Last Thursday found me at Back Bay’s venerable St. Botolph Club for a relaxed gala among friends and supporters of A Far Cry, where 13 Criers entertained in the cramped front parlor filled to the brim. Mozart’s B-flat Major Divertimento (K.137) opened the evening with an intimate Andante movement that settled into a surefooted Allegro second and third movement. Violinist Megumi Lewis described the second movement of Bach’s D-minor Concerto for Two Violins, which followed, as a big hug: Alex Fortes joined Lewis as soloist in a luxurious read, underscored by a stately yet sensitively transparent orchestral accompaniment. Bach led to Johann Strauss’s Fruhlingsstimmen, whose comedy was presaged by knowing smiles from the performers. Although the over-the-top melodrama received many audience chuckles, the performance never lost sight of the inherent elegance of Strauss’s waltz. The evening then moved from fin de siecle Vienna to the American West, with a soulful setting of Red River Valley, arranged by AFC bassist Karl Doty. The famous cowboy melody is initially set for a solo violin (sensitively performed by the arranger’s wife, Liesl Doty), expanding into a surprisingly moving full-orchestral treatment.
A 2010 concert titled “Primordial Darkness” in the tapestry room of the Gardner Museum had introduced me to A Far Cry. That intimidating program included works by Xenakis, Purcell, Mozart, Bartok, and premiered Richard Cornell’s New Fantasias—hardly the fare one might have expected for a Sunday afternoon. Memorable as the disparate pieces were, the ease and alacrity with which the ensemble wove them into a cohesive program proved even more remarkable.
The Criers’ programming and performances have made waves ever since its founding in 2007 as A Far Cry has garnered critical acclaim both domestically and internationally in their extensive touring. In Boston the Criers have been in residence at the Gardner for six years and have additionally developed their own independent concert series throughout the city. The group has also released seven records, of which one produced from their in-house label, Crier Records, has been nominated for a Grammy.
At the recent evening, board member Tom Novak (the acting president of NEC), who has been part of AFC’s board since its inception, commented on the growth of the ensemble from its founding 17 members to the institution it has become. Part of this expansion has been in the recruiting of administration, including the Criers’ first permanent executive director, Bridget Mundy, who moved to Boston six weeks prior for this position.
Mundy shared with BMInt some thoughts about the new position and the direction of A Far Cry in the coming years.
Where are you coming from? How are you finding the Boston music scene?
I worked for the Cleveland Orchestra in their fundraising department for just over five years before moving to Boston to work with A Far Cry. The Boston music scene is impressive, and somewhat overwhelming! The breadth of performances, the artistic quality, and the gorgeous venues—I wish there were more hours in the day and more days in the week so that I could take advantage of everything.
How did you come to this position?
One of my colleagues in Cleveland saw A Far Cry’s job posting and forwarded it to me. My colleague was in Europe at the time but called me that day to tell me that I had to apply for this job. I am tremendously grateful for his encouragement and thrilled to be part of A Far Cry’s family.
You’ve only been with the ensemble a short time, but what’s most attractive about the organization so far?
It is inspiring to work with musicians, board members and volunteers who are so passionately dedicated to A Far Cry’s success. This is an organization where quality is a priority. Whether following up a with a donor, producing a concert, or brainstorming ideas for community partnerships, decisions are made with thoughtfulness and attention to detail, and everything is done at a very high level. It’s also exciting to be part of a group that is challenging the traditional organizational model. A Far Cry’s cooperative structure opens up endless possibilities for creative artistry and shared musicmaking.
A Far Cry is unusual in its “democratic” arrangement, in which all the musicians seem to have equal input on the direction of the organization. As executive director, is this useful, or frustrating?
This is absolutely useful. While there may be times that extended conversation sacrifices efficiency, there are countless instances where group input means that the final product benefits in a significant way. And regardless of the ultimate impact, the ability for everyone to have equal participation creates an organic sense of ownership and dedication that is critical to A Far Cry’s mission and organizational identity.
What other expansions have been happening?
As the new executive director, I’m working to centralize administrative functions and drive progress toward higher revenue goals. Over time, we hope to expand the staff beyond just an executive director and add support for fundraising and marketing. With the administrative heavy lifting off of the musicians’ plates, they can focus on longer-term artistic planning and pursuit of projects, recordings and collaborations.
Does this mean a lot of changes in programming and concert series in the coming years?
No; A Far Cry’s process of artistic decision-making will remain the same and continue to be structured as collaborative and participatory. It does mean that the musicians will be able to focus more of their efforts on the music and less on the day-to-day administration of the organization. The Criers feel like they’ll be able to go deeper musically, and that their sound and creative process will be able to develop even further.
Are we allowed to ask what the Criers have in store for their 10th-anniversary concert series?
We’ll be announcing all the details very soon, but in the meantime I can tease a couple of things for you. We are planning to invite all former Criers back for one of our concerts, and part of that program includes a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, by memory; no music allowed! We’ll also be performing the world premiere of a new commission that is based on the Persian poem “Conference of the Birds.” The story told by this poem is about a group searching for leadership and a journey leading to the realization of shared leadership among group members. Quite relevant to our model, isn’t it?