D.C.’s ‘Experimental Orchestral Laboratory’ is Ten Years Old

“We’re radical subversives,” asserts Joe Horowitz, former New York Times music critic and author of eight books, including a 2005 history of classical music in America that the Economist named one of the best books of the year.

Horowitz is executive director of Post-Classical Ensemble, a D.C.-based “experimental orchestral laboratory” that has completed ten seasons of thematic, cross-disciplinary programming and educational collaboration, with another on the way.

On June 12, the Austrian Cultural Forum hosted an event announcing the ensemble’s 2014-15 season, which will include two of its signature immersion experiences: “Iberian Mystics: The Confluence of Faiths,” part of the Kennedy Center’s Iberian Festival in March, and “A Mahler Portrait.”

The event was also a launch party for Post-Classical’s new Naxos CD, “Dvorák and America,” featuring the “Hiawatha Melodrama,” a work for narrator and orchestra created by Horowitz and Dvorák scholar Michael Beckerman using excerpts from the “New World Symphony” and Longfellow’s “Song of Hiawatha.”

The culminating event of next season’s Mahler programming will take place on April 28 at the Austrian Cultural Forum, when baritone Christoferen Nomura will sing “Songs of a Wayfarer” and the “Abschied” from “The Song of the Earth” with the ensemble. In between, the audience will watch a playlet about the marriage of Gustav and Alma.

Among the related events is a Nov. 23 performance at Georgetown University of Mahler’s “Symphony No. 4” and “Kindertotenlieder” by the Georgetown University Orchestra conducted by Angel Gil-Ordóñez.

Madrid-born Gil-Ordóñez is music director of both Post-Classical Ensemble – which he cofounded with Horowitz in 2003 – and the Georgetown University Orchestra. Former associate conductor of Spain’s National Symphony Orchestra, he studied with Pierre Boulez and Iannis Xenakis in France and worked closely with legendary conductor Sergiu Celibidache in Germany.

Gil-Ordóñez, who met Post-Classical’s cofounder through a mutual friend in 1997, says that Horowitz “opened my eyes about the future of orchestras.” Horowitz immediate adds: “If there is to be a future.”

The two have created a unique model in which, first, a small orchestra of excellent musicians plays works that are in one way or another outside the standard classical repertoire; and, second, these works are put in context through film and other visual media, drama, dance and commentary. Post-Classical’s tenth season, for example, concluded with a bilingual multimedia presentation, songs of the Mexican Revolution and a screening of the 1936 film “Redes” accompanied by a live performance of the score, composed by Silvestre Revueltas.

Next season is also Post-Classical’s second as ensemble in residence for Dumbarton Concerts at Georgetown’s Dumbarton Church. The ensemble performs in the center of the church, and Gil-Ordóñez praises the acoustics, especially in the lower range: “This octave between cello and bass is extraordinary.”

*Post-Classical will present a program called “Bach and the Divine” at Dumbarton Church on Nov. 15, when bass-baritone Kevin Deas will sing the solo cantata “Ich habe genug” with the ensemble. Another work, “Nun ist das Heill,” will be performed with audience members singing along. Georgetowner readers who like to sing are encouraged to sign up for the optional rehearsals by emailing info@postclassical.com.*


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