One of our area's more adventurous musical groups is the PostClassical Ensemble, a chamber orchestra co-founded in 2003 by Angel Gil-Ordóñez. We hear them often on our Monday night program featuring live concert recordings from the Washington area, Front Row Washington.  

PostClassical Ensemble will ring in 2023 with a new stirring program for chorus and orchestra, “Amazing Grace: Music for the Spirit.” The performance on Wednesday, January 11 at 7:30pm at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theatre will be the first of what will be a seasonal family-concert tradition that celebrates the universal expression of the human spirit through music.

“Amazing Grace,” perhaps the most universal of folk hymns, has inspired people all around the world for centuries. The program will feature African-American spirituals, along with works by William Grant Still, and J. S. Bach. In addition, PCE will also perform works by one of the most celebrated living American composers, Dr. Adolphus Hailstork. As a special tribute, PCE’s Music Director and Conductor Angel Gil-Ordóñez will be joined on stage by Dr. Hailstork who will receive PCE’s first American Roots Artist Award.

Other guests include tenor Wayne Jennings, soprano Angeli Ferrette, bass Justin Harrison, the CAAPA Chorale, with Guest Curation by Stanley J Thurston (The Heritage Signature Chorale, Washington National Cathedral).

The ensemble's Music Director Angel Gil-Ordóñez and Guest Curator Stanley J. Thurston tell us what to expect.  

Why did you select “Amazing Grace” as the title and crux of such a celebratory concert?

Angel Gil-Ordóñez

Angel: When we think of “Amazing Grace,” feelings like spirituality, community, universality, hope, optimism, diversity come to mind immediately…This is precisely the idea of this new tradition. A celebration of all these values to start the New Year with our Washington community.

For the elaboration of this specific program, I have counted on an extraordinary partner, Stanley Thurston, who has been crucial in the selection of the spirituals and the shape of the program. Excitingly, we are including an extraordinary arrangement he did for one of the beautiful spirituals we are performing: “Sweet Little Jesus Boy.” In addition to Stanley’s participation, we are also counting on two extraordinary composers, who will be present at the concert: Adolphus Hailstork and Evelyn Simpson Curenton. One of the central pieces of the program is by Dr. Hailstork, his cantata “I will lift up mine eyes.” Ms. Simpson Curenton will be the pianist for her orchestral arrangement of “Amazing Grace”, which will close the program with a sing-along of all participants and audience members.

We look forward to hearing your arrangement of “Sweet Little Jesus Boy.” What can you tell us about it, and what should we listen for?

Stanley Thurston
Stanley Thurston

Stanley: Thank you. It is a jazz arrangement for divisi chorus with piano. It was originally performed at a Christmas Eve Service at Washington National Cathedral, composed for The Heritage Signature Chorale, so it was conceived for choir and jazz quartet - piano, bass, saxophone and drums. We decided to include it in this program because it compliments a group of three Spirituals in the opening very nicely. I suggest the audience listen for the rich jazz harmonies in the choir and piano, and the clarinet which will play the original saxophone part. Also the added strings that add a lush quality, similar to studio recordings of the ‘60’s.

This concert is part of PCE’s American Roots Series. Can you tell us more about that?

Angel: Since its inception in 2008, PCE’s American Roots series has been dedicated to exploring little known and forgotten chapters in the history of American music, especially the contributions of African-American musicians and composers. To recognize those who have made significant contributions to this genre, PCE has created the American Roots Artist Award. We are honored to present the 2023 American Roots Artist Award to Dr. Adolphus Hailstork for his extraordinary contributions to American orchestral and choral music.

Can you speak to Dr. Hailstork's work and why he is deserving of the American Roots Artist Award?

Stanley: Dr. Hailstork is a towering figure in African American composition. He has penned over 300 compositions, from opera to symphony to oratorio to chamber ensembles. A more deserving artist cannot be found.

The program will feature music by Bach. Can you speak to how his work will be featured in the program?

Angel: In PCE’s conviction that great music has no boundaries, we are pairing Dr. Hailstork’s cantata with Johan Sebastian Bach beautiful cantata “Jesus shall remain my joy”, whose final choral is the perfect transition to the “Amazing Grace” which will end the program.

Stanley: These 2 cantatas, worlds apart in conception, share similar characteristics of compositional craftsmanship. Particularly, the genius use of leitmotif and thematic continuity between the movements. Both composers brilliantly express the meaning of the text, with a musical arc that is instinctively felt by the listener. Simply magical!

PostClassical Ensemble’s Amazing Grace: Music for the Spirit concert will be held Wednesday, January 11 at 7:30pm at The Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theatre.

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