PostClassical Ensemble premiers the 'Hiawatha Melodrama' at the U.Md.'s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center

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Entertainment,Music,Marie Gullard

Those familiar with the work of PostClassical Ensemble know that as an experimental musical laboratory testing the limits of orchestral programming, nothing is off limits and no conceptual stone ever remains unturned.

If they're going to make the bold assertion about the radical duality of Dvorak's compositions, for example, they mean to prove it.

"Dvorak -- before 1892 -- sounds 'Czech,' " explained PCE Music Director Angel Gil-Ordonez. "The case of Dvorak in America is a miraculous anomaly: He appropriates indigenous and folk elements of a culture not his own, but which consume and fascinate him. [These are] African-American spirituals and the Native American chants and dances. It is an amazing achievement [and] in the case of the "American Suite," amazingly little known, even to Americans."

This Friday at Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on the University of Maryland campus, PCE's "Dvorak and America" festival continues with a performance of "American Suite," a version for orchestra with visual presentation, and the world premiere of the "Hiawatha Melodrama," co-composed by PCE Artistic Director Joseph Horowitz and music historian Michael Beckerman.

Onstage
PostClassical Ensemble 'Dvorak and America'
» Where: University of Maryland, Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, Dekelboum Hall, University Boulevard and Stadium Drive, College Park
» When: 8 p.m. Friday
» Info: $10 to $35; 301-405-ARTS (2787); claricesmithcenter.umd.edu

The "Hiawatha Melodrama" combines the text from the Longfellow poem, "The Song of Hiawatha" with excerpts from Dvorak's "New World Symphony" which, in turn was inspired by the poem. Coming full circle, so to speak, the "Hiawatha Melodrama" is suggestive of what a Dvorak Hiawatha Cantata might have sounded like if he had the time to compose such a piece.

The concert begins, however with Dvorak's "Serenade for Strings," a piece chosen to blatantly illustrate what Ordonez calls the composer's "Czech flavor."

A pre-concert presentation at 7 p.m. features Dvorak's "American Suite" performed by Benjamin Pasternack on piano with commentary by Joseph Horowitz, Angel Gil-Ordonez, Michael Beckerman and Patrick Warfield.

Typical of PostClassical Ensemble is its holistic commitment to audiences. The concerts regularly incorporate popular music, folk music, vernacular music and more, combining the music itself with insights into the people and the times that produced it. Dvorak is a juicy example of assimilation, having woven American folk elements into his works like threads in a tapestry, and the PCE is there to show it off in all its spun glory.

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Marie Gullard

Special to The Washington Examiner
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