Followers of the classical scene are increasingly aware of shifts now, more than ever, taking place with major players in the city. This year, in particular, has seen a surge of concert programming open to a larger repertoire. A Far Cry is an example. In its weekend exposé in both Jamaica Plain and Cambridge “we meet six composers…who give us a sense of home and belonging.”
Sunday’s run of A Far Cry’s “Hearth” at Longy’s Edward M. Pickman Concert Hall enjoyed a warm welcoming from a small turnout appearing to be concert regulars. Joining A Far Cry’s own string members, invited guest cellist Suubi Laurent, a high school junior, Project Step student, and a concert standout, absorbed listeners with ideal pizzicato pinning to Malian handclapping songs. So, where was the new audiences as the Criers literally stepped out of the usual repertory and into the world of music? World music courses have been in the university curriculum for decades.
Apparently, this is the 16-year-old Boston organization’s first real step toward truly developing a broader string music repertoire. All of the new faces on the program had to be more than pleased with the Criers unreserved dedication. Recognition of Far Cry’s initial move into this realm is, without doubt, in order. Though this concert should serve as a teaching moment, it made few inroads to bringing a kind of world music to its door.
Two similar works for solo strings bookended their venture. Aeryn J. Santillan’s (b.1990) Recall with violinist Miki Cloud gently lulled in simple open strings and trills—nothing new to report. Hawaiian Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti’s (b. 1983) ko’u inoa, with cellist Francesca McNeeley, also stuck closely to the open strings in slowly moving, drone-like arpeggios, recalling her homesickness while in Berlin. The other performers remained onstage listening, with heads bowed meditatively.
For Malian Hawa Kassé Mady Diabaté’s (b.1974) Tegere Tulon, Far Cry dispersed its four movements over the course of the program possibly to create interest. Had the entire piece been kept intact, an organic whole might have resulted in a better understanding of the idiomatic writing. Devoted Crier strings contrasted with somewhat uncomfortable Crier handclappers. What of Diabaté’s original work did Jacob Garchik’s arrangement project?
Angélica Negrón’s (b.1981) Marejada would have been thoroughly enjoyable had its score been shown on Longy’s screen. On YouTube [HERE] you can hear and see the Puerto Rican composer’s intentions spelled out as in “swim into the sound,” and later, “getting tired of swimming.”
Two Chinese Paintings from world famous pipa player, Wu Man (b.1963), put listeners on sure ground with a ruminating Ancient Echo that stirred a bit of the West in with the East. Her take on the traditional Silk and Bamboo went far more East, adding Chinese gongs and percussion. The lively and noisy dance achieved a firm foothold with the audience.
The one familiar face on the program was Jessie Montgomery (b. 1981). Break Away, also the name of the sixth and last movement of the larger piece, calls for the musicians to break from the written score and improvise. Birdcalls translated in delicately sliding strings, lush blues out of the quartet, and an all-out improv—all astonishing—spoke reams for both composer and performers. It had to be the centerpiece, and not just on account of its home being quintessentially American mainstream classical.
Indian-American Reena Esmail (b.1983) spent time studying Hindustani music as a Fulbright-Nehru scholar. Each of the four movements of her String Quartet (Ragamala) began with a cello drone to establish “a space.” The cross-cultural-ness remained in the forefront, India’s expressive musical scales joined with the west’s conventions of time.
The adventurous Criers: violins Miki Cloud, Gabriela Díaz, Alex Fortes, Megumi Stohs Lewis; violas Caitlin Lynch, Tanner Menees; cellos, Francesca McNeeley, and guest Crier, cellist John Popham.