Multiple-of-10 anniversaries exert a strong attraction in the performing-arts world, if not always a healthy one. So when it came time for the innovative, independent-minded string orchestra A Far Cry to plan its 10th season, there was a temptation to fill it with “a lot of blowout things,” said violist Sarah Darling, one of its founding members: “fantastic soloists every single show, a huge overarching theme.”
A few items on the group’s 2016-17 season qualify for that status, such as a May 26, 2017 collaboration with Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble that features a new commission from jazz pianist and composer Vijay Iyer. But in the main, Darling said, “what we want to do in this season that represents a milestone is, we want to be ourselves. So a lot of the season is actually just straight-up A Far Cry.”
A glance over the season’s Boston programs gives a comprehensive sense of what that means. Many of the group’s more diverse shows, mixing works across eras and styles, are those heard on Saturday at St. John’s Church in Jamaica Plain, its home turf — “there’s a wildly loving and enthusiastic, warm audience; you feel that energy immediately,” Darling said — and the following Sunday at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s Calderwood Hall, which has “perfect acoustics, sublime pianissimos, and really, really intense listening.”
The first of those programs, “Point of View,” ranges over Haydn’s Symphony No. 22 (“The Philosopher”), Vaughan Williams’s “The Lark Ascending,” Norman Dello Joio’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Meditations on Ecclesiastes,” and a premiere by violinist and composer Kip Jones, all kicked off by an arrangement of Steve Reich’s early minimalist landmark “Clapping Music” (Sept. 10 and 11). The more eclectic shows are balanced by a concert focusing solely on the “Day Trilogy” of early Haydn symphonies, Nos. 6-8 (April 29 and 30, 2017).
The series of Friday concerts at Jordan Hall includes a program devoted to legendary cellist Pablo Casals, including his own “San Marti del Canigo” and works by Bach, Schumann, and Ginastera (Nov. 11). Another features a new work by the young composer Lembit Beecher based on the Sufi poem “The Conference of the Birds” and a rare performance of Arvo Pärt’s double violin concerto “Tabula Rasa,” featuring violinists Stefan Jackiw and Alexi Kenney (Jan. 13, 2017).
In the Gardner Museum’s “Stir” series, AFC will unveil “The Sea: Tales of Lapham,” a song cycle by the composers collective Oracle Hysterical with texts by Herman Melville, Jacques Cousteau, and others, all of which were part of an issue of “Lapham’s Quarterly” (Oct. 6). A Celebrity Series of Boston concert reunites the ensemble with vocal octet Roomful of Teeth (April 13, 2017), with whom they will also tour in the spring.
Of course, the group is allowing itself a few opportunities to look back. Its first Jordan Hall concert, “Memory” (Sept. 23), includes Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro for strings, which was part of A Far Cry’s first concert in 2006. The group is inviting all of its former members — Darling estimated there are about a dozen — to play in Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, the closer. That piece will be performed from memory.
“Pretty much nobody joins this group without being willing to do crazy things,” Darling cracked. “And I expect that most of our former Criers will be totally in on it.”
Asked more generally about the prospect of having an unorthodox, DIY group on the brink of its decennial, she said, “what I’m thinking to myself is that we’re not dead yet,” and laughed. “What I mean by that is, every year that this group continues to exist, it basically has to continue to exist by growing and by pushing itself and by developing and by becoming more coherent, more supported, more real, more fully itself. You literally have two options: to die or to grow. And it’s been just absolutely awesome to me to experience all the different aspects of that growth.”
More coming attractions
The Boston Early Music Festival opens its concert series on Oct. 7 with the Belgian consort Fretwork, making its first BEMF appearance in a dozen years, and closes it with the BEMF debut of the vocal ensemble Vox Luminis on April 29, 2017. Other offerings include fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout (Oct. 28), Hespèrion XXI (Feb. 5, 2017), and Stile Antico (Feb. 24, 2017). www.bemf.org
The Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Benjamin Zander begin their season with an all-Russian program that includes the local premiere of Lera Auerbach’s “Requiem for Icarus,” Rachmaninoff’s Paganini Rhapsody (with pianist Ya-Fei Chuang), and Tchaikovsky’s “Pathétique” Symphony (Oct. 20, 22, 23). Mahler’s symphonies are a near-constant presence in Zander’s programming; in swift succession he’ll lead the Philharmonic in the Second (April 14, 2017) and the Philharmonic Youth Orchestra in the Sixth (April 23, 2017), both at Symphony Hall.
Set to sing with the Boston Philharmonic in the Mahler Second, next season Chorus pro Musica will also tackle Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis (Nov. 4) and Michael Tippett’s oratorio “A Child of Our Time” with the New England Philharmonic (March 4, 2017).email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @davidgweininger.