IN: Reviews

No Matter How Distant, There’s No Place Like . . .


In “Homeland,” A Far Cry used the multifarious definitions of “home” as a starting point, drawing on a wide range of traditions and backgrounds. An intricate musical journey through geographically and chronologically diverse migrations, “Homeland” showcased the best of the Crier’s adventurous and inclusive programming.

Tufts professor Kareen Roustom drew on his Syrian heritage to craft a musical impression of the eponymous line dance from the Eastern Mediterranean. Roustom’s Dabke began with pizzicato that rapidly built outwards with vibrant syncopation. A harmonic-laden melody for solo violin and cello took center stage as the fluid accompaniment utilized all manner of extended techniques, particularly col legno, to great effect. As a middle section, Roustom juxtaposed a gentler, song-like viola melody. Throughout Dabke, a single rhythmic pattern—according to Roustom’s program notes, the six-beat sudaasi—unified and propelled the dance forward.

As Executive Directory Grace Kennerly explained from the stage, a typical Dabke is led by a single dancer, around whom the others form a large circle by linking arms. Kennerly perceived here a “symbol of love and unity, of connection and bonding, of joy and celebration,” a perfect way to start the Criers’ new season.

Kinan Azmeh and Dinuk Wijeratne then joined the ensemble for a pair of their own works. Azmeh, a Syrian-American clarinetist recently appointed to the National Council For the Arts, led the Criers through his Ibn Arabi Postlude, an excerpt from a three-movement double concerto for voice and clarinet based on the life and philosophy of Ibn Arabi, a 13th-century Muslim mystic. Like Roustom, Azmeh took inspiration from dance, describing a “rather circular form” that allows “the improvised and the composed to work seamlessly together.”

The Postlude began with a lengthy improvisatory section for piano, played by Dinuk with shades of Keith Jarrett. This hazy, repetitive, and trance-like opening was perhaps a subtle reference to the mysticism of Ibn Arabi. As Azmeh began a writhing clarinet solo, Dinuk shifted to playing primarily inside the piano, providing a percussive background as the rest of the orchestra gradually joined in. A dance-like rhythm solidified as the ensemble came together, with the polyphonic texture punctuated by brief moments of near-unison. Through it all was Azmeh’s virtuosic playing, occasionally one more voice in a dense texture, but often rising above the rest of the ensemble. Befitting the postlude genre, it ended gently, slowly dying away into silence.

Similar improvisatory piano licks began University of Ottawa professor Wijeratne’s six-movement Clarinet Concerto. He was born in Sri Lanka, moved as a child to the United Arab Emirates, and earned degrees in New York, London, and Toronto, and his many genre-bending compositions evince this globe-trotting. For his Clarinet Concerto, Wijeratne built on his friendship with Azmeh from their student days at Juilliard, writing the concerto in response to the Syrian conflict. As Wijeratne wrote in his accompanying text, the clarinet soloist represents a journeyer from a childhood home eventually learning “to be ‘at home’ everywhere.”

The prologue, Wijeratne’s first “episode,” began with rhapsodic play inside the piano while Azmeh contributed over held string chords from offstage. The unexpected soundscape sounded beautiful and introspective. Quick clarinet utterances, like small beams of light, led seamlessly into the second movement as Azmeh took his place at the front of the ensemble with another energetic and forceful dance; as in Roustom’s Dabke, a uniform, syncopated rhythmic pattern prevailed throughout.

After a dramatic ending, the third episode, “Flux,” broke down the rhythmic pattern, leaving solitary clarinet cries over dissonant accompaniment. Glissandi and rapid passagework in all instruments evoked escape and terror. Open chords then set forth a wasteland of a fourth movement, drawn from Edward Said’s definition of exile as “the unhealable rift forced between a human being and a native place.” Azmeh’s soft, bleak clarinet sobs gave way to a few enervated motifs referencing previous movements.

In the fifth episode, a cadenza, Azmeh took a virtuosic and thrilling approach. The final movement, an epilogue, only recovered the energy and excitement of the earlier dance at the very end, displaying the time and difficulty required to come to terms with a new home. Throughout their works, Azmeh and Wijeratne displayed stellar interpretation and instrumental range. Guest cellist Nate Taylor also dispatched his many solo cello passages in the Clarinet Concerto (as well as Dabke) with aplomb.

The Criers closed with Mieczysław Weinberg’s complex and knotty Tenth Symphony (1968). As in the music for the first half of the concert, personal struggle inspired Weinberg; in his case, the loss of many family members during the Holocaust and under Stalin’s regime. Like his friend Shostakovich, Weinberg lived in fear of Soviet retribution and some overlap is audible between the two composer’s oeuvres.

The first movement Concerto Grosso retains many of the form’s Baroque origins. An almost chorale-like introductory theme sets the stage for the rest of the proceedings. Various concertino sections trade around a terse motif, which is complemented by a crystalline secondary melody. Just before the end of the movement, Francesca McNeeley’s virtuosic cello cadenza led into a restatement of the introductory theme.

Kinan Azmeh and Dinuk Wijeratne (screen grab)

The slow second movement Pastorale hardly summons up Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony and other earlier pastoral works. Piercing high notes over a bleak texture evoked images of a post-apocalyptic landscape rather than the 19th-century romanticized vision of nature. The viola’s timbral warmth provided moments of brief contrast throughout the movement, but the icy upper reaches of the violins inevitably answered. Jae Cosmos Lee’s frenetic and inspiring double-stop violin cadenza preceded another impressive display from McNeeley before the main theme reemerged.

The following Canzona diverged from the previous movements. Over a bed of lush chords and pizzicati, rose a jolting and gentle lyrical melody. Yet another set of masterly cadenzas—violist Sarah Darling and bassist Kebra-Seyoun Charles joined McNeeley in a remarkable display—led into a piercing, homophonic coda.

Burlesque came as a vibrant and chaotic dance. In the Crier’s fast-paced take, it was hard to miss Weinberg’s ecstatic humor amidst schmaltzy glissandi and an almost ecclesiastical cello interruption. The final movement, Inversion, kept up this breakneck speed. Charles, Darling, Lee, and McNeeley once again realized a round of cadenzas, this time simultaneously in the climax of the entire symphony. Long trills led to an expansive restatement of the Concerto Grosso chorale, bringing the Symphony full circle.

The quadruple concerto-cum-chamber symphony left no place for any performer to hide, and across the concert, the Criers embraced complicated challenges of all kinds and offered perfect backgrounds over which soloists could shine.

Lee, the curator of “Homeland,” explained the background of the concert. As a child in South Korea, he was struck by many stories of friends missing their homes on the northern end of the peninsula. But war, despite its current relevance in Eastern Europe and Syria, is hardly the only cause for displacement, and Lee tipped his hat to famine and climate change as other inspirations. For Kinan, home is simply “a place you wish well for,” while Dinuk accentuated music’s “ability to define a sense of place” unlimited by geography and temporality. Lee’s “need for inclusion in a new society” and the necessity of empathy and friendship, provided the thematic backbone for the powerful success of “Homeland.”

Although “Homeland” ran live on September 16th at Jordan Hall and the 17th at South Shore Conservatory, you still catch it through the Criers’ Digital Event Pass. Despite a very brief video interruption, the audio was excellent throughout. Tickets for unlimited viewings of the  Immersive Music Project produced stream can be found HERE.

Gareth Cordery, a third-year Ph.D. student in Historical Musicology at Columbia University, majored in Music and History at Middlebury College. He has performed piano concertos with symphonies across the United States, and lives in New York City.

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