In 1942, Edith Ives, age 28, wrote her father a 1,700-word letter for his 68th birthday — decades after Charles Ives had ceased composing. It read in part:
“You are so very modest and sweet Daddy, that I don’t think you realize the full import of the words people use about you, ‘A great man.’
“Daddy, I have had a chance to see so many men lately — fine fellows, and no doubt the cream of our generation. But I have never in all my life come across one who could measure up to the fine standard of life and living and you believe in, and that I have always seen you put into action no matter how many counts were against you. You have fire and imagination that is truly a divine speak, but to me the great thing is that never once have you tried to turn your gift to your own ends. Instead you have continually given to humanity right from your heart, asking nothing in return; — and all too often getting nothing. The thing that makes me happiest about your recognition today is to see the bread you have so generously cast upon most ungrateful waters, finally beginning to return to you. All that great love is flowing back to you at least. Don’t refuse it because it comes so late, Daddy.”
When I first encountered Edie’s letter, in Tom Owens’ ChSelected Correspondence of Charles Ives (2007), I knew it had to become part of a public presentation. I realized, in an instant, that Ives — himself a writer of distinction — was a prime candidate for a concert with actors that would mutually illuminate Ives the man and Ives the composer. The result is “Charles Ives: A Life in Music,” which this November launches Post-Classical Ensemble’s 2011-2012 season as part of a three-day “Ives Project.”
In the eight years since Angel Gil-Ordonez and I founded Post-Classical Ensemble in Washington, D.C., we have worked to consolidate its mission as an “experimental laboratory” for the symphonic field. Thanks in part to a $200,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, we can now maximize our partnerships — with Georgetown University, with the National Gallery of Art Film Division, with the Music Center at Strathmore — in pursuit of new concert strategies.
With George Gershwin, Ives is arguably the supreme creative genius to grace the narrative of American classical music. But, as with Gershwin, his impact is glancing at best. And, as not with Gershwin, his music remains little known to the musical public at large. “The Ives Project,” hosted by Strathmore, engages the pianist Jeremy Denk and the baritone William Sharp (both supreme Ives advocates) in a strategy for better acquainting American audiences with the cranky Ives idiom — for penetrating its assaultive exterior, for its forbidding crankiness, for connecting to its warm heart and soul. The Project includes songs, chamber works, and the Concord Sonata; letters, essays, and historic recordings; and lecture/recitals by both Denk and Sharp.
Post-Classical Ensemble’s other principal 2011-2012 projects are “Falla/Stravinsky” (Nov. 26-27; December 3-4) and “Schubert Uncorked” (March 24 and 31).
“Falla/Stravinsky” is a double bill: full stagings of Falla’s El Amor Brujo and Stravinsky’s A Soldier’s Tale.
Over the years, my experience producing various versions of El Amor Brujo has been fulfilling and frustrating in equal measure. This magnificent flamenco appropriation doesn’t really work in its original stage version, and the orchestral suite we know sacrifices potent dance and narrative dimensions. So Post-Classical Ensemble has engaged a master choreographer — Igal Perry — to choreograph the suite, streamlining the story and stripping away the dialogue. Our vocal soloist will be Esperanza Fernandez — a legendary gypsy cantaora. There will be six dancers. The orchestra will be onstage. The production premieres Dec. 3 and 4 at Georgetown University; we intend to tour it.
“Schubert Uncorked” continues our collaboration with one of the world’s premiere instrumentalists — the uncategorizable bass trombone virtuoso David Taylor, who most recently performed with us at the Kennedy Center, inflicting his inimitable version of Schubert’s “Der Doppelganger.” For “Schubert Uncorked,” at Georgetown University next spring, Taylor will premiere his own version of Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata, transformed into the first-ever classical trombone concerto.
Both “Falla/Stravinsky” and “Schubert Uncorked” link to film events at the National Gallery of Art. For full information, click here.