IN: Reviews

Criers Celebrate Our Hemisphere


Jessie Montgomery (file photo)

A Far Cry, the self-conducted orchestra known for its innovative programming and collaborative spirit, delivered a captivating celebration of the rich diversity of musical tradition by encompassingOswaldo Golijov, Jessie Montgomery, Juanito Becenti, and Dvořák. At Rockport on Thursday night, with remarkable musicianship, the Criers showcased music’s ability to span borders.

Argentinian-American composer Golijov’s string quartet Arum dem Fayer (Around the Fire), in Crier, Alex Fortes’s expansion for string orchestra, evoked Vivaldi’s “Winter.” Golijov’s work exuded clarity and elegance, weaving together counterpoint and rhythm to create a mesmerizing sound world. The third movement, inspired by a traditional Yiddish song, seamlessly integrated haunting melodies and Hungarian folk song-styled themes with a slow processional. Golijov’s tribute to Guillermo Limonic, who tragically lost his life to COVID-19, added an emotional layer of both sorrow and resilience.

Next, A Far Cry showcased Jessie Montgomery’s Banner as a rhapsody that delves into the concept of a 21st-century anthem in a multicultural environment. Montgomery, an African American composer, drew inspiration from various musical and historical sources, aiming to explore the question of what a contemporary anthem sounds like in today’s diverse America. In Banner, Montgomery skillfully weaved together the themes of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Expanding upon the backbone of the Anthem, Montgomery incorporated contrasting sections and utilized the solo string quartet as the individual voice in dialogue with the larger string ensemble. The structure loosely followed the form of a traditional marching band, with an introduction leading to various strains and a rhythmic underpinning provided by a drum-line chorus in the finale. Throughout the piece, Montgomery incorporated a range of cultural anthems, American folk songs, and popular idioms, creating a multilayered fanfare that represented the complexity and diversity of contemporary American society. The composition culminated in a brass-like section, evoking the climactic trio and showcasing the rich textures formed by the interaction of different musical elements. A Far Cry’s interpretation highlighted the ingenuity and creativity of Montgomery’s musical voice, offering a captivating exploration of the possibilities of a modern anthem in a multicultural landscape. Banner testified to the power of music to bridge cultural divides and foster a deeper understanding of the diversity of American identity.

Juantio Becenti (Eshyla Becenti photo)

Juantio Becenti’s The Glittering World, a new commission that delved into the mythological narrative of the Navajo people’s origin, signaled a fascinating turn. Becenti masterfully incorporated diverse musical languages and motifs from influential composers as he transitioned from one culture to another. Solo violinist Alex Fortes provided vivid color and contrast throughout the piece, almost like an observer bearing witness to the evolution of the narrative. Happy, almost bucolic themes contrasted with creepy tremolo by the violas ― evoking a somewhat crawling sound of insect-like creatures in a Schoenbergian fashion mixed with whiffs of Scriabin and Janáček. Becenti’s intuitive approach left us a captivated and deeply appreciative.

Dvořák’s “String Quartet No. 12, “American” was arranged by Far Cry for the ensemble, captured that Czech composer’s take on New World native culture. The interpretation skillfully brought out the poignancy of plantation songs, along with elements of birdsong and the sounds of the countryside, infusing the music with both homesickness and spiritual depth. The rich, many-on-a-part quartet expansion alternated with solo voices; the expressive tone of the soli of cellist Michael Unterman, deserve particular mention. A Far Cry paid generous homage to its enduring beauty while offering fresh insights by creating a warmer, fuller sound through quadrupling the voices of the quartet and pointing out certain passages by arranging them as solos.

A Far Cry’s self-conducted approach, where decisions are made collectively and leadership rotates among the players, has over many years resulted in thoughtful and innovative programming. At Rockport the musical choices highlighted the interconnectedness of musical traditions, celebrating both unity and individual expression while considering several ways to be an American.

With a biochemistry PhD and a career in the life sciences industry, Stephanie Oestreich also performs as a violinist and conducts workshops with orchestras demonstrating the similarities between teams and leadership in music and management.

1 Comment »

1 Comment [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. What a thoughtful and vivid review, thank you!! One minor issue: according to the program Golijov’s string quartet was not “in Golijov’s expansion for string orchestra” but was actually arranged by one of the Criers, Alex Fortes.

    This review makes me wish I could have been at this concert!! I look forward to reading more from you!

    Comment by Eva — July 16, 2023 at 3:44 am

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