Music Review

A Far Cry, Roomful of Teeth prove a match made in new-music heaven

A Far Cry
Yoon S. Byun/file
A Far Cry

CAMBRIDGE — The conductorless string orchestra A Far Cry and vocal octet Roomful of Teeth approach music with open minds and appetites for adventure. Performances by these omnivorous musicians can and do incorporate anything. A Far Cry’s programs sometimes focus on a single composer, sometimes span a thousand years of music. Roomful of Teeth explores vocal techniques as diverse as Tuvan throat singing and death-metal howling. In a Thursday concert presented by Celebrity Series of Boston at Sanders Theatre, these two vibrant musical streams converged.

A Far Cry first performed three selections from Ted Hearne’s “Law of Mosaics,” which incorporates sampling and remixing. In the second selection, “Palindrome for Andrew Norman,” which borrows from and alters works from Bach to Kanye West, the players changed modes quickly and suddenly, as if someone had jumped the needle on a surreal compilation record. Misty drones skipped to vivacious counterpoint without a hitch.

Hearne joined A Far Cry for this performance to sing tenor with Roomful of Teeth and conduct selections from his own “Coloring Book,” which sets texts by Zora Neale Hurston, Claudia Rankin, and James Baldwin. “You are not the guy” was dissonantly whimsical, with energetic jazzy singing and ’50s-esque close harmonies devolving into carefully timed chaos. The cathartic “Letter to my father” set the women against the men as they flung the words “he” and “him” back and forth before settling into frank, melancholic harmony.


After intermission the singers performed Rinde Eckert’s “Cesca’s View,” and a siren outside answered Esteli Gomez’s melodious yodeling. They also performed two movements from alto Caroline Shaw’s Pulitzer-winning “Partita for 8 Voices,” a joyous exploration of the human voice that is as much of a “hit” as new music has.

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Finally, the two ensembles joined for Shaw’s arrangement of Josquin des Prez’s elegiac “Nymphes des Bois,” which was so lush and plangent it made grief seem desirable, and Shaw’s “Music in Common Time.” Starting with a shimmering major chord, the colors changed subtly at first as one pitch was subtracted, another added. With an arresting combination of instrumental and vocal timbres, the piece was made of simple melodies and ideas that layered, weaved, and tessellated into something luminous. It seemed a song of sorrow and celebration for a day of peace yet to come.


Presented by Celebrity Series of Boston. At Sanders Theatre, Cambridge, April 15.

Zoë Madonna can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @knitandlisten. Madonna’s work is supported by the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.