PostClassical Ensemble was lucky. “An Armenian Odyssey: The Color of Pomegranates,” the chamber orchestra’s major spring production, preceded — barely — the ban on public gatherings intended to slow the spread of COVID-19. Apart from any then-unknown health risks, which we hope were minimal, the audience of two or three thousand, including a large subset of D.C.’s Armenian American community, was lucky too. Because the concert, presented on March 4 at Washington National Cathedral, was a powerful, moving and musically exquisite experience.
Armenia, the first country to declare Christianity its state religion, has a long and glorious cultural history. PostClassical Ensemble’s latest cultural festival, “The Color of Pomegranates,” is honoring that tradition with a series of events, which reached a pinnacle Wednesday night with a spectacular multimedia performance filling the nave of Washington National Cathedral.
La página de crítica especializada Washington Classical Review, liderada por los críticos de The Washington Post Lawrence A. Johnson y Charles T. Downey, publicó un recuerdo de los mejores momentos musicales de 2019, un ranking que encabeza el concierto del conjunto PostClassical Ensemble, del que Ángel Gil-Ordóñez es director musical.
The sound of the gamelan, the traditional ensemble of mostly percussion instruments from Indonesia, profoundly moved Debussy and many other composers. This memorable concert featured music by Debussy, Messiaen, Poulenc, McPhee, Alves, and Harrison, alongside performances by gamelan ensembles of the Javanese and Balinese varieties. The echo-prone nave of National Cathedral resonated with wild colors.
At our performance, the chorale was consecrated by stained-glass windows. Angel Gil-Ordóñez is a sovereign conductor of all and any slow-motion music. Our exceptional concertmaster, Nati Draiblate, was the violin soloist.
Extending for 530 feet, the nave of Washington National Cathedral, the world’s sixth largest, can easily accommodate several orchestras. On Jan. 23, it held three: PostClassical Ensemble, directed by Angel Gil-Ordóñez; the Indonesian Embassy Javanese Gamelan, directed by Pak Muryanto; and the Indonesian Embassy Balinese Gamelan, directed by I. Nyoman Suadin.
These days, the word fusion, especially in the context of food but also in discussions of the arts, has become a cliché. But here was a vivid, persuasive argument in favor of embracing a fluid world culture.
Adventurous programming is a hallmark of the Post-Classical Ensemble. This “experimental music laboratory,” now in its 15th year, explored the profound influence that gamelan has had on Western classical composers in a three-hour concert at the cathedral, its new home, on Wednesday night.
The Perspectives Ensemble, established in 1993 by the flutist Sato Moughalian, lives up to its name by emphasizing the historical and cultural contexts of the works it performs. This program focusses on the distinguished Spanish composer Manuel de Falla, whose deft balance of folkloric, antiquarian, and modernist elements is illuminated by two well-loved pieces.
A cathedral is a house of worship, but it’s also traditionally a place of community. That’s a message Washington National Cathedral has been emphasizing, and it’s a message that was underlined on Thursday night when the PostClassical Ensemble gave its first concert as an official resident group of the cathedral, and the cathedral’s choir, dressed in street clothes and marching up the aisle carrying their own chairs, sent not hymns but songs of proletariat revolution into the echoing spaces of the nave.
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.
The piece de resistance, of course, was the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64, with Meyers and the Festival Orchestra, conducted by Angel Gil-Ordóñez. The Festival Orchestra, of students and faculty, just continues to get better. In this performance it was indistinguishable from a professional ensemble that has played together for years. There was a reversal of the usual balance problems, with the conductor having to turn down the volume to avoid drowning out the soloist.
The project devised by the Spanish orchestra conductor Angel Gil-Ordóñez after Washington and Havana reopened their diplomatic relations was fulfilled this spring. “It seemed to me a magnificent opportunity to bring together young people from both countries to get to know each other better and to overcome stereotypes.” Inspired by the Israeli-Palestinian orchestra founded by Daniel Barenboim, he opted to bring together the interpreters of his Georgetown University Orchestra, students of diverse music disciplines, and musicians from the Lyceum Mozartiano of Havana.
I went to the Harman Center for the Arts to attend a PostClassical event entitled “Music Under Stalin: The Shostakovich-Weinberg Connection.” The group’s music director is Angel Gil-Ordóñez; its executive director is the scholar-impresario Joseph Horowitz, who, in the nineties, staged meaty festival weekends with the late, lamented Brooklyn Philharmonic.
In the context of the México se escribe con X Festival, the RTVE Orchestra dedicated last Friday a monograph to the great composer Silvestre Revueltas, one of the most extraordinary musicians in Mexico in the thirties. The forte of the concert was the presentation of the music composed for the film Redes, prepared and directed admirably by Angel Gil-Ordóñez.
In the classical music field, “multimedia” has become a tired buzzword for something purportedly unconventional, usually involving video projections. But the PostClassical Ensemble really did offer multimedia in its long, packed, content-rich concert as part of the Kennedy Center’s Iberian Suite festival Tuesday night.
Exuberant, unfettered, almost cinematic in its rich colors and heady sweep of ideas, the work seemed to explode with vitality and a sense of freedom and infinite possibility. Much of that was due to superb playing by the ensemble itself — led with fluidity and precision by music director Angel Gil-Ordonez — but the music itself proved that Dvorak was no mere borrower of indigenous melodies: He had grasped the frontier mentality of America itself.
Under the nuanced and utterly fluid direction of Angel Gil-Ordóñez, the work lost none of its roiling, acrid bite nor its unearthly luminosity. The wild-eyed allegretto was as menacing as ever, the three largo movements even more sweeping and ethereal than in the quartet version, and concertmaster Oleg Rylatko brought off the lead violin lines with genuine ferocity and power. The quartet may be a whirlwind, but in these hands, the chamber version became a tornado.
It’s easy to see why the PostClassical Ensemble would embrace George Gershwin. This most American of composers has long been underappreciated at home, relegated to pops concerts for the sin of having drawn on jazz and popular music. But Gershwin is overdue for a fresh look, and that’s the ensemble’s specialty: turning familiar music on its head, providing context and fresh perspectives and generally pulling the rug out from under listeners.
Pedro Carboné, the Spanish pianist, opened the concert with a solo showpiece, the Fantasía Baetica, in which he deftly balanced Falla’s flamenco-influenced decorative figuration, brash chord progressions and lilting, modal themes. The orchestra, led by Angel Gil-Ordóñez, joined Mr. Carboné in a muted but graceful account of Nights in the Gardens of Spain, a tour of Spanish music that touches not only on the Gypsy influences that crystallized as flamenco but on Moorish influences as well.