A Far Cry: The Unconducted Orchestra

Although many musical groups are acclaimed for their excellence, few are as unique as A Far Cry, a self-conducted orchestra based in Boston. Last Friday, A Far Cry took the audience on a 250-year trip in Cochran Chapel, performing pieces as early as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Piano Concerto” to those as late as Gabriela Lena Frank’s “Leyendas.” Even before performing, A Far Cry had the audience in suspense. Not only did they lack a conductor, but they also surprised the audience with their peculiar way of orchestral playing. Kerstin Brolsma ’11 said, “I didn’t know what to expect. I was intrigued by the fact that they didn’t sit while playing.” The first piece of the night, Frank’s “Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout” abruptly shattered the silence with its thunderous first chord. In six sections, “Leyendas” portrayed a walk through various Andean legends. “Leyendas” was clearly a work inspired by foreign cultures. Despite the use of traditional Western string instruments, glimpses of Andean culture stood out through Frank’s use of syncopation and folk tunes. This strange, outlandish sound captivated the audience. “It was fascinating that they could do such extreme things with instruments that I thought I knew so well. I already thought there were limits to their capabilities. The entire effect of the orchestra was unique and special,” said Kevin Qian ’11. Many audience members thought the orchestra successfully created an innovative sound with traditional instruments. Shirley Guo ’11 said, “It was amazing that they were able to do such different things with familiar instruments. It was very unusual and thrilling at the same time.” In contrast to the pioneering and contemporary “Leyendas,” Mozart’s “Piano Concerto No.11 in F Major,” struck a different note. The orchestra chose to perform this masterpiece with pianist Joel Fan, a globally acclaimed pianist, well known not only for his performances with the cellist Yo-Yo Ma, but also for his work as recording artist. Though “Leyendas” transported the audience to a futuristic world, the “Piano Concerto” certainly brought the audience back into 1700s Vienna. In the first movement, a long orchestra introduction led up the arrival of the piano, which repeated and developed into elegant and purely Mozartian melodies. The simple yet beautiful crystal sound of Fan’s playing brought a heavenly mood into the Chapel. Audience members warmly greeted A Far Cry’s rendition of this pristine concerto and were so surprised to see the musicians so united in their efforts to produce one sound. “It was interesting that they were self-conducted but seemed to play at the same time,” said Brolsma. The last piece on the program was Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Serenade for Strings in C Major, Op. 48.” A rare gem of Tchaikovsky’s illustrious career, the serenade magnificently exhibited the classical maestro’s mastery of lyrical melodies. Russian folk melodies dominated some of the texture and brought a more grounded aspect in the finale. The ending of the piece, typical of Tchaikovsky, was one of triumph and speed, unmatched by other composers of the Romantic era. Guo said, “The Tchaikovsky serenade was the most exciting and the most exhilarating [piece] to hear because of the virtuosity of the musicians. The energy was there, the spirit was there, and most of all … the soul was there.” Perhaps in the coming years, A Far Cry will choose to revisit the Andover community to share some more of their music of the soul.