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Post-Classical Ensemble in 2010-11

Lou Harrison (1917-2003) was a maverick West Coast composer whose fascinations included the Javanese gamelan and Asian instruments, just intonation, and writing poetry. His music -- lyrical, meditative, wide-ranging, sanguine, open -- has seldom been performed in Washington. Next season, he’s getting his own festival in DC.

The Post-Classical Ensemble announced tonight a promising program for its 2010-11 season. This group, directed by Joe Horowitz and Angel Gil-Ordóñez, has carved out its niche by doing events other institutions don’t, and this season is an excellent example of the benefits of “festival thinking,” with focuses on George Gershwin, Harrison, and Igor Stravinsky -- a thoughtful series of snapshots of 20th-century music.

“Interpreting Gershwin,” at the Clarice Smith Center in September, starts on September 21 with a doubleheader of free programs examining Gershwin and improvisation and Gershwin and jazz. This mini-festival features the pianists Vakhtang Kodanashvili and Genadi Zagor, the featured soloist in the ensemble’s main concert, “Gershwin and Russia,” on the 24th, featuring Gershwin highlights like the Concerto in F; this event will be preceded by a presentation of Soviet Gershwin recordings.
(read more after the jump)

The Russian accent extends to the season’s final weekend, “The Stravinsky Project,” at Strathmore and Georgetown the weekend of April 8-10, featuring the pianist Alexander Toradze, among others. “Stravinsky’s Russian Accent” is the name of the main event here, also conducted by Gil-Ordóñez, with Toradze as soloist in the Concerto for Piano and winds, and “Les Noces” with the Washington Bach Consort. The other main concert, “Stravinsky and the piano,” presents Toradze, Zagor, and George Vatchnadze in Stravinsky’s main piano works (including the Concerto for Two Solo Pianos and a two-piano version of “Rite of Spring”). In addition, the weekend offers a sequence of intense Stravinsky immersions: a six-hour film festival at the National Gallery; a conference (“Stravinsky and the Theater”) at Georgetown; and an “Interpreting Stravinsky” marathon with photographs and film clips, a performance of the pianola version of “Les Noces,” and lecture-demonstrations at the Strathmore mansion.

As for the Harrison event in February and March, it is, like his music, both substantial and not long enough. It includes a day-long conference on the man and his music; the premiere of a documentary film on Harrison by Eva Soltes (February 27), and a concert (on March 5) that includes some of Harrison’s gamelan works (a single movement of his Concerto for Piano and Javanese Gamelan among them) and a chance to hear the composer’s piano concerto, more than half an hour long, a major American composition that’s all too rarely heard. (Benjamin Pasternack is the soloist.) It’s the centerpiece of a beguiling season that, if sometimes didactic, is teaching worthwhile things in what one hopes is generally a good way.

Edited to add: Andrew Zender, the communications coordinator at the Clarice Smith Center, did an interview with Joseph Horowitz about the Gershwin project.

By Anne Midgette  |  June 22, 2010; 6:30 PM ET
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Looking forward to the "Russian Gershwin" in September!

Posted by: azender | June 23, 2010 9:40 AM | Report abuse

While I applaud the outstanding Post-Classical Ensemble’s exciting and refocused programming for the coming season, I disagree with you that composer and Renaissance artist (including sustainable architect, instrument designer, music theorist, and calligrapher) Lou Harrison has seldom been performed in Washington. To cite just some of the central city groups and venues, Mr Harrison’s works have in recent years been performed at the Library of Congress, the National Gallery of Art, the Freer and Sackler Galleries of the Smithsonian Institute, the Smithsonian American Arts Museum/National Portrait Gallery, the National Academy of Sciences, the Phillips Collection, the National Symphony Orchestra, and – broadcast – on the former WETA-FM (based in Northern Virginia). The National Symphony Orchestra, and soloist singer Al Jarreau, perfomed Mr Harrison’s Lou Harrison: Symphony No.4 under former NSO Associate Conductor (who are the new NSO associate conductors and are any female?) Elizabeth Schulze.

And how many of the perhaps 100 most outstanding American symphonies composed in the 19th to 21st centuries have been performed by the NSO over the past decade or so, or even broadcast on the new Classical WETA-FM, despite wide representation of these works in expert performances on internationally available and very often award-winning CDs?

Also, your comment about the upcoming Post-Classical Ensemble’s Lou Harrison Festival being “sometimes didactic” is uncalled for and represents an anti-Washington, D.C. bias, in my opinion. Didn’t you - just two days ago - let pass Francesca Zambello renaming the Glimmerglass Opera the Glimmerglass Festival in order to bring into it’s widened tent “different events --lectures, symposia, etc -- to make it a festival.”

For some reason, what is acceptable musical and musical educational outreach for New York City based opera director and administrator Francesca Zambello is less acceptable for now Washington, D.C. - based music of the Americas classical musicologist and former administrator (of the Brooklyn Philharmonic) Joseph Horowitz and music of the Americas conductor Angel Gil-Ordóñez.

Posted by: snaketime1 | June 23, 2010 9:55 AM | Report abuse

The NSO did Lou Harrison's Fourth Symphony in April 1998, 12 years ago, with Al Jarreau under the associate conductor Barry Jekowsky (not, alas, a woman). Doesn't quite count to me as "recent." I'm glad that you can list so many Harrison performances in the area (though how many took place in, say, the last five years?), but I'd still hazard a guess that to the general reader Harrison's music is underperformed and/or not all that familiar.

As for "didactic" - while I certainly relish the prospect of an all-day symposium on Harrison or a three-hour lecture-demonstration on Stravinsky, I do think such events aren't going to appeal to everybody. That doesn't diminish my anticipation of this very solid-looking season.

Posted by: Anne Midgette | June 23, 2010 5:44 PM | Report abuse

Well, how about Jennifer Koh and Thomas Sauer performing Lou Harrison’s Grand Duo for violin and piano in the Terrace Theater of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on May 9, 2010? Is that recent enough for you?

Or Washington musicians Patty Hurd, Gita Ladd, and Glenn Sales playing Lou Harrison's "Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano" as the live score for Mark Morris’s modern dance "Pacific" at the Harmon Center for the Arts in downtown Washington on May 20, 2010. Is that recent enough for you?

Do the names Sarah Kaufman and Robert Battey ring any bells for you? I believe that Sarah won a Pulitzer Prize for Criticism recently – or rather, just this year.

(Maybe I heard Elizabeth Schulze conduct Lou Harrison’s Symphony #2, the “Elegaic”, which is more beautiful than his Symphony #4.)

Posted by: snaketime1 | June 23, 2010 6:06 PM | Report abuse

Two this year - yes, that is pretty good. I still think there's plenty of room for more performances of Harrison's music, and that the festival is a good thing - and I think you do, too.

Posted by: Anne Midgette | June 24, 2010 8:53 AM | Report abuse

I did not say two this year. I quickly identified two major performances of Lou Harrison's music within the past six weeks based upon less than a few minutes of research -- research which, in my opinion, you yourself could easily have done before announcing Lou Harrison "seldom" performed in the Nation's Capital. Both performances were at major Washington, D.C. venues, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the central new downtown Jane and Sidney Harmon Center for the Arts. Both concerts were reviewed by the Washington Post, but apparently were under your radar.

One of the performances was by violinist Jennifer Koh, who the next week performed as soloist with the National Symphony Orchestra. Both her recital and her concert hall performance were part of the Kennedy Center's annual spring Contemporary Music Mini-Festival under a major international composer/conductor. Ms. Koh has been invited back to perform with the NSO the upcoming season, and is featured in new NSO print advertising. She is a leading American violinist, and I would have thought that the music critic of a major newspaper would be aware of her performing a work by a major American composer.

The other performance was due to the highly musical MacArthur Prize winning American choreographer Mark Morris, who featured his major work of modern dance as part of his festival of "Genius" in contemporary dance and music in America. The review by the Washington Post's Sarah Kaufman cited the composer, the names of the three gifted Washington musicians performing, the title of the work, and brief insightful comments on the nature of the music. I understand from that review alone why Ms. Kaufman is highly admired in Washington and national dance and arts circles, and why she won the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism for the Washington Post in 2010. Several hundred new dance and arts fans were perhaps introduced to Lou Harrison's work due to Mark Morris using live musicians to perform Mr Harrison's score during that major five or six performance-long Mark Morris D.C. engagement.

Two performances of Lou Harrison in the Nation's Capital in the past six weeks by headline classical performers. That is more than "pretty good". That is cause for celebration, as is the day long Lou Harrison Symposium next season. And it isn't my fault that the National Symphony Orchestra is not performing Lou Harrison's Symphony #2 next season, and that similarly out-of-touch Classical WETA-FM doesn't broadcast music of Lou Harrison and other American classical composers. Whether it is partially the fault of the Washington Post, I believe, is open to debate.

Posted by: snaketime1 | June 24, 2010 9:38 AM | Report abuse

correction: American violinist and contemporary classical music champion Jennifer Koh performed with the NSO the next month, and not the next week. American violinist and contemporary classical music champion Leila Josefowicz was the featured violinist in the NSO Mini-Festival of Contemporary Music the week after Ms Koh performed Lou Harrison's Grand Duo for Violin and Piano in the Terrace Theater in May. I regret the error.

Posted by: snaketime1 | June 24, 2010 10:08 AM | Report abuse

correction: it was the Washington Ballet, and not the Mark Morris Dance Company itself, that staged Mark Morris's "Pacific" at the Harman Center for the Arts last month using local musicians to perform, live, Lou Harrison's "Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano" as the score to the modern dance masterpiece. I regret the error.

Interestingly, the previous month, the Washington Ballet, also dancing at the new Harman Center for the Arts, performed choreographer Edwaard Liang's "Wunderland" which -- apparently due to the lingering recession -- was set to recordings of Philip Glass's "String Quartets Nos. 2, 3 and 5." Perhaps as compensation, that program also included Karole Armitage's new ballet "Brahms on Edge" set to six songs by Brahms, performed by mezzo-soprano Cynthia Hanna, with Joy Schreier on piano, who are both part of the Washington National Opera's Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program.

Again, a piece of outstanding and refreshing local arts coverage and criticism by 2010 Pulitzer Prize winning Washington Post critic Sarah Kaufman.

Posted by: snaketime1 | June 25, 2010 9:30 AM | Report abuse

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