Matthew Gardner

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Unanswered Question | Arts in the Age of Trump (Cont.)

Arts in the Age of Trump (Continued)

September 8, 2017 by Joe Horowitz

The Age of Trump has rapidly changed the American cultural landscape in many ways.

In the silo of classical music, there is suddenly a felt need to ask: What’s it for? Why are we doing this?

How can the arts affect social or political change?

How can concerts help us understand who we are as a nation? What we’ve been or want to become?

These questions are newer than they should be. So long as orchestras cling to traditional templates – the generic mixture of concerto and symphony; the mandatory soloist ; the deferent audience – they will rarely be satisfyingly addressed.

Because we program thematically and across the disciplines; because we regularly interface with schools, universities, and museums; because we invariably invite our audience to speak, PostClassical Ensemble has been tackling such questions for some time. And now that we’re  Ensemble-in-Residence at the Washington National Cathedral, this exercise will become more concentrated and (we hope) more impactful.

Our new season, for instance, closes with “Secret Music Skirmishes of the Cold War: The Shostakovich Case.” We’ll take a close look at the CIA’s Congress for Cultural Freedom, and how it waged war with Soviet propagandists to capture the hearts and minds of intellectuals on the left in Europe and Latin America. The participants will include Nicholas Dujmovic, former Staff Historian of the CIA, and an actor impersonating President John F. Kennedy. Kennedy’s claim that the arts can only flourish in “free societies” will be juxtaposed with the evidence of piano works composed by Dmitri Shostakovich as performed by a formidable American pianist. We’ll also invite our audience to read a couple of pertinent books: Frances Stonor Saunders’ The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters and Marina Frolova-Walker’s new and revelatory Stalin’s Music Prize. That’s May 23 at the Cathedral.

Our annual PCE “immersion experience” is “The Russian Experiment” — a look at experimental Soviet culture before Stalin. The pertinent events include Vladimir Feltsman performing Mosolov, Roslavets, and Protopopov (whose visionary Piano Sonata No. 2 from 1924 is a major find); and the 1929 classic silent film The New Babylon with Shostakovich’s symphonic score performed live. We’ll want to inquire what this idealistic adventure in political music and cinema amounted to, and why Stalin put an end to it.

Our ongoing “American Roots” initiative explores little-known chapters in the history of African-American music (without which there would be no American music). This season, we focus on Harry Burleigh, who turned spirituals into art songs, and the once famous black British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, whose historic visits to the US (facilitated by Burleigh) immersed him in plantation song and its potential for the concert hall. A major theme of these events will be the subsequent bifurcation of American music into classical and popular – white vs. black. How did that happen? What did it cost us?

I append an overview of our 2017-2018 season. For more detail, click here.

Oct. 19 – “The Russian Experiment” with Vladimir Feltsman

 Dec. 7 – “Music in Wartime: A Pearl Harbor Day Commemoration”

 Feb. 28 – “Deep River: The Art of the Spiritual”

 March 30-31 – “The New Babylon” – The Soviet silent film classic with Shostakovich’s score performed live

 April 21 – “The Star of Ethiopia”: Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Historic Visits to DC (1904-1910)

 May 28 – “Secret Musical Skirmishes of the Cold War: The Shostakovich Case”

Unanswered Question | Copland and the Cold War

Copland and the Cold War

September 6, 2017 by Joe Horowitz

PostClassical Ensemble’s most recent WWFM “PostClassical” radio show is “Copland and the Cold War” – aired last Friday and now archived.

Our two-hour program includes Aaron Copland’s prize-winning New Masses workers’ song “Into the Streets, May First” as well as a re-enactment of Copland’s 1953 grilling by Senator Joseph McCarthy starring myself and Bill McGlaughlin.

And – sampling one of PostClassical Ensemble’s three Naxos DVDs presenting classic 1930s films with newly recorded soundtracks — we audition and discuss Copland’s least-known important score: his music for the classical 1939 documentary The City. Scripted by Lewis Mumford, this film – far better known to film-makers than to musicians – advocates government-built “new towns.” Its images of happy workers remind my wife – a native of Communist Hungary – of the propaganda films she knew as a child.

How far did Copland migrate to the left in the 1930s? Citing Howard Pollack’s biography, I read a couple of 1934 letters in which Copland excitedly described his participation in Communist Party functions among Minnesota farmers:

“It’s one thing to talk revolution . . . but to preach it from the streets out loud — well, I made my speech and now I’ll never be the same. Now when we go to town, there are friendly nobs from sympathizers. Farmers come up and talk as one red to another. One feels very much at home, not at all like a mere summer boarder.”

This Cold War chapter concludes a fascinating and at times chilling three-part compositional odyssey charted by “the dean of American composers.” He began as a high modernist in 1930 with his lean, hard, and dissonant Piano Variations – a breakthrough in American music. Then, spurred by Mexico and the Depression, he turned himself into a populist and composed the ballets by which we know him best. It was during the beginning of this period that he addressed Communist farmers, scored The City, and won a New Masses contest for the best workers’ song.

These political adventures returned to haunt Copland in the fifties – during which decade he was bluntly interrogated by McCarthy and observed by the FBI (we now know that the switchboard agent at Tanglewood Festival was an informant). His Lincoln Portrait was dropped by from the Eisenhower inauguration following protests from Republicans in Congress who marked him as a former fellow traveler or worse. Copland now turned his back on the “new audience” he had once wooed, returning to his modernist roots in a series of non-tonal compositions beginning with the bleak Piano Quartet of 1950.

The result is a veritable American fable – suggesting, among other things, that the US is less hospitable to political artists than was the Mexico of Diego Rivera, from which Copland drew instruction. Copland’s Mexican colleague Carlos Chavez at various times conducted Mexico’s first permanent orchestra, ran the National Conservatory of Music, and directed the National Institute of Fine Arts.

Looking back at his Mexican visits of the 1930s, and doubtless reflecting upon the American prominence and influence of such outsiders as Arturo Toscanini, Copland said: “I was a little envious of the opportunity composers have to serve their country in a musical way. When one has done that, one can compose with real joy. Here in the U.S. A. we composers have no possibility of directing the musical affairs of the nation – on the contrary, I have the impression that more and more we are working in a vacuum.”

At the close of our two-hour WWFM radio show, the three co-hosts had (as usual) different perspectives on the topic at hand. Quoting Roger Sessions’ quip that “Aaron is a better composer than he thinks he is,” I opined that the Piano Variations were Copland’s highest achievement and that his populism was “synthetic.”

PCE Music Director Angel Gil-Ordonez expressed admiration for Copland’s non-tonal valedictory, the Piano Fantasy (1957). Of the populist Copland, the best Angel could do was  “He really tried.”

Bill McGlaughlin was aroused by our remarks to passionately defend the entirety of Copland’s oeuvre. From his perspective, Angel and I fail to appreciate the social and political forces impinging on Aaron Copland’s aesthetic vicissitudes — “So you better get over it, Jack.”

The broadcast draws on two PostClassical Ensemble programs: “Copland and the Cold War” (including “Into the Streets,” the McCarthy re-enactment, and Copland piano works in masterly performances by Benjamin Pasternack); and “The City,” presenting the 1939 film with live orchestra. The musical content of both these concerts are preserved on the Naxos recordings we sampled.

Our previous “PostClassical” broadcasts – all archived – are “Are Orchestras Really ‘Better than Ever?’”, a Lou Harrison Centenary celebration, and “Dvorak and Hiawatha.” Coming up next, on 20: “The Most Under-Rated Twentieth Century American Composer” – a tribute to Bernard Herrmann.




PART I – Copland the modernist turns populist

6:30 – Copland the wild man: Piano Variations (1930), performed by Benjamin Pasternack on Naxos

22:00 – Copland speaks at a Communist picnic in Minnesota (1934)

28:00 –  “Into the Streets” (1934), Copland’s prize-winning workers’ song for The New Masses

32:00 – Copland becomes a film composer: The City (1939), espousing government-funded “new towns” with happy workers. From PCE’s Naxos DVD.

52:00 – The famous lunch counter scene from The City, in which Copland prefigures Philip Glass

59:00  — “Sunday Traffic” from The City

PART II – Copland the populist returns to modernism

3:00 – Copland in Hollywood: The Red Pony

11:30 – Copland is interrogated by Senator Joseph McCarthy (1953)

18:00 – Giving up on the “new audience” he once courted, Copland composes a non-tonal valedictory: The Piano Fantasy (1957), performed by Benjamin Pasternack on Naxos

THE RUSSIAN EXPERIMENT: Soviet Culture in the 1920s

Soviet Culture of the 1920s with pianist Vladimir Feltsman

Thursday October 19 at 7:30pm

Abramson Family Recital Hall | Katzen Arts Center | American University Campus


Presented by PostClassical Ensemble and American University’s Carmel Institute of Russian Culture & History

Mr. Feltsman’s appearance made possible thanks to the support of Susan Carmel-Lehrman

Vladimir Feltsman, piano
Benjamin Capps, cello

Alexander Scriabin
Piano Sonata No. 4 (1903)
Two Dances, Op. 73 (1914)
Vers la Flamme, Op. 72 (1914)

Alexander Mosolov
Two Nocturnes for piano, Op. 15 (1926)
Legenda for cello and piano, Op. 5 (1924)

Nicolai Roslavets
Five Preludes for piano (1919-22)
Dance of the White Maidens for cello and piano (1912)

Alexander Protopopov
Piano Sonata No. 2, Op. 5 (1924)

Free Admission-Ticket Required. Click below for tickets and info (limited seating)

“Unlike their compatriots Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, and Prokofiev, Mosolov, Roslavets, and Protopopov never left Russia — and this simple fact explains why their music is practically unknown in the West.” – Vladimir Feltsman


MUSIC IN WARTIME: A Pearl Harbor Day Commemoration

Thursday, December 7, at 7:30 pm

The Washington National Cathedral

William Sharp, baritone

Alexander Shtarkman, piano

Members of PostClassical Ensemble conducted by Angel Gil-Ordóñez

The Cathedral Choir conducted by Michael McCarthy

Commentary by James Loeffler

Hanns Eisler: Worker’s Choruses

Hanns Eisler: The Hollywood Songbook (excerpts)

Dmitri Shostakovich: Piano Trio No. 2

Arnold Schoenberg: The Ode to Napoleon

For Pearl Harbor Day, we juxtapose galvanizing responses to World War II by Dmitri Shostakovich, Arnold Schoenberg, and Hanns Eisler. With the Cathedral Choir and members of PCE conducted by Michael McCarthy and Angel Gil-Ordóñez.

DEEP RIVER: The Art of the Spiritual

Wednesday, February 28, at 7:30 pm

The Washington National Cathedral

“Stentorian” – Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times

Kevin Deas in Rehearsal at Washington National Cathedral

Filmed and Produced by Behrouz Jamali, Dimension Media 2017


Kevin Deas, bass-baritone

The Cathedral Choir

Choristers from the Metropolitan AME Church, Woodrow Wilson High School, Eastern High School, and Howard County high schools

Angel Gil-Ordóñez, conductor

Written and produced by Joseph Horowitz

Visual track by Peter Bogdanoff


Harry Burleigh (1866-1949) is a forgotten hero of American music. Antonin Dvorak’s assistant in New York City from 1892 to 1895, Burleigh was subsequently the composer/singer most responsible for turning spirituals into art songs. His “Deep River” (1915), a sensation in its day, took an obscure upbeat spiritual and turned it into the reverent song made famous by Burleigh, Marian Anderson, Paul Robeson, and countless others.

PCE IMMERSION EXPERIENCE: Soviet culture before Stalin

PCE 2017-18 Immersion Experience, “The Russian Experiment,” comprises events at American University, The American Film Institute Silver Theatre, and The National Gallery of Art

“In spite of the turmoil and brutality that characterized twentieth century Russian history, or perhaps because of it, the artists who lived and worked in Russia during that time produced an amazing body of work. This legacy – still mainly unknown in the West — is precious, authentic, and meaningful.” – Vladimir Feltsman

The Russian Experiment with Vladimir Feltsman

THE RUSSIAN EXPERIMENT: Outlawed Soviet Composers of the 1920s

October 19 at 7:30

Katzen Auditorium | American University Campus

A concert & symposium co-presented by PostClassical Ensemble and American University’s Carmel Institute of Russian Culture & History

Free Admission. Click below for tickets and info (limited seating)

The New Babylon – The Soviet silent film classic with Dmitri Shostakovich’s score performed live

THE NEW BABYLON: The classic 1929 Soviet silent film

March 30-31, 2018

American Film Institute Silver Theatre, Silver Spring

A DC Area premiere, this astonishing culminating achievement of the Soviet silent film era is an historical epic both whimsical and tragic, set during the 1871 Paris Commune. It is the first of Shostakovich’s historic collaborations with film-maker Grigori Kozintsev – a relationship ending with their epochal King Lear of 1971. Film performed with live score by PostClassical Ensemble led by Angel Gil-Ordóñez.

Unanswered Question | New Musical Venues for a New National Moment

New Musical Venues for a New National Moment

July 15, 2017 by Joe Horowitz

Photo: Behrouz Jamali 2017

With classical music under siege, many are rethinking audiences and venues. Here in Manhattan, Geffen Hall – previously Fisher Hall, and before that Philharmonic Hall – has never been an inviting place in which to hear music. The acoustics are defective, the ambience is nothing special. One cannot blame the hall for the New York Philharmonic’s disengaged audience – but it’s a factor. At Carnegie Hall, ten blocks downtown, a community of listeners is joined on special occasions by distinguished ghosts seduced by echoes of a hallowed past.

PostClassical Ensemble – the DC chamber orchestra I co-founded 14 years ago – has at all times been without a special home, even an adequate home. Our concerts are thematic and sui generis. We incorporate film, dance, or theater. We don’t fit comfortably in a concert hall.

Last season PCE was invited by the Washington National Cathedral to produce “The Trumpet Shall Sound” – a concert intermingling spirituals and religious arias, all sung by the inspirational bass-baritone Kevin Deas. The Cathedral Choir – a superb professional chorus – took part, as did dozens of DC high school choristers. The main nave – a towering, aspirant spiritual corridor — was full. The audience was inter-racial. The music impacted in ways no concert hall could possibly have fostered.

PCE was subsequently invited by Mike McCarthy, the Cathedral’s music director, to become an Ensemble-in-Residence. Mike is a man with a mission and it aligns with ours: to explore music as an instrument for human betterment. Addressing PCE’s new residency, he commented:

“Washington National Cathedral is one of the finest examples of devotional art in the world. It stands testament to mankind’s yearning to see the perfection of beauty on earth. It allows us to glimpse a portal through which we can experience the divine. In such an environment music plays a crucial role, amplified by inspirational surroundings. It is both a cultural legacy that we have inherited and cherish, and a means for responding to the world and its challenges.”

Our initial season of concerts at the National Cathedral comprises “Music in Wartime,” a Pearl Harbor Day commemoration; “Deep River – The Art of the Spiritual,” a Harry Burleigh celebration; and “Secret Skirmishes of the Cold War: The Shostakovich Case,” a reconsideration of the CIA’s cultural Cold War.

The first of these events will begin with one of Hanns Eisler’s workers’ songs performed as a processional. The second will end with “Goin’ Home” as a spacial experience. The third will include an actor performing as John F. Kennedy. For 2018-19 we are planning a mega-event which will empty the nave of pews and incorporate lighting design. The Cathedral also offers a multitude of smaller spaces ideal for art installations, and for lectures and discussion.

At a national moment when art for art’s sake seems increasingly irrelevant, the Washington National Cathedral seems newly pertinent to art.

An Experimental orchestra finds a home at the National Cathedral | WashingtonPost

An Experimental orchestra finds a home at the National Cathedral

by Anne Midgette July 7, 2017 | The Washington Post

The PostClassical Ensemble announced Friday that after 14 itinerant seasons, it has found a stable home — at Washington National Cathedral. Starting next season, it will become the cathedral’s newest ensemble-in-residence.

This means that the ensemble, which calls itself “an experimental orchestral laboratory” and has performed in venues from the Indonesian Embassy to the Library of Congress, will present three of next season’s concerts at the cathedral, two of them in collaboration with the cathedral’s chorus. It will continue to perform in other locations around Washington as well.

The move also signals the cathedral’s desire to expand its footprint in the Washington arts scene.

The residency will officially begin with a commemoration of Pearl Harbor Day on Dec. 7 featuring musical responses to World War II by Hans Eisler, Dmitri Shostakovich and Arnold Schoenberg.

This new relationship was spurred by the PostClassical Ensemble’s February concert “The Trumpet Shall Sound,” an exploration of spirituals, presented at the cathedral with bass-baritone Kevin Deas and trumpeter Chris Gekker.

“It would have had half the impact or less if we had done it in a concert hall,” said Joseph Horowitz, who co-founded the PostClassical Ensemble with Angel Gil-Ordóñez in 2003. “We discovered — all of us, including the audience, which was huge and interracial — that the cathedral was a singular ambiance for presenting music in live performance.”

Michael McCarthy, the cathedral’s music director, had already worked with the PostClassical Ensemble on several earlier concerts.

“I loved their approach: a laboratory,” McCarthy said. “Music is being presented sometimes in conventional form but in unconventional ways. I found the juxtaposition of that and the cathedral, in terms of what the cathedral can do in terms of bringing people to it, very compelling.”

He added: “I have a vision for what the cathedral should be doing in terms of arts presenting. We present concerts, yes, but I think the building has more latitude to be able to bring programming here which is not just two-dimensional but multidimensional.”

The large, echoing cathedral and the scrappy ensemble are an unlikely fit at first glance. But both Horowitz and Gil-Ordóñez waxed enthusiastic about what McCarthy has shown them about the building’s possibilities. “Mike has wonderful ideas about the space that we can embrace,” said Gil-Ordóñez, citing the choir, the crypt and various areas of the nave as potential performance spaces, as well as exhibition and conference areas where they could host auxiliary events.

One model is the Park Avenue Armory in New York, a venue for cutting-edge performances in every imaginable configuration. “We have a similar opportunity,” Horowitz said, “although the cathedral of course has a much more specific ambiance.”

As for the acoustical challenges of the echoing space, which make a full orchestra sound muddy in symphonic music, both men say it has proved an unexpectedly good fit for their smaller-scale chamber orchestra performances — thanks not least to its sophisticated sound system. “From the perspective of the conductor,” Gil-Ordóñez said, “conducting there is one of the most beautiful acoustics in the whole area. I was completely surprised by that.”

“One of the other things that attracts us,” he said, “is the variety of the audience we are going to be able to attract.”

The PostClassical Ensemble joins the cathedral’s string-quartet-in-residence, the Diderot Quartet. These secular groups reflect McCarthy’s vision of a cathedral that embraces a civic as well as a religious role and reflects a wider range of cultural traditions — a vision he is starting to pursue more actively as the cathedral emerges from its prolonged financial struggles and, he says, “the shoots of recovery are clearly above the ground.”

“Cathedrals were the center of their community,” he said, speaking of the time when these massive Gothic buildings were first erected. “The discourse that was happening wasn’t all about the church. Civic engagement happened. That’s what I see as the cathedral music program: not a challenge to the Kennedy Center or Strathmore, but finding partners who look at the space and don’t say, ‘What am I supposed to do here?’ ”

This describes the PostClassical Ensemble well. “We’ve never done art for art’s sake,” Horowitz said. “All our programming is thematic. Most of it is about music as an instrument for mutual understanding and human betterment.”

“This is the first time we’ve found a plausible home in D.C.,” he added. “We’ve looked sporadically. There are times we haven’t looked, and thought we’d just be itinerant. And there were times we have looked, and nothing seemed quite right. But this is going to work. We all understand this is the right marriage.”

The PostClassical Ensemble will present “Music in Wartime: A Pearl Harbor Day Commemoration” on Dec. 7, a reprise of “Deep River: The Art of the Spiritual” (which it co-presented with Washington Performing Arts in 2015) on Feb. 28 and “Secret Music Skirmishes of the Cold War: The Shostakovich Case” on May 23.


PostClassical Ensemble is delighted to announce that we have been named ensemble-in-residence at the Washington National Cathedral.

Our inaugural season at the Cathedral features three concerts incorporating film and theater, and celebrating music as an instrument for human betterment:

• “Music in Wartime: A Pearl Harbor Day Commemoration” — Thursday, December 7, 2017
• “Deep River: The Art of the Spiritual” —  Wednesday, February 28, 2018
• “Secret Music Skirmishes of the Cold War: The Shostakovich Case” — Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Subscribe today to the three Cathedral concerts and receive a 10% discount

MUSIC IN WARTIME: A Pearl Harbor Day Commemoration

Thursday Dec. 7 at 7:30

For Pearl Harbor Day, we juxtapose galvanizing responses to World War II by Dmitri Shostakovich, Arnold Schoenberg, and Hanns Eisler. With the Cathedral Choir and members of PCE conducted by Michael McCarthy and Angel Gil-Ordonez.

Click here for further information



DEEP RIVER: The Art of the Spiritual

 Wednesday Feb. 28 at 7:30



For Black History Month, we celebrate Harry Burleigh, who turned spirituals into art songs. With bass-baritone Kevin Deas, the Cathedral Choir, and 100 high school choristers conducted by Angel Gil-Ordonez.





Click here for further information



 Wednesday May 23 at 7:30

Only in recent decades has it become known that the CIA covertly funded a cultural Cold War. A frequent target was Shostakovitch, portrayed as a Soviet stooge. Meanwhile, JFK gave speeches insisting that the arts can only flourish in “free societies.”

Click here for further information



The Classic 1929 Soviet Silent Film

With Shostakovich’s score performed live by PostClassical Ensemble conducted by Angel Gil-Ordóñez (DC area premiere)

Saturday and Sunday, March 30-31, 2018/ 8:30 and 2pm
American Film Institute Silver Theatre, Silver Spring

This astonishing culminating achievement of the Soviet silent film era is an historical epic both whimsical and tragic, set during the 1871 Paris Commune. It is the first of Shostakovich’s historic collaborations with film-maker Grigori Kozintsev – a relationship ending with their epochal King Lear of 1971.

“Kozintsev, together with Leonid Trauberg, aped the madcap pacing of the circus, the variety theater, and American movies, and Shostkaovich followed suit . . . When the Communards are killed by firing squad at the end, Shostakovich responds with a distorted version of the high-kicking can-can from Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld.” – Alex Ross, The Rest is Noise


Related Soviet film screenings at the National Gallery of Art: Saturday March 10 and Sunday March 11 (free admission)

The New Babylon marks the inception of one of the most remarkable film-music partnerships in the history of cinema – that of Grigori Kozintsev and Dmitri Shostakovich. The partnership ends with the most remarkable of all Shakespeare films: King Lear (1971). (If you have only seen this film on a small screen, you haven’t seen it yet.) In between comes (among many other films) The Youth of Maxim (1935). In short, the partnership mirrors the three phases of Soviet culture: pre-Stalin, Stalinest, and post-Stalin.

Saturday March 10 at 3:30 pm: The Youth of Maxim
Sunday March 11 at 4 pm: King Lear

The Getty Foundation
The Washington Ballet
Washington National Cathedral
WWFM The Classical Network
Edlavitch DCJCC
American University
Artmentor Foundation
Graham Holdings
Washington Performing Arts
Georgetown DPA
Indonesian Embassy
national gallery