustvolskaya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy digging.

-Michael

Project STEP night!

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

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

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

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

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

See you on the 18th! 

Fresco notes

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Kathryn J Allwine Bacasmot

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

NEC Prep School Competition Winners

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

Sean Diehl: 

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

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

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

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

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

Keina Satoh: 

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

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

Julide San: 

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

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

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