Author: Becca Vaclavik

The radical democracy of A Far Cry

In the early aughts, a group of chamber music veterans found themselves in Boston attending graduate school at the same time. Brought together by geography and their shared love of chamber music, they decided to start an ensemble together. But they also wanted to try a new approach.

“There were already so many great string quartets, and we wanted to do something a little different,” says violinist Megumi Stohs Lewis. “So we said, ‘How about a conductorless string orchestra?’”

A conductorless string orchestra: the spirit of a quartet, only magnified, says Stohs Lewis. It was 2007—or “season zero” as the ensemble calls it—and A Far Cry was born.

“We thought it was something that Boston and the world could use and that there might be space for that. It was a big experiment!”

Over 10 years on, the experiment seems to be working. The group shares multiple Grammy nominations; has collaborated with artists like Yo-Yo Ma, Roomful of Teeth, and the Silk Road Ensemble; and has been called “a worldwide phenomenon” (Boston’s WBUR).

Part of that success can be attributed to a system of operating that the Criers call radically democratic. “There are different ways for people to contribute artistically. It’s been cool to see how it makes the group better and how it hones every individual’s skills, too,” says Stohs Lewis.

Each season, each Crier submits program ideas to the larger group, and the group workshops them together. In rehearsals, members take turns serving as section principals, and every piece has a different set of principals who lead the interpretation. Once programs have been workshopped, the Criers vote and decide together what goes on a season or in a touring set.

This season, the elected program for Boulder is called “Memory.” Yes, they’ll be performing from memory—a trademark of A Far Cry concerts—but Stohs Lewis adds, “There’s also a thread of memories that runs throughout the different pieces. Some of the pieces are nostalgic in nature, or they are pulled from the personal history of the group. One piece will be from season zero; we played it at our very first concert ever.”

The payoff, for both A Far Cry and Boulder audiences, should be extraordinary. Stohs Lewis says the shared passion for communication can be felt onstage and in a concert hall in a very personal way.

“That’s part of the reason we only play music that everybody has voted for. Because we feel like to share in the most honest way, we have to be 100 percent behind the music we play. We love it, and we want the audience to love it too.”

A Far Cry performs in Macky Auditorium on Feb. 8. Tickets start at $15.