in: Reviews

January 31, 2010

A Far Cry in a Knock-out Performance in Jamaica Plain

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A young Boston string ensemble, now some three years on the scene and some 18 string players strong, each and every one literally full of youthfulness, played a concert at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Jamaica Plain Saturday afternoon, January 30. It was a repeat of their second series concert given at Jordan hall the night before. Whatever your musical preferences, it is likely that you would have been knocked out by their boundary-crossing performance of Concerto Per Corde of Alberto Ginastera.

The energetic “criers,” as the instrumentalists have dubbed themselves, are members of A Far Cry. With a neat name like that, you would expect business as usual to become a thing of the past. And it became just that—all for the unbelievable price of admission of $10! The ensemble appears to be carving a niche for itself in other ways as well. With all but the cellists standing instead of sitting, seeing really did become an integral and completely natural part of their concert. (Other Boston ensembles might want to take note).

In fact, there was a good deal to see as there was to hear, as a kind of ritual dance visually unfolded as they played. At times, certain individuals would catch your eye. Then would come those times when a whole string section would sweep together in physical sync, manifesting power and discipline in both sight and sound. And, at any time, you could take your eyes off the conductor-less ensemble and still catch the idea of their fiery brand of music-making.

With the sun on its way down on a cold winter’s day, a four o’clock start felt fresh, an ideal time to be thoroughly engaged with the likes of Italian Serenade by Hugo Wolf (1860-1903). It was wonderfully warm and ever so delightfully inviting at the hands of these youth. You could not escape admiring the genuine enthusiasm of these accomplished musicians, dead serious about attaining high levels of technical proficiency that was always in evidence and without any breaks in concentration.

Their opening with the Wolf set the stage perfectly for the Ginastera. The mother of a 15-year boy with her exclaimed to me, “Did you see my son? He had his head leaning out in the aisle. He was riveted!” A Far Cry’s account of the Ginastera became a visceral experience provoking stunning physical reaction. Scherzo fantastico, Adagio angoscioso (anguish) and Finale furioso–the movement headings of the concerto—are obvious indicators of outgoing, high-intensity musical expression. They took to these markings turning the score into a tour de force while overcoming a performance space whose effect suggested landing at Logan with ears plugged up from the descent.

Another repertory giant, Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence, combined unusually well with the Wolf and Ginastera, but A Far Cry’s rendering of the Russian’s memories of Italy needed toning down and breathing space. Sunnier climes of the Tchaikovsky especially succumbed to a voltage overload not at all helped by the acoustics of the old sanctuary at St. John’s.

Giving titles to concerts continues to be in vogue with many of today’s classical performing organizations. The program notes on “The Lover,” as A Far Cry entitled its concert, read in part: “The composers on the program tonight were all lovers, and as artists they felt the emotion of the wait perhaps more acutely than others, waiting to think clearly enough to compose, to gain acceptance, to pair the culture of their people with the traditions of the Western music canon, to be at home both literally and figuratively.”

What this all means concert goers and readers will decide for themselves. In the case of this ensemble’s highly visually and aurally attractive music-making, the question might be why not just eliminate the trendy and let their new voice sound for itself.

Omitted from the program as originally scheduled was a new piece by Omar Klein.

David Patterson, Professor of Music and Chairman of the Department at U. Mass Boston for the past 15 years, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award in Teaching and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. Also a composer, he lives in Watertown.

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