Naumburg A Far Cry
Terrance McKnight: I'm Terrance McKnight. I'm from WQXR and tonight we're broadcasting live from Central Park with a concert from the Boston-based group A Far Cry. Let's hear it for my live audience.
A Far Cry is a self-conducted chamber orchestra based in Boston. Their mission is to ignite a love for music and utilize its power to bring people together locally and across the globe. Joining me on stage here in Central Park right now is violinist for the band. Jae Cosmos Lee.
Jae Cosmos Lee: Hello. Thanks for having me, Terrance.
Terrance McKnight: Nice to meet you.
Jae Cosmos Lee: Thanks for having us again. We've played in this venue in a deluge 2 years ago. And 50 people who are still left at the end of the concert were completely soaked. And to say, I think they have that performance in the radio archives. With all the rain sounds.
Terrance McKnight: Well tonight we've got beautiful weather here in Central Park.
Jae Cosmos Lee: Yes!
Terrance McKnight: Gorgeous night. Couldn't be better. Now I want to introduce you all to Jae because Jae is a founding member, and he curated this program. So Jae, let's just deal with the first half of this program. All of the music was written over the last 10 years or so.
Jae Cosmos Lee: Yes, less than.
Terrance McKnight: Less than 10 years by...
Jae Cosmos Lee: That's correct.
Terrance McKnight: Three American composers of, of varying sort of backgrounds.
Jae Cosmos Lee: That's correct. Um, the first piece you're going to hear is by the Argentine-born Massachusetts composer, Osvaldo Golijov , um, who is one of the, probably one of the most played composers of his generation, an American composer. He wrote this work.
This is a movement from his quartet called Un día Bom which is, which means a good day. And it's the third movement from his, his quartet that he wrote in 2020 for the Brooklyn Rider, based in Brooklyn, but Brooklyn Rider, great quartet. Um, and he, the third movement, he wrote it in the, in the memory of his friend, Guillermo Lemanick, who died during the pandemic, who loved singing songs in Yiddish.
And, uh, the tune has this Yiddish song that's called Around the Fire, and it comes and goes. And Osvaldo uses it in such a way that it's like a ghost haunts back and forth, remembering his friend. Um, very poignant, very beautiful, and very Jewish.
Terrance McKnight: Yeah. And then we hear from New Yorker Jessie Montgomery.
Jae Cosmos Lee: Jessie Montgomery, one of my favorite people on the planet. And if you don't know Jessie Montgomery, I don't know where you've been hiding because she is probably the hottest composer on the planet currently. And this one was written in 2014 at the, at the uh, 200-year commemoration of The Star Spangled Banner.
And she wanted to do something, she wanted to do something really, uh, wild with it. And so she combines all the different anthems, including the Black Anthem. You know, raise your voice and sing. And we have, there's a whole mashup at the end of the piece where you hear the Mexican national anthem. You hear the Puerto Rican anthem.
You hear This is My Land. You hear the Lo Eterno, uh, the, the song, the, the folk song that actually come memories Che Guevara. So you have all kinds of happenings in the middle of this piece. And it really is thrilling. It's, it's probably one of the masterpieces in the last 10 years. I mean, I mean, no wonder she's blowing up like crazy.
Terrance McKnight: And then we close out the first half of the show.
Jae Cosmos Lee: We close out the first half of the show with our New York state premiere of The Glittering World, which we've been playing since, since March. We met Juantio Becenti quite a few years ago and wanted to, we played, we played a couple of his quartets during the pandemic years and we recorded them.
And we loved them so much, we commissioned him, uh, to write us a work, and he came up with this work called The Glittering World, which is about the Navajo origin story, and he's Navajo, uh, and living in, living in New Mexico currently, and it's a story about, it's, it's also loosely, loosely autobiographical, he, he's a self-taught composer, he learned how to compose by sketching out quartets and symphonies by Shostakovich, Scriabin, I mean, just by himself in the corner, just doing all of this.
And such a beautiful composer for someone who's not gone to a conservatory to train. But, we're, you're gonna hear, you're gonna hear some darkness, you're gonna hear some brightness, you're gonna hear Navajo drumming, that actually, you know, it's this little powwow that happens. And we have, we have uh, our esteemed colleague, Alex Fortes, who is a New Yorker, um, on solo violin to round out.
This amazing piece called The Glittering World.
Terrance McKnight: It's very exciting. Nice to have you back here with us in Central Park.
Jae Cosmos Lee: Thank you so much, Terrance.
Terrance McKnight: Okay, so let's kick off this concert. We're live in Central Park at the Naumburg Bandshell on WQXR with A Far Cry.
And this is Around the Fire by Osvaldo Golijov.
MUSIC- Osvaldo Golijov, (b. 1960), Un día Bom, (2021)
III. Arum dem Fayer, arr. Alex Fortes (2023)
Terrance McKnight: The first work on our program from Central Park, you are in for a great night of music making. Music by Argentinian composer Osvaldo Golijov. It's a movement from a work, A Good Day. We heard Around the Fire. It's a Yiddish phrase. “Arum dem Fayer” means around the fire. Piece based on a traditional Yiddish song about the joys of being around a small fire.
I'm Terrance McKnight and we're live in Central Park tonight broadcasting a concert by the group A Far Cry. Now, the next piece we'll hear is by the American composer, Jessie Montgomery. Her piece is called Banner. Jessie Montgomery wrote this work in 2014 as a tribute to the 200th anniversary of the Star Spangled Banner.
In the program notes for the work, Montgomery says she drew from a variety of world anthems and patriotic songs. In her words, answer the question of what a 21st century anthem sounds like in our multicultural environment. She also talks about the contradictions of the Star Spangled Banner that idolizes the land of the free when in fact, there was still an enslaved population in the United States back in 1814. There would be that for another 50 years.
She says a tribute to the national anthem means acknowledging the contradictions, leaps and bounds and milestones that allow us to celebrate and maintain the traditions of our ideals.
Jessie Montgomery is a New Yorker and her works have been performed in Chicago by the orchestra there all around the world. She's as Jae stated earlier, she's one of the hottest composers on the scene these days. Also, on tonight's program, we'll hear from a composer, Juantio Becenti. And we'll, in the second half of the program, we'll hear music that was written here in America by Antonin Dvořák and arranged for this, this ensemble, A Far Cry, Dvořák's piece known as the American Quartet.
Jessie Montgomery is up next. She has been affiliated with the Sphinx Organization. For many years now, back, I think back in 1999, she is a two-time Laureate of the annual Sphinx composition, competition. She served as the Sphinx Virtuosi's first composer in residence. That's an organization that's devoted to advancing the careers of Black and Latinx string players.
Well, Sphinx commissioned this piece from, from Jesse Montgomery in 2014. To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Star Spangled Banner. And we're about to hear that work performed live here at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park. On stage is A Far Cry. And you're listening to WQXR, New York's classical music radio station.
MUSIC- Jessie Montgomery, (b. 1981), Banner, (2014)
Terrance McKnight: The piece is called Banner by Jessie Montgomery, performed by the ensemble A Far Cry. Oh yeah. I'm Terrance McKnight. We're broadcasting live from the historic Bandshell in Central Park as part of the Naumburg Orchestral Concerts. There's one more piece in the first half of this concert. And that's by composer Juantio Becenti.
Now Becenti is Native American. He grew up on a reservation in Utah. Now, his work is called The Glittering World, and it's about the mythological beginnings of the Navajo people. Throughout the work, Becenti quotes, some composers that have influenced him, including Beethoven, Takamitsu, Shostakovich, Schoenberg, and Debussy.
And this work features a solo violin, and tonight it's going to be played by A Far Cry member, Alex Fortes. We're gonna meet Alex during intermission. As I mentioned, Becenti was brought up on a Navajo reservation near the Four Corners in Utah. When he was in elementary school, he learned Beethoven's music and brought scores for all the piano, hHe bought scores for all the piano sonatas and violin sonatas and he says that that wasn't an easy task on the reservation for a kid. And so he would get recordings of the works, followed along with the scores as he listened. And he says he was drawn into the beauty and purpose of the music, its voice, through learning music that way.
While in high school, got himself a recording of the Emerson String Quartet, playing Shostakovich's String Quartets. Now, these pieces introduced him to dissonance on a large scale and he says, that is what made him want to become a composer.
So, we're gonna hear from Juantio Becenti and while we wait for A Far Cry to get set up for the performance, here's a little bit about the history of this venue. It's been 100 years here for the Naumburg Bandshell. 100 years and some of the performers who've stood on this stage include Bernstein, Pete Seeger, Victor Herbert, Irving Berlin, Zero Mostel, Bill T. Jones has been here. So many performers on this stage. Such a great history. Well, the band is back on stage. We're ready to continue the show with The Glittering World. It's by Juantio Becenti performed by the ensemble A Far Cry. We're live at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park. We're broadcasting on WQXR at 105. 9 FM and on wqxr. org. It's a great house out here tonight. Glad you could listen to this program on the radio, part of the Naumburg Orchestral Series. Here's the music by Juantio Becenti on WQXR.
MUSIC- Juantio Becenti, (b. 1983), The Glittering World, (2023)
Terrance McKnight: Live from Central Park, a New York City premiere of a piece called The Glittering World. It's by composer Juantio Becenti, performed by the ensemble A Far Cry. We're live here at the Bandshell as part of the Naumburg Orchestral Concerts, and the violinist featured in that piece was Alex Fortes, who's a member of the ensemble.
I'm Terrance McKnight, and we're going to talk to Alex in just a minute. Tonight's concert is the third in the five-part series this summer at the Bandshell, and coming up on July 25th, there's another ensemble from Boston, Aisslinn Nosky's Baroque Band. Now, Aisslinn is known for her work with Handel and Haydn Society, where she's the concert master.
Well, they'll be playing a concert of all your Baroque favorite composers. And that's happening July 25th. And the final concert in the series will take place on August 1st with ECCO, the East Coast Chamber Orchestra. Their program includes music by Mozart, William Grant Still, Eleanor Alberga, and Josef Suk.
Now you can learn about these events and more by signing up for our WQXR newsletter. You can do that by texting WQXR to 70101. That's WQXR to 70101. We are Classical New York, 105. 9 FM and HD. WQXR Newark and 90. 3 FM. WQXW Ossining.
I'm going to sit here and wait for one of these musicians to come up and talk to us about this composer we just heard from, Juantio Becenti. And the music we just heard, we began tonight listening to a work called Around the Fire by composer Osvaldo Golijov, composer who was born in Argentina, lives in Massachusetts these days.
Then we heard from New York-born composer Jessie Montgomery. And we wrapped up this half of the show listening to Juantio Becenti. Played by this Grammy-nominated self-conducted orchestra that was founded in 2007. A Far Cry. They've been out here at the Naumburg Bandshell a few times now, and we're glad to have them back in, uh, these great, great circumstances in terms of the weather.
It's a beautiful day here in Central Park, and Alex Fortes is going to talk to us about...
Alex Fortes: Uh, whatever you want me to talk about, we can talk about the Becenti or anything from the first half.
Terrance McKnight: Hey, you brought a pal with you. This is Michael?
Michael Unterman: Yeah, yeah, that's it. Needed a quick change of gear after that first half.
Terrance McKnight: Yeah, I, I, you know, this composer, Juantio Becenti, he's new to me. And I understand he's a friend of yours.
Michael Unterman: He definitely is.
Terrance McKnight: Is that correct?
Michael Unterman: And we came about him through just a personal connection. Yeah. But... Yeah, I mean, he's a little tough to track down, um, but it has been such a, such a wonderful process getting to know him.
Um, yeah, he is, he lives and works in Navajo Nation, but yeah, like, doesn't have a website, doesn't have social media, so you kinda just gotta know who to talk to. But it's, it's meant so much to bring this piece, I think this is now our 7th or 8th performance of it. We performed at the Kennedy Center, at our home series in Jordan Hall in Boston.
But just, just getting the word out about him because he is such a phenomenal, phenomenal talent.
Terrance McKnight: Tell us how you connected with him.
Michael Unterman: Um, I think originally by by email, we, um, we've, we performed a lot at the Gardner Museum in Boston. Um, and they commissioned him to write a piece for the Claremont Trio, maybe four or five years back. Um, so it, it was a, it was a connection through the Gardner, um, through that, that old residency of ours. Um, that, uh, that brought us into contact with him.
But yeah, it's the kind of person, I mean, I hope, you know, any, any other orchestras that might be listening will, will reach out to us in turn, um, so that, you know, we might get more and more commissions peddled his way. That would be a dream.
Terrance McKnight: There was a section in this music where I thought, this is Navajo music. There was, there was one particular section and it just made me think about that. I'm wondering what you guys have learned about his culture, about, about his growing up, uh, through this music.
Alex Fortes: So, one, one thing that, I think you're totally right, there is one part, there are two, there's a lot of things that are, uh, inspired by, uh, different things. I, I think Jae mentioned at the top of the show that there is a section that comes back that is supposed to imitate, uh, Navajo pow wow drumming. And, and that that brings everyone together in various sections of the piece. But there are two quotes, one of which is from Shostakovich's 15th quartet, uh, and the other one is this traditional Navajo mountain song that, uh, we first, uh, play together as a, uh, a string section in complete unison as if we were all singing it, but all using slightly different techniques to give it a somewhat otherworldly or, or an instrument that doesn't exist on stage kind of feel. And then it comes back at the end with the solo violin part.
Terrance McKnight: Yeah. If you're just joining us on the radio, I'm Terrance McKnight. You're listening to WQXR. I'm sitting here with two members of A Far Cry, cellist Michael Unterman and violinist Alex Fortes.
You know, through this experience of this music, I'm wondering what emotions do you all go through?
Michael Unterman: Yeah, it's, it's definitely a wild ride. I was actually almost, I don't know, laughing through a bit of mist in the eyes at, at the very end. The, the very end of that piece, um, is uh, sort of material inspired by Debussy's piano prelude, The Sunken Cathedral. Um, and I'm, I'm playing the cello. We're just kind of wailing on these low C strings. And, and I was sort of thinking, I've never been so moved to just be like playing this like bass drone. But it's, it's just sort of, it's cathartic and relentless. And, and this is sort of, um, the, the return, the, the piece sort of begins and ends in music that depicts the glittering world, which is the world that we live in.
There are other sections that depict other worlds, um, that are from the Navajo creation story, these monochromatic worlds, a world of darkness, a world in blue, and a world in yellow. Um, but these, that sort of return to the glittering world. Jae sort of alluded to this, that this piece is also, it's, it's about, it relates to the creation story, but it's also very much about Juantio's own creative journey, and his own inspirations.
Um, and I think that, that really hits home. It's the personal connection to him, and it's, it's realizing this piece of his. Um, and this dream and this very personal story that he's telling, um, it's, it's, it's a, it's a, it's a very emotional ride, I think, for all of us.
Alex Fortes: I know for the end, one thing that, that I, Juantio wrote recently about how ending this piece was very difficult for him, that he couldn't, uh, find an ending, and he, he had it all sketched out beforehand, he had a plan for it, it was going to begin and end the same way, and so on, and got to it, and, and it just wasn't working for him, and it, that's a very emotional experience as a composer.
And then at some point this ending came to him, which is just so glorious, so glittering, of course. And, and, and so welcoming and generous that, uh, and, and, and he's very proud of it. He's, he said it's, he thinks it's one of the best things he's ever written, and, and we feel that way too.
Terrance McKnight: Now, Alex, you had some of the, you had the violin solos, solos. Now, what sort of information did Juantio give you, you know, off the page? Was there anything that he, he talked to you about off the page, in terms of your interpretation of this?
Alex Fortes: Uh, yes, uh, one of the things that he was very clear about is that it's not a violin concerto. It's not, uh, Brahms concerto or Sibelius concerto. Um, the violin part... It is, in a way, comes from the ensemble and comments on the ensemble the whole time. That sometimes the ensemble, uh, overwhelms the solo violin part that, uh, Michael was talking about how, in a way, it, it's his own character in the, in the creation method. So it's just him observing it.
It's also him, uh, uh, telling the story. It's the narrator. And, and, uh, I, I think that, as you look at what's going on, on the page, uh, you know, there's harmonies, there's, there's very violinistic, uh, virtuosic stuff, and there's stuff where, uh, he just says play with, I'm playing exactly the same thing as the rest of the band at the same time, or sometimes not, and finding a way to create that sense of commentary, that sense of, of, of personality and individuality while being a part of the whole, actually is very familiar to A Far Cry's, um, general way of being, since we all try to do that all the time.
Terrance McKnight: Well, I have a pronouncement to make. I think this was the first time that I've ever experienced music and felt this sense of
shame or some sort of guilt. When I think about this composer living on a reservation, an indigenous American, I felt something I hadn't experienced before. And I'm just curious, have you all ever gone to the reservation and observed Juantio and what life is like there?
Michael Unterman: We were very close to, yeah, um, and, and we hope that it'll still happen. We've, we've performed on a series in, uh, in Santa Fe, um, and we were, we had put plans in the works. to, um, to perform there and then to perform another time in, uh, in Farmington, New Mexico where, where Juantio lives. Um, and he was even saying to us, he doesn't know if anyone there even, if many people there realize that he's a composer.
Um, you know, he's just, you know, a member of the community, essentially. And, um, we, we have not, and I haven't, I haven't been personally to the, to the Navajo reservation, but, um, yeah, we gotta get there somehow. And we've, we've performed his string quartets, if we gotta just... Throw a quartet together and uh, hit the road and pay him a visit.
Terrance McKnight: Yeah, well make sure you all, when you do, let me know about it. I'd love to have a conversation about that. Thank you all so much for bringing this great music. Jessie's piece, Osvaldo's piece, and this piece by Juantio Becenti.
Alex Fortes: Thank you for having us.
Terrance McKnight: Michael Unterman and Alex Fortes. A Far Cry. They're not done yet.
We've got another half of this concert to get to. You're listening to WQXR. We are at intermission here at the Naumburg Orchestral Concerts. There's one piece in the second half of this program. It's by Antonin Dvořák. It was conceived right here in America. While we wait for it, let's hear a recording from this Boston-based\ ensemble.
Here's an excerpt from their performance last year at the Naumburg Orchestral Concerts. This is a group of lullabies, mostly by Béla Bartók, recorded live right here in Central Park.
MUSIC- Béla Bartók, (1881-1945), & others, Lullabies for Children, Sz. 42 (1908-9, rev. 1943)
Terrance McKnight: And we're back. Live here in Central Park. Central Park!
Yes, we are here for the second half of this great concert at the Naumburg Bandshell. I'm Terrance McKnight from WQXR and we're broadcasting live tonight. So again, let the folks at home know that you're here.
Joining me here on stage is Lizzie Burns. She's a... yes. She's a bass player with A Far Cry. Now this Ensemble was founded in 2007. Now, Lizzie, this question comes from someone in the audience. How long have you been a Crier?
Lizzie Burns: I have been a Crier, as we call ourselves, for two years now. So I'm fairly new.
Terrance McKnight: Okay. Well, this question comes from the WQXR staff. We're going to hear a work by Antonin Dvořák that was originally written as a string quartet, his String Quartet Number 12, nicknamed "American." It was arranged for your ensemble by Sarah Darling, who was one of the violinists in your group. Tell us how this arrangement and why this arrangement came about.
Lizzie Burns: This arrangement came about because everyone realized that string quartets sound better with bass. I'm kidding, I'm kidding. We've arranged, we've arranged many, many string quartets and many pieces that were not originally written for string orchestra in A Far Cry because the string orchestra repertoire is somewhat limited for a group that's been around for 16 seasons now.
So we've taken a lot of things into our own hands and playing this great, great classic of the chamber music repertoire in this new form is such a joy for us.
Terrance McKnight: So Dvořák lived here in our city, uh, in the 1890s. Tell us about his relationship to America and to American music that, that, uh, is, um, reflective in this quartet.
Lizzie Burns: Yeah, this, I mean, Dvořák really put American music on the map. It was really dominated in the 19th century by European music, and Dvořák came here to help found a music school, and in doing that, he absolutely fell in love with the folk music of this country, and he started to adapt it into his own works.
And then, towards the end of his life, when he returned to the Czech Republic, he brought a lot of this American music back with him, and we have many, many great American composers who were influenced by what Dvořák did in his time in New York that created American music as we know it today. Now, this quartet doesn't have any specific things that it's quoting, to my knowledge.
However, it gives the... the image of America. In the second movement you might hear some dusty old country western vibes going on and you'll definitely hear a lot, a lot of fun in the first and last movement. It's such a joy to play this music for you all here in Central Park.
Terrance McKnight: Now, I'm not sure where this question comes from but it's poignant. It's our last question before we get to the second half of this concert and this music by Dvořák. Lizzie Burns. Yankees or Red Sox?
Lizzie Burns: We as A Far Cry, we hail from Boston, but I hail from right here in New York. So Yankees all day.
Terrance McKnight: Here we are at the Naumburg Bandshell for the second half of this concert by A Far Cry. This is an arrangement of Dvořák’sString Quartet No. 12.
MUSIC- Antonín Dvořák, (1841-1904), String Quartet no.12, Op.96, “American”, (1893), arr. by Sarah Darling (2017)
Terrance McKnight: A version of the Dvořák String Quartet Number 12, known as the American, arranged for this ensemble A Far Cry by group member Sarah Darling. We're here at Central Park where A Far Cry is finishing up this concert from the 100-year-old Naumburg Bandshell right here in Central Park. I'm Terrance McKnight here with you on WQXR.
We're going to be back here in the park for another concert of the Naumburg Orchestral Concert Series on Tuesday, July 25th. For a concert featuring Aisslinn Noski's Baroque Band. What a concert this was. We had a New York premiere by Juantio Becenti, Native American composer. Heard a work by New Yorker, Jessie Montgomery, celebrating and challenging the bicentennial of the Star Spangled Banner.
And we began tonight with a piece based on Yiddish themes, Around the Fire by Osvaldo Golijov. You can learn more about some of the great events happening around the city and much more by signing up for our WQXR newsletter. It's easy. Just text WQXR to 70101. Text WQXR to 70101.
A great thanks to Christopher London. Christopher is the president of the Naumburg Orchestral Society. Thanks to his staff, including stage manager extraordinaire Patti Dines. Also thanks to L& M Sound and Light and our friends at Summer Stage. The WQXR team includes engineers Edward Haber, George Wellington, Duke Marcos, and Chase Culpon.
The WQXR production team, Eileen Delahunty, Max Fine, Laura Boyman, Jade Jiang. I'm Terrance McKnight. I'm going to send things back to our downtown studio with my colleague, Miyan Levenson.
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