This weekend, I attended a concert by A Far Cry, a self-conducted string orchestra founded 2007 in Boston by a group of New England Conservatory graduate students who refer to themselves as "criers." The concert was entitled "Divisions," as it entailed various reorganizations of the orchestra into smaller ensembles within the whole of the orchestra. Another changing factor in A Far Cry's performance was the position of concertmaster, which was filled by a different member of the orchestra for each work on the program. Guest artists (called "Guest Criers" in the program) appeared in several works where additional instruments where needed. The program represented a broad range of styles and time periods, ranging from Fratres by Arvo Pärt and Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Thallis to a selection from Bach's The Art of Fugue.
A Far Cry's performance dynamic strongly resembles that of chamber music, although they perform orchestral repertoire with a group of 18 or more players. The communication and sense of cohesiveness in their playing were truly extraordinary, and more like what one would expect of a small chamber ensemble, which is perhaps why I was struck with the personal element of the performance. The "criers" seemed to be simultaneously individuals and a single unit.
A Far Cry is unique primarily because of their rotating system of leadership in the ensemble, giving it a sense of communal contribution and variety not found in a typical orchestra. Perhaps this, along with their programming and energetic performances, has caused them to be successful in a time when many orchestras are struggling. Granted, they do receive a significant amount of support from donors, which they dedicate much of to outreach in the Jamaica Plain community where they are based. In terms of attendance, I would say they are doing quite well, judging from the crowd at their Saturday night concert in Jordan Hall.
For additional information about their performance, see this Boston Globe review.