In “Homeland,” A Far Cry used the multiple definitions of “home” as a starting point, drawing on a wide range of lore and backgrounds. A complex musical journey through geographically and chronologically diverse migrations, “Homeland” showcased the best of the Crier’s adventurous and inclusive programming.
Tufts teacher Kareen Roustom drew inspiration from her Syrian heritage to create a musical impression of the eponymous Eastern Mediterranean line dance. Chez Roustom Dabke began with a pizzicato that quickly developed outward with a pulsating syncopation. A harmonic-laden melody for solo violin and cello took center stage as the flowing accompaniment used all sorts of extended techniques, especially legno collar, to great effect. As a middle section, Roustom juxtaposed a softer, song-like alto melody. Through Dabkea single rhythmic pattern – according to Roustom’s program notes, the six-beat sudaasi— unified and propelled the dance forward.
As executive director Grace Kennerly explained from the stage, a typical Dabke is led by a single dancer, around whom the others form a large circle by linking their arms. Kennerly saw it as a “symbol of love and unity, connection and bonding, joy and celebration,” a perfect way to start the new screamer season.
Kinan Azmeh and Dinuk Wijeratne then joined the ensemble for a pair of their own works. Azmeh, a Syrian-American clarinetist recently appointed to the National Arts Council, led the criers through his Ibn Arabi Postlude, an excerpt from a double concerto in three movements for voice and clarinet based on the life and philosophy of Ibn Arabi, a 13e-century Muslim mystic. Like Roustom, Azmeh was inspired by dance, describing a “rather circular form” that allows “improvisation and composition to work seamlessly together”.
The Postlude began with a lengthy piano improvisation section, played by Dinuk with nuances by Keith Jarrett. This hazy, repetitive, trance-like opening was perhaps a subtle reference to Ibn Arabi’s mysticism. As Azmeh began a twisted clarinet solo, Dinuk took to playing mostly inside piano, providing a percussive background as the rest of the orchestra gradually joined. A dance beat solidified as the ensemble came together, with the polyphonic texture punctuated by brief moments of near-unison. Through it all was Azmeh’s virtuoso playing, sometimes one more vocal in a dense texture, but often rising above the rest of the ensemble. Befitting the postlude genre, it ended softly, slowly fading into silence.
Similar improvised piano notes began the six-movement Clarinet Concerto by Professor Wijeratne of the University of Ottawa. He was born in Sri Lanka, moved as a child to the United Arab Emirates and obtained degrees in New York, London and Toronto, and his many genre compositions testify to this globetrotting. For his Clarinet Concerto, Wijeratne drew on his friendship with Azmeh from their student days at Juilliard, writing the concerto in response to the Syrian conflict. As Wijeratne wrote in his accompanying text, the clarinet soloist depicts a traveler from a childhood home who eventually learns “to be ‘home’ everywhere.”
The prologue, the first “episode” of Wijeratne, began with rhapsodic playing inside the piano while Azmeh contributed over string chords held from offstage. The unexpected soundscape was beautiful and introspective. Swift clarinet lyrics, like little beams of light, led seamlessly into the second movement as Azmeh took his place at the front of the ensemble with another energetic and powerful dance; like at Roustom Dabkea uniform, syncopated rhythmic pattern prevailed throughout.
After a dramatic ending, the third episode, “Flux,” broke up the rhythmic pattern, leaving lonely clarinet screeches over a dissonant accompaniment. The glissandi and the rapid passages in all the instruments evoked escape and terror. Open chords then presented a wasteland of a fourth movement, drawn from Edward Said’s definition of exile as “the forced incurable fracture between a human being and a native place”. Azmeh’s soft, dark clarinet sobs gave way to a few edgy patterns referencing earlier moves.
In the fifth episode, a cadenza, Azmeh took a virtuosic and thrilling approach. The final movement, an epilogue, only picked up the energy and excitement of the previous dance at the very end, showing the time and difficulty it takes to come to terms with a new home. Throughout their works, Azmeh and Wijeratne have displayed stellar interpretation and instrumental range. Guest cellist Nate Taylor also sent his many passages for solo cello in the Clarinet Concerto (as well as Dabke) with confidence.
The Criers ends with Mieczysław Weinberg’s complex and knotty Tenth Symphony (1968). As in the music for the first half of the concert, personal struggle inspired Weinberg; in his case, the loss of many family members during the Holocaust and under Stalin’s regime. Like his friend Shostakovich, Weinberg lived in fear of Soviet reprisals and a certain overlap is audible between the two composers. works.
The Concerto Grosso first movement retains many of the Baroque origins of the form. An almost choral introductory theme sets the stage for the rest of the proceedings. Various concertino sections interchange around a terse motif, which is complemented by a crystalline secondary melody. Just before the end of the movement, Francesca McNeeley’s virtuoso cello cadenza led to a restatement of the introductory theme.
The slow Pastorale second movement barely evokes Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony and other earlier pastoral works. Piercing high notes on a dark texture evoked images of a post-apocalyptic landscape rather than the 19eromantic vision of nature of the last century. The timbral warmth of the viola provided brief moments of contrast throughout the movement, but the icy upper parts of the violins inevitably responded. Jae Cosmos Lee’s frenetic and inspiring double-played violin cadenza preceded another impressive display from McNeeley before the main theme reappeared.
The following Canzona diverged from the previous movements. On a bed of lush chords and pizzicati, rose a jerky, sweet lyrical melody. Yet another series of masterful cadenzas – violist Sarah Darling and bassist Kebra-Seyoun Charles joined McNeeley in a remarkable display – culminating in a piercing, homophonic coda.
Burlesque came as a vibrant, chaotic dance. In the screamer’s quick take, it was hard to miss Weinberg’s ecstatic humor amid schmaltzy glissandi and an almost ecclesiastical cello interruption. The final move, Inversion, maintained that breakneck speed. Charles, Darling, Lee and McNeeley again performed a series of cadenzas, this time simultaneously in the climax of the entire symphony. Long trills led to an expansive restatement of the Concerto Grosso chorale, bringing the Symphony full circle.
The quadruple chamber concerto-symphony left no room for any performer, and throughout the concert the Criers took on complicated challenges of all kinds and provided picture-perfect backdrops against which the soloists could shine.
Lee, the curator of “Homeland”, explained the background of the concert. As a child in South Korea, he was struck by many stories of friends missing their homes at the northern end of the peninsula. But war, despite its current relevance in Eastern Europe and Syria, is not the only cause of displacement, and Lee has tip his hat to famine and climate change as other inspirations. For Kinan, the house is simply “a place to wish well”, while Dinuk emphasized the “capacity of music to define a sense of belonging” bounded by geography and time. Lee’s “need for inclusion in a new society” and the need for empathy and friendship provided the thematic backbone of the powerful hit “Homeland.”
Although “Homeland” was broadcast live on September 16e at Jordan Hall and the 17e at the South Shore Conservatory, you always catch it with the Criers’ digital event pass. Despite a very brief interruption in video, the audio was excellent throughout. Tickets for unlimited viewings of the stream produced by Immersive Music Project are available HERE.