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Thanksgiving with A Far Cry

A Far Cry Chamber Orchestra
Courtesy of the ensemble
A Far Cry Chamber Orchestra

Sunday, November 29, 2020
7:00 PM

On WCRB In Concert with A Far Cry, WCRB's Ron Della Chiesa is joined by violinist Jae Cosmos Lee and violist Jason Fisher for musical reflections on gratitude in a difficult year.

If the last year has seen challenges virtually none of us could have foreseen, those challenges have also brought the potential for clarity of priorities and values. For the musicians of A Far Cry, a group with a relatively short but enviable history, clarity means being thankful for the community of audience and ensemble members formed over thirteen seasons.

As Jae and Jason share with Ron in this program, the musicians are thankful for the opportunities that historically informed performance - which many Criers do with other ensembles - bring to their own concerts, even as they explore the most contemporary compositional voices of our own time. They're also thankful for the democratic and collective nature of their organization, which results in creative and risk-taking programs, along with deeply personal bonds among the Criers themselves.

But, most importantly, the Criers are thankful for the enthusiasm and inspiration of the audience that has shared in their journey so far. Join Jason, Jae, and Ron for a collection of A Far Cry performances that express all of these aspects of thankfulness as we all look ahead to gathering in concert halls once again.

This program is no longer available on demand.

On the program:

A Far Cry

RAMEAU Les Indes Galantes: Air No. 2
Jessie MONTGOMERY Starburst
BEETHOVEN String Quartet No. 15 in A minor: III
George WALKER Lyric for Strings
MOZART Duo for Violin and Viola in G: II
MUFFAT Chaconne
MOZART String Quintet in B-flat: II

Learn more about A Far Cry and see upcoming performances.


Ron Della Chiesa (RDC) [00:00:05] I'm Ron Della Chiesa, and it's Thanksgiving with A Far Cry.

[00:00:13] Great to be with you on this Thanksgiving weekend. I don't have to tell you it's been a hard year for all of us. For some it's been harder than others. But there's still so much to be thankful for, even in the midst of a pandemic and an economic downturn.

[00:00:29] And with me in the studio, I've got a couple of members of the Boston based chamber orchestra, A Far Cry: violinist Jae Cosmos Lee and violist Jason Fisher. I'm looking forward to hearing what this year has been like for them and to hearing some of their music. Welcome, Jay, and welcome, Jason.

Jae Cosmos Lee (JCL) [00:00:49] Thank you, Ron.

Jason Fisher (JF) [00:00:49] Thanks, Ron.

JCL [00:00:50] Great to be here.

RDC [00:00:50] I don't have to tell you, it's been a real crazy year for all of us. Going to talk about some of the specific things that happened for A Far Cry. But first, Jae, is there one word or one idea that kind of sums up what you've been thankful for this year?

JCL [00:01:07] Well, Ron, it's been really tough not being able to hug people. That's one thing that I've been really missing. I think everyone's been missing that. Of course, I think we've all been doing a lot of Zoom sessions with family members and friends. And thank god for that technological advancement that we have, that we were able to do that, because I think without it, it would have been a very, very different pandemic. So I'm very thankful for those relationships. My friends and family, I'm very thankful to have them.

RDC [00:01:37] And Jason, what about for you? What's what's it been like?

JF [00:01:40] Well, I agree with all that Jae said. And I would just add that I think community has been a big part of it for us, for all of the members of A Far Cry, the musicians, our wonderful staff, our board and our supporters and audience. I think that when the Criers have gotten together on Zoom for many, many meetings, pretty much weekly, we've been together for an hour or two and we've been able to lean on our sense of community that we've established over the last 14 years as an ensemble. And that becomes so much more important when you can't hug somebody here, you can't can't go for a beer after rehearsal or something like that. So we're all looking forward to the day when we can all even be back in the same room just to meet.

RDC [00:02:21] Yeah.

JF [00:02:21] Let alone to rehearse.

RDC [00:02:22] Right. Well, let's get into some of what you do, because that's what it's all about. We're going to hear some of your music now. This is A Far Cry with music from the French Baroque, from Rameau's opera "Les Indes Galantes."

[00:02:35] [MUSIC]

RDC [00:06:37] A Far Cry with the second Air from "Les Indes Galantes," recorded at New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall on September 21st, 2018. This is Thanksgiving with A Far Cry, and I'm Ron Della Chiesa here with a couple of members of the orchestra, violinist Jae Cosmos Lee and violist Jason Fisher. Jason, what makes A Far Cry a community unlike any other?

JF [00:07:04] Well, I think one of the things that does set A Far Cry apart from some of the other chamber orchestras is our collective ownership of the group, our co-Artistic Directorship. Everyone who's a member of A Far Cry is an Artistic Director in the group. And I think that that creates a really strong bond between us, musically and otherwise, that gives us flexibility to fill both of those roles in the community as leaders and as supporters for each other.

RDC [00:07:33] So it gives you all an input in what you're doing with the music.

JCL [00:07:37] I think the line between leader and follower when when it bleeds through, it just gives more buy in to everyone who's around in that community. It's your product. It's everything that that you create. Everyone gets, really lives with that sense of trust. And I think that's a real difference in our community, that even if it's not your idea, you can take it as your own. And we all do.

RDC [00:08:04] Everybody has their say in what's going to happen in terms of repertoire too, right?

JF [00:08:09] Absolutely, yeah. Our programming process is one that is ongoing constantly, especially during this pandemic. We've had to completely rethink how we can bring music to our audience.

RDC [00:08:20] Well, next, we've got some music by a young African-American composer who's making inroads into the established music scene. Her name is Jessie Montgomery. Jae, can you tell us about her?

JCL [00:08:33] Jessie Montgomery is one of the most prolific composers in the last, I would say, 10 years. She's a violinist by training and coming from that string player vernacular and also that role, she really knows how to write very idiomatically for the instruments. She started the PUBLIQuartet in New York City and now is a member of the Catalyst Quartet. Her music is not only driven, but she knows the structure so pinpointedly that, you know, she can change harmonies, pivoted in a different way and bring in a different style and have it be dance, have it be African rhythms, just like little jagged gems. But they really do pop in every sense of the word. Her music is fantastic.

RDC [00:09:19] And here it is, A Far Cry with music by Jessie Montgomery. This is "Starburst."

[00:09:25] [MUSIC]

RDC [00:12:46] That was Jessie Montgomery's "Starburst." Looking forward to hearing more of her music in the future. I'm sure you are too. That was recorded by A Far Cry on May 16th, 2019 in concert at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Next, we're going to hear a GRAMMY-nominated recording by A Far Cry. Congratulations on that, by the way. I want to hear your GRAMMY story a bit later on. But first, I want to listen to this amazing piece from the recording. It's Beethoven's "Holy Song of Thanksgiving of a Convalescent to the Deity," from his 15th string quartet. Can you tell us a bit about that?

JF [00:13:24] Well, Beethoven wrote this in the last couple of years of his life. He had a sort of terrible stomach condition that left him in a lot of pain and agony and interrupted his composition of this piece. But by the summer of that year, I believe it was 1825, he had started to recover and he didn't really write many little notes in his music, you know, apart from maybe the Third Symphony, famously, you know, that he wrote it in dedication to Napoleon Bonaparte and crossed it out later. But in this one, he writes this actual title of its piece of thanksgiving to a holy being, getting over his illness and feeling better. And I was, we were thinking about how people are going through during this time with Covid and whether it's themselves or their family members who have gotten sick from the virus. And that feeling after you, if you do get through it, which, you know, thank goodness most people do. But if, when you get through it, you feel like you have this different perspective on life, you have this different perspective on the fragility of life. And I think for Beethoven, he expresses that very clearly in this piece. And I think A Far Cry very much brings the intimacy of a string quartet with the sound of a full orchestra. And so we felt like we could make a lot of interesting decisions in this piece about where we might have solo voices playing as if it were a string quartet and other times where we have the whole orchestra coming in. So that's sort of an interesting thing to listen to throughout.

RDC [00:14:52] Well, thank you, Jason. So let's hear it right now. Beethoven's "Heiliger Dankgesang," from his 15th string quartet, arranged for string orchestra and recorded by A Far Cry for the ensemble's 2014 release, Dreams and Prayers.

[00:31:31] [MUSIC]

RDC [00:31:31] Beethoven's "Heiliger Dankgesang," from his 15th string quartet arranged for string orchestra and recorded by A Far Cry for the ensemble's 2014 release, Dreams and Prayers. I'm Ron Della Chiesa and you're listening to Thanksgiving with A Far Cry on WCRB. And my guests are two members of the ensemble, violinist Jae Cosmos Lee and violist Jason Fisher. We were saying earlier, A Far Cry was nominated for a GRAMMY Award for that CD, Dreams and Prayers. I can hear why. Jae, tell us about the GRAMMYs. What was it like to be there in person? Not many of us have a chance to be there, but you did.

JCL [00:32:12] Well, it was really exciting trying to get to the GRAMMYs. We were actually on a West Coast tour. This was the year of Snowmageddon here in Boston. And all the flights started getting delayed. And we were supposed to get to a flight from Phoenix to L.A. to get to the GRAMMY preview. We were delayed, I think, five or six hours at the airport. And we were so bored waiting for the flight. We actually started playing at the airport.

RDC [00:32:43] Really?

JCL [00:32:44] Yeah, and for all these people who were stranded. But we finally got there. We got to the very tail end of the preview. It was just a crazy time, but it was fun.

RDC [00:32:57] Well, it must have been a great experience just to be there among all those wonderful celebrities and artists. Congratulations.

JF [00:33:05] Thank you.

RDC [00:33:06] We're going to hear another work by an American composer, it's "Lyric for Strings" by Pulitzer Prize winning composer George Walker. So Jae, why don't you tell us about that.

JCL [00:33:16] Lyric for Strings was actually the second movement of his first string quartet that he wrote, but he then expanded it for string orchestra. It's a lovely, lovely ballad. And it was first called Lament before was called "Lyric for Strings," which I think is appropriate because it has this yearning, somber quality to the music that you can hear. And it's gut wrenching in many ways. But it's so beautiful.

JCL [00:33:50] George Walker being being the first African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize for his work "Lilacs" back in 1996. It's one of those things like why his music hasn't been played more widely. You know, only we can question why, but hopefully starting these days. I mean, everyone's playing "Lyric." I mean, I think it's one of the most performed string orchestra pieces now in the United States.

[00:34:14] [MUSIC]

RDC [00:41:03] George Walker's "Lyric for Strings," and that's the ensemble, A Far Cry, it was recorded in concert at New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall just a year ago on the first of November 2019. Well, we've talked about community a lot in our conversation, also about collaborations which seem central to your approach to music making. And Jae, why is collaboration so important to A Far Cry?

JCL [00:41:32] Because they build friendships. It gives us opportunities for growth in all the areas that we wouldn't have thought of if we were to just come up with ideas on our own. I mean, we're so fortunate to have worked with so many fantastic collaborators over the years, like the bandoneon accordion player Julien Labro and, you know, Simone Dinnerstein, who we've collaborated very closely with, you know, which we premiered Philip Glass's Third Piano Concerto. And we've come up with our own version of the Goldberg Variations. It really stretches us in ways that we probably wouldn't have imagined if he were to be doing everything on our own.

JF [00:42:15] Yeah, and I think when we're doing these collaborations, we we really do learn a lot and we do, the stylistic things are assimilated into our own being and last long and far beyond the however long the collaboration itself lasts. So I think the community that is established through that is long lasting. And thinking on collaborations. I mean, Jae and I are going to do a small scale collaboration here and play the slow movement from Mozart's G major Duo for Violin and Viola. He wrote two, he wrote these to complete a set of six works that Michael Haydn, who was the famous composer Josef Haydn's brother, had committed to doing, but he fell ill before he could complete the set of six and he was at risk of not being paid for that. So Mozart sort of stepped in and saved the day there.

RDC [00:43:07] Well, let's hear it. It sounds exciting. This is from Mozart's G major Duo for Violin and Viola with violinist Jae Cosmos Lee and violist Jason Fisher from A Far Cry.

[00:43:20] [MUSIC].

RDC [00:46:52] That's the adagio from Mozart's Duo in G for Violin and Viola, played by my guests, Jae Cosmos Lee and Jason Fisher, right here in our Fraser Performance Studio. We're going to hear another work by a baroque composer. Perhaps not too many people are familiar with Georg Muffat. So, Jae, can you enlighten us about him?

JCL [00:47:13] Yeah, Muffat was a baroque composer born in what is France now. Story has it that he studied composition with Lully before he made his way over to Vienna and became a Kapellmeister in a place called Passau and wrote a lot of concerto grossi for strings and wrote a lot of string music. As there are so many of us in A Far Cry who are historically informed performers and a lot of baroque scholars, really, it was one of those pieces that we found in our early days of being an ensemble, and we, actually it was one of the first pieces that we performed in Jordan Hall back in 2008.

JF [00:47:56] I might just add that this is from a work called "Propitia Sydera," which I think translates to "lucky stars." And I think we're all here being thankful and counting our lucky stars, where we can find them.

RDC [00:48:10] So let's hear it. A Chaconne by Georg Muffat recorded at New England Conservatory, Jordan Hall in the early years of A Far Cry, October 12th, 2008.

[00:48:21] [MUSIC]

RDC [00:57:07] A Chaconne by Georg Muffat, recorded at New England Conservatory, Jordan Hall in the early years of A Far Cry, October 12th, 2008. Well, it must be fascinating as you look back at these recordings and see how far you've come as an ensemble.

JF [00:57:24] It is, whenever I hear these, I think of mostly about the fellow Criers that we had with us at the time. And, you know, we have a lot of our founding members still with us and a lot of wonderful members that have come on over the course of the 14 years. But we also have a lot of players who have left their mark on the organization and made us who we are today. And I always, when I hear these old recordings, I think about them and what they're up to in all of their amazing musical careers all over the world.

RDC [00:57:53] As members of a far cry, you're usually part of a small string orchestra. But during the pandemic, your group has offered a lot of music for online listening. So, Jason, what's that like performing for the camera rather than for a live audience?

JF [00:58:07] Well, it's certainly different. And we've all been adjusting to it. You know, we usually, as you said, we usually are a string orchestra of 17 or 18 string players on stage. And during the pandemic, of course, we haven't been able to really safely gather the full forces. So we've been programming some really interesting chamber music works that we've been hoping to do for a long time. So it has given us sort of an ability to prioritize doing that a little bit right now. But playing for a camera is so different. It's not that we're unfamiliar with playing for the camera or for the microphones. It's usually, in a regular situation, we are rehearsing and then we go out there and we perform on stage and we feel that energy from the audience. And now we have to go straight from limited rehearsals where we where, you know, we're being careful with how much time we're spending together, straight into a film and audio production where there's no audience there. You don't really have a performance to be able to lean on. So it's a different dynamic. It's hard.

JCL [00:59:11] Yeah. I miss the foot stomping when we first come on stage. I mean, we do have a very rambunctious and rabid audience base and they set the tone when we first come on stage at Jordan Hall. I mean, it's something that I always look forward to and not having that makes us realize, you know, that's our life source. The music exists on its own. But for a performer, the lifeline of what we do is for the audience. And I think I've really understood for the first time when all these pop artists talk about, "It's all for you, the fans," I think as a classical musician I felt it for the first time and it's really incredible.

RDC [00:59:57] It's definitely a two way street. I mean, you know.

JCL [01:00:00] Certainly.

RDC [01:00:00] The audience is there and you're performing for us. We, in turn, are living through you.

JCL [01:00:06] Absolutely.

RDC [01:00:07] Your music gives back to us. And of course, the audience response is so much a part of that.

JF [01:00:11] Yeah. And we know the audience are suffering just as we are. But we feel fortunate that we're able to bring our music still into our audience's homes and that they can watch it safely and in their own homes.

RDC [01:00:26] What about the most recent one?

JF [01:00:27] Yeah, this chamber music project we're doing is smaller groups. So we have a couple of duos at the top of the program. And then we go in and play Mozart's first viola quintet. You know, he wrote this wonderful viola quintets throughout the course of his entire life. But this is really the first of those quintets. And it's just full of this young, vibrant energy. These productions that we're putting on, we go into the hall and create something that's actually very high quality produced video and audio. There's all kinds of ways that we can make it really fun. And it's been great for us to experiment with that and hear from our audiences what's working.

RDC [01:01:10] And you brought along an excerpt. So let's hear it. This is the adagio from Mozart's first String Quintet, performed by A Far Cry.

[01:01:20] [MUSIC]

RDC [01:10:11] That's A Far Cry in a recording of the Adagio from Mozart's First String Quintet, and you've been listening to Thanksgiving with A Far Cry on WCRB. And I want to say thanks to our guests, Jae Cosmos Lee and Jason Fisher, who have been representing the group today, making it a very special Thanksgiving Day for all of us. Thank you, gentlemen. And continued success with A Far Cry.

JF [01:10:36] Thank you.

JCL [01:10:36] Thank you.

RDC [01:10:37] Well, thank you for the wonderful music you're bringing all of us and let us heal together.

[01:10:43] We're also thankful for Stuart Wolferman, publicist for A Far Cry, for his help with his program. Also thanks to audio producer Antonio Oliart Ros, producer Alan McLellan, and executive producer Brian McCreath. I'm Ron Della Chiesa wishing you all a happy Thanksgiving and thank you for listening to Classical Radio Boston 99.5 WCRB, a part of GBH Boston.