On many weekdays in Jamaica Plain, an ethnic neighborhood in Boston, people on the way to the subway might hear a string orchestra playing. As they walk down the street past the bodega (Spanish grocer) and next to the botanica (Spanish store that sells religious artifacts), they’ll see a storefront with a huge window. When they look through, they’ll see the orchestra rehearsing.
“We invite people inside,” said Miki-Sophia Cloud, a violinist with the chamber orchestra A Far Cry. “That’s what I love about the group. Of course, we want to tour and be at Jordan Hall, but we also want to be part of the community. It keeps it present for us.”
A Far Cry will debut on Saturday at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall in a program of music by Oswaldo Golijov, Arvo Pärt, Heinrich von Biber and William Walton.
That commitment to community, which annually includes several free concerts for the locals who always show up in force, is only part of what makes this group a little different, Cloud said.
A Far Cry
WHERE: Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, 30 Second St., Troy
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday
HOW MUCH: $39-$15, students $5 off price
MORE INFO: 273-0038, www.troymusichall.org
When 17 string players first got together in 2007 with the idea of founding a chamber orchestra, they knew they wanted to work without a conductor and they wanted everyone to feel equal with no one playing the same position all the time.
“But we learned early on that we can’t have a mosh pit, so we decided to rotate the leadership,” Cloud said. “For the principal chairs, we rotate. They meet before rehearsal to discuss interpretations and then bring it to all of us to tweak.”
But what to name the group?
“We didn’t want a typical name as X Chamber Orchestra,” she said. “So we brainstormed and found A Far Cry appealing. It has more than one meaning — as in a far cry from what you normally see and as a big priority into bringing an expressive message into the world and making it far-reaching.”
This indirect mission is part of why the musicians of the orchestra have come to be known as the “Criers” — committed to passing on the spirit of making music collaboratively to the next generation, Cloud said.
Other issues, such as what to perform, who would manage the group or provide marketing and administrative direction or tour direction or development projects, all came to be settled collectively.
“We take turns,” said Cloud, who is currently overseeing media relations and marketing for the group.
Collaborating on ideas
Everyone comes up with ideas for programs and submits them by New Year’s Eve each year. Every period is considered, from 12th century monophony to new music, which comes either through commissions or over the transom. In the past year, for example, world premieres were given of works by Mehmet Sanlikol, John McDonald, Ted Hearne and Shaw Pong Liu.
Collaborations with guest artists such as cellists Matt Haimovitz and Yo-Yo Ma, ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro, guitarist Jason Vieaux and clarinetist David Krakauer or thematic programs that allow them to explore a central topic, such as the idea of fiddling, expand the possibilities. The musicians then do a winter retreat at a friend’s farm in Grafton, Vt., to discuss what to program for the next year.
In the five years since A Far Cry was founded, the schedule has grown into more than 50 concerts annually and various weeklong tours — it made its first European tour last year.
They prepare up to 10 different programs, taking five of them on a seven-concert tour. That will be the case this month, including stops in New York City, Chicago, Troy and Boston over a one-week period.
All this activity is in addition to the group’s residency at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, working with students at the New England Conservatory and recording, to date, three compact discs.
The other feature that makes these 17 players even more tightly knit than the average small chamber group is how they handle openings. Auditions are not formally held. Rather, someone must be invited to play as a guest artist.
That person is tried in a leadership position at a concert and then goes on tour with them. Then, the players vote, and the vote has to be unanimous. That’s how Cloud became a member, she said.
She had just finished her graduate degree in New York City and had married and moved to Boston to be with her husband. She happened to know a few members of A Far Cry, and one of them asked if she’d like to play with the group.
“As it happens, they had an opening,” she said, laughing.
She must have impressed them, she said, because she was voted in. That was three years ago. Since then, she’s learned more about what makes A Far Cry tick.
“It’s about a lot of trust. People must be excited about the new player. Once you’re part of the group, everyone welcomes you. You know they want you to be there,” she said.
With new blood, the group has had to become more organized about its concert and rehearsal schedules. In the beginning, most of the musicians lived in the Jamaica Plain area. Now members are coming from Toronto, Houston and New York City.
“We rehearse on a project basis now, about a week and a half before the gig,” she said.
“That way, people who live far away — most still live in the Boston area — can organize their time.”