When Antonin Dvorak, Czech-born, came to America he had as his assistant the African American composer, Harry T. Burleigh. Burleigh would have an influence on Dvorak’s “New World Symphony,” composed in 1893, through introducing him to African American spirituals. A concert at Duke Ellington School of the Arts played by students from Ellington and Georgetown University will present music by Dvorak and Burleigh at Ellington conducted by Angel Gil-Ordóñez of the PostClassical Ensemble.
Speaking with Gil-Ordóñez, who also teaches at Georgetown University, about the upcoming concert I asked him about the collaboration and what he enjoyed the most about it. He replied, “the Duke Ellington students are younger than those of the Georgetown Orchestra students. You would think there would be less maturity in their approach to this music. Not the case. From the first rehearsal they had the same level of commitment and understanding than the Georgetown students. When I work with an orchestra I don’t make any difference between professionals, students or amateurs. There are only good or bad orchestras.”
I asked him as well about the Dvorak story in America. Gil-Ordóñez emphasized that it was “fascinating, Dvorak arrives in New York and feels immediately attached to the African American spirituals and to the dances and chants of the Native Americans. All this transpires in the ‘New World Symphony.’ Even without an explanation of this, when you play the work as an American you recognize yourself in it.”
The not-to-be missed performance of “Harry T. Burleigh meets Antonin Dvorak” including “Harry T. Burleigh and Plantation Song” will be presented at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Friday, April 19, at 7:30 p.m. 3500 R St. NW, Tickets: $15 (Georgetown University and Ellington students will be admitted free with ID.)