Angel Gil-Ordóñez Photo: Behrouz Jamali
Angel Gil-Ordóñez Photo: Behrouz Jamali

PostClassical Ensemble Rescores the Symphony

PostClassical Ensemble (PCE), an experimental music laboratory led by conductor Angel Gil-Ordoñez, is partnering with Washington National Cathedral. And together, the two are reconceiving the classical experience.

This Thursday, PCE will put on a Pearl Harbor Day performance in the main nave of the National Cathedral. It will be the ensemble’s first performance as artists-in-residence at the cathedral, featuring the National Cathedral choir led by choral conductor and music director Michael McCarthy.

The program will include excerpts from Hanns Eisler’s “Hollywood Songbook,” Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano “Trio No. 2” and Arnold Schoenberg’s “Ode to Napoleon.” Aside from the Shostakovitch, these are pieces almost unheard in classical canon; and that’s the PCE way. For Gil-Ordoñez, the “problem with classical music nowadays is not the classical music.” Rather, the music loses its valence when presented in the highly codified symphony format.

“[It’s] the same way it was done 300 years ago,” he says.

PCE curates each performance to be both germane and memorable. Sometimes that means working with other media, including narration, actors and film. But more than anything, the programming is thematic and tells a story.

For the Pearl Harbor Day concert, PCE will tell the story of composers and artists reacting to World War II. Schoenberg’s “Ode to Napoleon” was written in direct response to Pearl Harbor, and the ensemble will feature Franklin Roosevelt’s famous “A Date which Will Live in Infamy” speech beforehand. 

Gil-Ordoñez believes this will be the first time the piece is performed in DC, and he says the same about the Eisler. The piece bears less on WWII; however, he was a figure shaped by the war. Like Schoenberg, he fled Hitler’s Germany on account of his Jewish heritage. Following the war, he was deported as a communist.

The PCE’s conductor gushes about the ensemble’s partnership with the cathedral. He feels it’s time that his long itinerant orchestra become identified with a specific space, and he’s also excited to collaborate with the choir. He feels that the ensemble has found the perfect partner in McCarthy, who in return has become enamored of PCE’s rethinking of the concert format, and decided to offer the PCE a home at the cathedral when he felt it was time to expand the space’s arts offerings.

“It was a beautiful marriage at first sight,” Gil-Ordoñez says.

Already, PCE and McCarthy are planning further collaborations. On February 28, the duo will tell the story of African-American spiritual “Deep River.” On May 23, PCE will put on a Cold War program at the cathedral. In addition, PCE will do a live scoring of the classic Soviet film The New Babylon by Grigori Kozintsev on March 30 and 31, 2018. 

Don’t miss the Pearl Harbor Day concert on Thursday, December 7 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from $25-$65. Learn more at www.postclassical.com.

Washington National Cathedral: 3101 Wisconsin Ave. NW, DC; 202-537-6200; www.cathedral.org