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A Far Cry

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

September 19,2010

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s new conductor-less resident orchestra, A Far Cry, presented a thoughtful synthesis of works spanning five hundred years ofWestern music in their program entitled Primordial Darkness during the museum’s Sunday afternoon concert series on September 19th.

Certainly the program promised to be difficult for both audience and ensemble, beginning with Iannis Xenakis’s Analogique A et B. Scored for magnetic tapeand orchestra, the ensemble is presented with the unique challenge of reproducing and imitating what is, for all intents and purposes, random noise.

Although the full setup of Xenakis’s work was lost in the ISGM’s Tapestry Room, the intellectual brunt of Xenakis’s work resounded well after the end of the work. Although it doesn’t sound like high praise, it really should be: to play as an ensemble is one thing; to play completely disparately takes real talent.

Consider the premiere of Richard Cornell’s New Fantasias, a work in four movements that re-invents its textures and dramatic narrative within every microcosm, yet maintaining the rich poise of a late-Romantic orchestral sound world (think, maybe, Mahler eighty years later); a tall order for the relatively small ensemble. Far Cry’s premiere of the work presented spare, muted moments that gave way to fiery Handelian tone-painting; sonorous, brooding imitations of weary travel were posed in stark contrast driven folk melodies and dance music.

Sunday’s premiere presented New Fantasias as a world in which Cornell’s ideas thrived in its dynamism.

So given the considerable talents and thoughtfulness of the ensemble, it seemed awkward and unnecessary to provide explanations for both of these works. Prior to Xenakis’s work, the audience was warned that much of what was to be performed may not sound like music in the traditional sense; Cornell’s work was introduced as a description of the vitality of the night time. As true as these statements may have been perhaps personal reflections or historical notes would have been more appropriate. As it stood, the overall effect of these passages was one of apology for works and performances that needed none.

Sunday afternoon’s performance also included works by Mozart, Purcell and Bartók. Rarely performed, Purcell’s Old Bachelor (Z. 607) lacked the fundamental impetus of the other works. Although certainly a capable performance, many of the movements lacked the dynamic contrast and nuance necessary for Purcell’s suites. In contrast, Mozart’s Serenata Notturna (K. 239) was presented with characteristic wit and joviality. Original ornamentation by members of the ensemble was appropriate, yet unobtrusive; of particular note, members of the ensemble performed newly composed cadenzas in the final Rondo movement, ranging from simple re-statements of the original theme, to extended intermezzi that recalled turn of the century jazz more than Mozart.

Bartók’s Divertimento for String Orchestra (Sz. 113) was a true highlight of the entire afternoon, crackling with a primal energy inherent to Bartók’s folk song, displaying the facility of ease with which the ensemble is able to maneuver the vibrant textures of the string orchestra.

The question, of course, has been, and continues to be how classical music will survive in the coming decades. Beyond the music, Sunday afternoon’s performance provided a promising answer. Program notes by Kathryn Bacasmot were refreshing in their treatment of the significant music presented during the concert. More importantly, now in its fourth year, the commitment A Far Cry shows to educating both audience and social change (the ensemble partners with other non-profits and proceeds from concerts are donated to homeless shelters in the Boston area) seems inherent to their clear position as one of the rising ensembles in Boston and the United States and provides a promising future to the establishment of young ensembles.