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The Sound of Strings in the Shell


His Serenade is a Crier favorite

Over our first ten years, we, the musicians of A Far Cry, have pushed ourselves to experience a lot of “firsts.” We’ve leaned back into the arms of dancers while playing our parts, surrendering our gravity to them until they set us back on our feet again. We’ve presented the Tchaikovsky Serenade from memory, looking at each other across what seemed like a vast stage once the music stands were gone. We’ve improvised, vocalized, and realized the visions of the composers who’ve written for us—even when it meant using the digestive tract as inspiration!

Now, on Wednesday at 7:00, we’re looking forward to another big “first” – a concert at the Hatch Shell. One of the most iconic and beloved spaces for people to come together in a city that supports and treasures its communal ethos (Red Sox Nation, Make Way For Ducklings…) the thought of playing at the Hatch Shell has inspired us for a long time. (Also on our short list: playing the national anthem at Fenway Park!) As the group has grown in its first ten years, putting down real roots in the city we love has become more and more important to us. And hey, if tourists to Boston start putting “attend a concert by A Far Cry” on their list of must-do items, that suits us just fine.

Following the protocols of the Boston Landmarks Orchestra (whose programming we love and who is producing this end-of-summer event), the menu for the evening brings “discoveries” that are rarely played together with other well-known and beloved works. The first two pieces, a Scherzo by Kreisler and Ysaye’s “Harmonies du Soir” hearken back to an age where virtuoso instrumentalists regularly composed their own music. Here’s a recording of Kreisler playing his Scherzo—which we love for its impishness, its verve, and its willingness to be emotionally direct. Those slides! Those moments of mini-rubato! The smile in the sound! Anyway.

The Ysaye is a rare treasure, and if there’s one piece that perfectly epitomizes that feeling of relaxed and reverent well-being that a twilight outdoor concert can bring, it’s this one. Written for a string quartet amidst a larger string group, solo voices rise and fall and dissolve back into the sublime texture of the whole. And, as Ysaye writes in the following quote, it generates its own internal world.

Generally speaking the ‘poem’ form has always attracted me, it is more receptive to emotion, it is not constrained by any of the restrictions imposed by the hallowed form of the concerto; it can be dramatic and lyrical, it is essentially romantic and impressionistic; it weeps and sings, it is shadow and light and has a changing prism; it is free and needs only its title to guide the composer and make him paint feelings, images, abstractions without a literary canvas; in a word, it is a picture painted without a model…

The other two works that A Far Cry will be offering are likely much more familiar to audiences; Bach’s third “Brandenburg” concerto and Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings.  Besides epitomizing perfection in form and content, both of these contain real satisfying challenges for string groups. In the Bach, the lighting-quick dialogues among the different parts keeps us all on their toes the whole time, as the roles switch from solo to support in a millisecond. It’s a little microcosm of our rotating leadership model!

The young Criers at the Arboretum nine years ago 2008.

And there’s no better way to end a Hatch Shell debut than with the Tchaikovsky Serenade. It’s no secret that A Far Cry adores this piece. Last year, right around this time, we were slowly learning it from memory to kickstart our tenth-anniversary season. (We survived:  here’s the proof!) Now we’re ending that season, and beginning our 11th, by bringing that same rich, beautiful, passionate, music out into the open for everyone to enjoy.

There’s a certain collective purpose whenever people gather anywhere for a concert, whether it be a living room or a concert hall. Everyone offers each other the gift of shared silence, and it’s a beautiful thing. And I never feel that more strongly than at an outdoor concert in a space like the Hatch Shell. The walls extend infinitely in every direction, people sit back and experience each other in a different way. The stars are circling somewhere overhead. The picnic baskets are sitting quietly. The river’s running by. Music reverberates in waves through the air.

We’re totally delighted to get to be part of that picture. The spirit of Boston is sitting right there next to those picnic baskets—and Boston’s love of music made this group possible over the last ten years. This city has given us so much. Now we get to give just a little bit back.

Sarah Darling, a violist with A Far Cry, pops up anywhere and everywhere around town in early, classical, and contemporary circles.

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