Musicians From Every Quarter: A Far Cry

“Our mission is very simple. It is to change the world with our music,” stated one of A Far Cry’s violinists before they began to play. Last Friday evening, A Far Cry performed “Remixed Classics,” and even if they haven’t yet changed the world, they have at least changed how I think of music. The 16 members of the string orchestra performed with astounding energy and intensity. From the moment the first note sang through the air, the musicians dropped all pretense of being separate entities from their instruments. Their feet tapped as they danced, swayed and jerked in time to the music. A Far Cry is unique because the group does not have a conductor. The musicians can simply look to each other for direction and encouragement. Even while playing, they frequently glanced at each other and grinned. How did A Far Cry begin? Well, the members of the group came from all corners of the globe, but were all attending colleges in Boston at the same time, and were dedicated string musicians. The eight young men and eight young women participated in overlapping orchestras and other ensembles in Boston. Eventually, they came to know one another and realized that they had a common vision of the future. A Far Cry was born in early 2007, with a premiere performance in May. Violinist Sharon Cohen explained the reasoning behind the group’s name. “We wanted a name that wouldn’t be conventional. So as we were randomly googling, someone came up with up with ‘A Far Cry.’ We all loved it.” Now that the members have graduated from college, many don’t live in the Boston area anymore. This makes scheduling rehearsals extremely difficult. To make things easier on everyone, the principal musicians rotate so different individuals get to lead each time. These principals start planning for each concert some time before the entire ensemble starts rehearsing. The whole group gets together two weeks before each concert and rehearses every day until the performance. Last Friday’s concert at Phillips Academy was one of many that have taken place since their premiere last May. The concert was entitled “Remixed Classics” for a reason: the pieces they played were all medleys of modes and ideas from various songs. Maybe it was the sleet or maybe just that few students come to concerts except to fulfill their music requirements, but fewer than 20 students attended it. The chapel was filled primarily with men and women from the surrounding communities. A Far Cry played four numbers, starting with Osvaldo Golijov’s “Last Round,” which is best described as a Halloween tango. The ensemble’s black suits and dresses emphasized the Halloween-y tone; the women wore silver fabric belts and the men wore silver ties. The next number was a concerto for trumpet, piano and strings by Dmitri Shostakovich. The two soloists were talented beyond belief. Indeed, soloist Alexander Korsantia seemed to be having a conversation with the piano. He mostly stayed hunched over it with his eyes squeezed shut, pounding on the keys like a three-year-old letting out his frustrations. The difference was that his pounding was haunting to the ear. The way he moved, it seemed like the piano was alternately caressing Korsantia and punching him in the face. After a short break, the ensemble returned to the stage to play Edvard Grieg’s “Holberg Suite, Op. 40” and “GroBe Fuge, Op. 133” by Beethoven. Since the concert began with more modern pieces and then ambled backwards through time, some of the modes in the last two pieces were vaguely reminiscent of ancient operas. A Far Cry’s performance was so captivating that it seemed like the world would end if one of the musicians broke their intense concentration. Amazingly, even though they faced formidable obstacles, no serious mistakes were made. For instance, during the first song, one of the female violinists’ bow strings broke off from one end of her bow and got in the face of the violinist standing next to her every time she did a strong bowing movement in his direction. But he didn’t even flinch, and she managed to tear the string off during one of the quieter parts of the piece. After a standing ovation at the conclusion of their last number, the ensemble decided to come back for an encore that was short in comparison to the other pieces but just as impressive. “This is our life,” said violinist Cohen at the reception immediately following the show. The orchestra does not plan to perform for a few years and then get on with their “real lives.” They intend to continue playing together for as long as they can. “A Far Cry only exists because of one thing – love,” explained one of the musicians. “The love we have for each other and for the music and for the audience.”