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Mellon awards $200,000 to the Post-Classical Ensemble

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A recent $200,000 Mellon grant awarded to the Post-Classical Ensemble will bring three years of unprecedented musical adventure to the Baltimore-Washington area. Since its 2003 founding by artistic director Joe Horowitz and music director Angel Gil-Ordóñez, the Washington-based Ensemble has produced more than 50 events. Its conductor already has the Spanish equivalent of a knighthood under his belt for his cross-cultural musical triumphs. And it runs like a thoroughbred on an annual budget under $500,000.

Don’t know anything about Stravinsky except for the steamy piano scene in Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky? A six-hour, three-day music and film fest April 8-10 shows you just how Stravinsky overturned “classical” and brought music into the 20th century.

Can’t stay awake through a concert suite? Let the charms of singer Esperanza Fernández mix flamenco with a reimagined presentation of Manuel de Falla’s El Amor Brujo Dec. 3 and 4.

Want to see Schubert unmasked? Compare two sides of this 19th-century composer in a face-off of two biopics at the National Gallery in March 2012: 1941’s The Melody Master vs. 1986’s Notturno. Then hear a Schubert lieder played like never before, through the bass trombone of David Taylor.

The Mellon grants in this competitive performing arts field, according to its web site, go to those who test “models that may serve to make orchestras sustainable in the future.” In other words, grant recipients should be debt-free and cutting-edge to the core. The lean model championed by Horowitz and Gil-Ordóñez provides a multimedia festival approach to each composer on the roster. These concerts go beyond the notes on the staff to root the performances in the culture—Russian, Hungarian, German, Mexican, or Spanish—that stokes each composer’s creative fires.

Horowitz—who is also the artistic director of NEA Arts Journalism Institute, Classical Music and Opera, at Columbia University’s Journalism School (where this writer and CP arts editor Bret McCabe were 2010 fellows)—immerses P-CE concertgoers in a total cultural experience. Unlike the mishmash of podium talk and slapped-together slide shows you get at orchestras around the beltway, Horowitz lets cinematic lighting design do the talking. Consider this moment from its September 2010 Rhapsody in Blue concert. Stage lights direct your focus on the key instruments as they enter the musical fray. The stage is bathed in darkness for the radio broadcast recording of Gershwin’s own playing of his Second Prelude, then a single spotlight illuminates pianist Genadi Zagor, who seamlessly takes off from where the recording left off. History becomes present in a heartbeat; prelude becomes rhapsody without time to catch your breath. (Click to download a video from the Ensemble’s performance of de Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain last April.)

P-CE’s agile strength comes from ditching the fixed concert hall, 52-week season approach to classical programming and building strategic partnerships instead. Margaret Parsons heads up the film-related events at the Film Division of the National Gallery. Georgetown University is the education partner, integrating the vibrant energy of P-CE performances into GU’s arts curriculum. The Music Center at Strathmore, the newest artistic partner, offers the greatest stage for the multi-day festivals and connects P-CE with the Maryland Youth Orchestra.

In the coming seasons, P-CE welcomes the choreography of New York’s Igal Perry, the cinematography of Paul Strand in Mexico against the rich musical tapestry of Silvestre Revueltas, the tidy and tumultuous playing of young pianist Jeremy Denk, and so much more. A private Steinway Hall performance by Denk awakened this author’s ardor for American composer Charles Ives. His Nov. 3-5 “Celebrating Ives” collaboration is a don’t-miss joy of the P-CE 2011-’12 season.

In short, if you’re starved for the bold and the new in classical, love film and the music that empowers it, or just want a brilliant spectacle onstage, look no further.

For more information, visit

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