in: News & Features

February 13, 2012

A Far Cry Mixes Things Up

by

A Far Cry bassist Karl Doty

In their next program, “Heartbeats,” the self-directed, cooperatively-run chamber orchestra, A Far Cry, “investigates emotional extremes – from the oppression, fear, and desolation of Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony op. 110a to the prayerful ecstatic minimalism of John Adams’s Shaker Loops.” The concert will include the premiere of a new double concerto by violinist/composer Kip Jones to be performed with Jones and A Far Cry bassist, Karl Doty. The program on February 24th at 8 pm in Jordan Hall will be unusual for A Far Cry in that it will include nothing written before 1960.

BMInt asked Crier violist Sarah Darling to explain why this program included none of the signature baroque, classical or romantic works the Criers usually offer.

Sarah Darling: Programs are submitted in their entirety by individual group members during an intensive 2-month process where they get voted into a “vault” containing a whole bunch of possibilities, and then voted again into a specific season. There is some tweakage, of course, but we like to stick to the person’s idea wherever possible. I think when next season’s programming comes out, you’ll see an even greater variety of experimental programs — we have eight concerts next year to play with, courtesy of the Gardner, so we’ll be mixing things up even more.
This specific program entitled “Heartbeats” was designed by Karl Doty, the bassist who’ll be playing in the Jones, and was voted in, of course, by all of us! I’ll let him describe it.

Karl Doty: The heart is not only an indispensable lifeline for our physical body, but also for our emotional and spiritual being. This program shows the different faces of our hearts.

John Adams renamed his piece Shaker Loops from Wavemaker because it gave him the vision of Shakers dancing. This shows the heart in a devotional sense: giving ourselves up to something greater. The Jones concerto will show the mechanically functioning side of the heart; the motor that gives life. The Shostakovich shows the heart’s ability for empathy; the deep love for our worldly brothers and sisters.

The piece receiving its premiere is Three Views of a Mountain – Concerto for Violin, Double Bass, and String Orchestra, a commission to Kip Jones, a close friend of Crier bassist Karl Doty. Kip’s standard biography reads:

A violinist’s son, Kip grew up in Duluth, Minnesota, and received his degree in violin performance from Boston’s Berklee College of Music, where he studied jazz with Matt Glaser.  After a nine-month motorcycle trip that spanned the North American continent, he continued his study of improvisation with renowned Hindustani violinist Kala Ramnath in Mumbai, India.  He met his wife, Noelle, in Minnesota and the two soon moved to rural South Korea, where Kip’s songs began to take shape. Then, together, the pair embarked on a year-long odyssey through South America, where he captured the sound he had long been seeking. He looks forward to embracing his future in Minnesota, where he is proud to have grown up, and happy to have returned.

He tells BMInt readers a bit more about himself and his music:

Kip Jones: I was attracted to Boston and Berklee College of Music by the romance of a career in music! What kept me there, however, was the enormous wealth of resources available to any student desirous of developing a broad yet functional musical worldview.

I’ve also traveled extensively in search of my compositional voice — India, Korea, South America —  because quite honestly, long-term travel blows a person wide open, and keeps her there. There’s no more surefire way to feel the universality of human experience, the relativity of culture, or the isolation of individuality. Ultimately, though, modern travel is unsustainable, predicated on a foreign economy remaining weaker than one’s own (or vast individual wealth).  At home, I’m extremely lucky to have a close, supportive family, clean drinking water, and the ability to play the violin as a profession. Having just returned from four months in Indochina, it’s tough for me to envision a permanent home outside of Minnesota.

Musically speaking, the most important aspect of travel is the time to consider and be changed by what one hears. The syntax of Hindustani classical music, for example, is beautiful but elusive, requiring vast amounts of listening time to digest. If, moreover, one can spend this time guided by a skilled practitioner, surrounded by the very landscape and culture that the music is designed to evoke, then one is quite lucky indeed! A more reasonable expectation might be a long, quiet bus ride, a full battery in the IPod, and time to practice new material in between local explorations of a new region. And perhaps even the quiet bus ride is a stretch; there’s usually some grating, heavily synthesized hybrid of regional folk music and sloppy rock, which, unfortunately, at this point is probably an influence on my music as well.

BMInt: Your music has many sounds and colors, from a country hoedown to a religious incantation, to world music and to jazz. I hear Steve Reichian minimalism and repetition, yet you talk about Bach; where do we hear his influence?

Bach’s perspective has been subsumed into human musical experience for almost all modern cultures; it’s rare NOT to hear his influence.  Specifically, however, I hold many aspects of his work as ideals.  There’s no extraneous content; it never bogs down; it’s often self-similar, or fractal, in both predictable and unexpected ways; it doesn’t prescribe an emotional response (even though its organization certainly engenders an emotional dimension); fundamentally, it always feels good, never divorced from a pulse; ideologically, it describes the best within us and offers it to God.  What can YOUR favorite composer do?

And while there are plenty of cyclical structures present, they serve to expose, maintain, or buoy the melodic content of the piece.  Perhaps that’s a reason why Steve Reich resists the minimalist label: his music always has a strong if not central narrative element.  If a listener has prepared for ‘minimalism’ there’s a danger that she’s prejudged the piece as purely a soundscape.

Composer Kip Jones (file photo)

Kip Jones: Why not read my program notes now rather than during the performance?

Three Views of a Mountain is a concerto in three movements, arranged fast-slow-fast, that highlights the common ground between the two most disparate members of the string instrument family. It opens with the soloists, together as a speeding train, dodging large blocks of harmony from the orchestra. The entire first movement is a study of permutations, twisting and manipulating its stark themes in an overt and simple way. For me, it is childlike anticipation.

The second movement is based on a twenty-two beat clave, ticking away silently in the musicians’ minds underneath a folk song, played against its own skeleton; the effect is a many-layered, untrustworthy environment: fearing no evil but still, after all, walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Whereas the first movement is anxiety and expectation, this is the experience itself, skipping a beat every so often to remind the consciousness: This Is Really Happening.

The third movement, to be symmetrical, is the hike down from the summit. Retrospect, not necessarily accurate, creates an emotional framework through which we understand and redefine past experience. It opens with the soloists, both pizzicato, commenting on a new theme played pianissimo by the violas. Back at the tempo of the opening, multiple metric puzzle-pieces are fit together to foreshadow the final hocketing relationship between the soloists and orchestra. Ultimately, our present self is hurled forward out of the past, against our will, contrary to the famous last sentence of “The Great Gatsby.” [“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”] It’s a real joy to present this work with A Far Cry, whose integrity, dedication, and sound are a great inspiration to me.

BMInt: If readers want to get a flavor of Three Views of a Mountain, which of your pieces should they listen to on your website?

For a hint of the sound and musical space, I’d recommend LDMT.  For an impression of the grooves, energy and interplay, try “For the Ohio Klyns”.

The review of this performance is here.

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