ONSTAGE AT ROYALE, A Far Cry (left) teams up with violinist/composer Christopher Tignor and his band, Slow Six (right), with the gathered crowd slowly headbanging along.


The Criers all came to Boston for the same reason: this is where the scene is. Right now, Boston is to classical what Seattle was to grunge — "a supersaturated solution of classical musicians," says Darling, the orchestra's only native Bostonian. Musicians come here because New England Conservatory is here, and they know there will be people to play chamber music with.

Chamber-music groups are the rock bands of classical music, but with two violins, a viola, and a cello instead of two guitars, a bass, and drums. Most musicians prefer playing this way when they can. Chamber groups allow musicians to engage directly with the music and each other, whereas traditional orchestras express the artistic vision of only one person — the conductor. This may be one reason why orchestra players report lower job satisfaction levels than prison guards.

But chamber groups have limits — orchestras just have more firepower. "I think the hunger is to take this intimate way of relating," says Darling, "and bust it out into this very powerful form of a group of people who can accomplish something significant in terms of what can radiate off the stage."

Chamber groups have something else in common with rock bands: they tend to implode, which most of the Criers have experienced firsthand. "We have a fake prerequisite to be in the group," says Lewis. "You have to be a member of a broken-up quartet." (Lewis's own broken-up quartet — Doty, Lee, and cellist Courtenay Vandiver — all became founding members of A Far Cry.) The world of string quartets is full of notoriously epic affairs and breakups. A Far Cry has had its share of epic affairs and breakups, too, but with 17 members, they can absorb a lot more drama. There are at least two sets of exes in the group currently. They're over it.

Another thing that holds them together is an almost deluded sense of dedication. For the first two years, they played for free — even though they worked harder at A Far Cry than they did at any paying gigs they had. Most orchestras hold three rehearsals, tops, before each concert; for A Far Cry, it's more like 13.

In their third season, they were finally able to pay themselves an honorarium of $100 each. "It was just a symbol," says Lewis. This year, they're getting paid for their rehearsals and performances — $50 per rehearsal, $125 per concert.

They have hired an administrative director to oversee operations. But they're still doing their own bookings, fundraising, graphic design, marketing, press liaising, and scheduling. How much time does that take up? "It's incalculable," Lewis sighs. "It's a full-time job. And we've been doing this for free since we started."

Still, she says, "This season has been a turning point in terms of feeling more secure and less, like, just hanging on."

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