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    Arts in New England

    A Far Cry

    A busy chamber orchestra, conductor not included.

    A Far Cry.
    Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff
    A Far Cry.

    MANY ORCHESTRAL MUSICIANS make a bargain: a portion of their creative autonomy in exchange for a steady paycheck. The man up front with the stick makes the artistic decisions, he sculpts the music during a performance, he connects with the audience, and he accepts its applause (never mind that he himself hasn’t played a note). It’s no wonder that job satisfaction in big orchestras can be notoriously low.

    But what if a pack of idealistic and talented young string players decided to forgo a conductor, to make all their own artistic choices — from repertoire to interpretations to soloist collaborations? What if there was not one leader but 18? The group, in short, might look a bit like A Far Cry. Actually, it would be A Far Cry.

    Since 2007, this self-conducted chamber orchestra has been energizing the classical scene in Boston and beyond. The group’s name hints at a certain distance from the norm, which also happens to be true: an exuberant spirit of individual investment and collective adventure can be heard in its music-making.


    From its Jamaica Plain storefront rehearsal space, wedged between an Irish pub and a Latin botanica, A Far Cry has risen swiftly. The Criers — as they call themselves — still perform in a neighborhood church, but they’ve also secured a plum residency at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. In the early days, they once played for an audience of six in a California community center. In the fall of 2012, they performed for a full house at Vienna’s fabled Musikverein. All the while, they’ve maintained both high artistic standards and fully democratic self-governance.

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    This season is A Far Cry’s most ambitious to date, with 60 performances here and on the road, making it one of the busiest chamber orchestras in the country. In 2014, a new grant will fund an entire local series of free concerts. But don’t expect typical programs of classical music’s greatest hits. The group is rethinking conventions and inviting fans to trust the players’ shared imagination. So while a night could begin with familiar works by Tchaikovsky or Dvorak, it might end in a blaze of furious Gypsy-style fiddling or with a new score whose ink is barely dry.

    In summer 2012, bassist Erik Higgins was considering joining the group, even though that would mean leaving Germany and his secure position at the Hamburg Opera. “I had ‘the job’ with a steady paycheck, and sometimes the music could be pretty good,” he recalls today, “but I thought if it could be so good here all the time, it’s worth all the other sacrifices.” So he packed his bags and started in January. “I just couldn’t say no.”

    > On May 24 at Jordan Hall, A Far Cry closes its season with a program featuring works of Mozart, Bruckner, and Schubert. 978-697-4674,

    Jeremy Eichler is the Globe’s classical music critic. E-mail him at and follow him on Twitter @jeremy_eichler.