Night falls in Jamaica Plain. The drunks are flicking cigarettes on the sidewalk outside the Jeanie Johnston pub; on the corner, Santería devotees are buying candles at the Botanica San Miguel. And in between, in a leased storefront, 17 classical musicians are losing their fucking minds to Haydn.
They call themselves A Far Cry, and they are absolutely shredding the cello concerto in C major, playing it like they've just invented this music five minutes ago. The youngest is 25, the oldest 36. They don't have a conductor. They play standing up, and they move as they play, in a way that has made more than one reviewer think of a flock of birds wheeling in the sky. Jesse Irons, on violin, is almost catching air on the high notes. Next to him, violinist Megumi Stohs Lewis is a slender whiplash of energy. When the cellist, Loewi Lin, loses an arpeggio, he screams.
>> VIDEO: Watch A Far Cry on their YouTube page <<
Classical music is in a weird place. Over the past century, it's grown so crystallized and rarefied that people mostly think of it as either relaxing or good for you. This is bullshit; it's neither. The way A Far Cry plays it, a Beethoven fugue can make you want to thrash. A Schumann concerto can make you feel like you've watched something burn to the ground.
In the five years of the orchestra's existence, the Criers have gone from a handful of broke, determined kids to a nonprofit organization with a budget of just over $360,000, a residency at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and an upcoming European tour. On this day in January, they're rehearsing for a concert with Yo-Yo Ma, perhaps the only real household name in classical music — a man who has used his technical brilliance to write himself a ticket to play anything he wants, from Philip Glass to bluegrass.
That's what A Far Cry wants to do, too: to wrestle the music they love back from the cultural baggage it's accumulated.
"When we walk into Symphony Hall and we see everyone all dressed up, we have to learn how not to pay attention to that," says violist Sarah Darling. "We have to learn how to shut out all the ridiculous trappings that classical music has somehow acquired — and only pay attention to the sound itself."
It's not always easy to be that pure. The Criers struggle to contain the artistic visions and conflicting personalities of 17 wildly different individuals, struggle to make enough money to keep going, struggle to keep from sliding into the mediocrity they were fleeing in the first place.
But the payoff is worth it.
"If this works," Darling says, "it gives all of us the possibility to contribute something really meaningful to the musical macrocosm. And that's awesome."