On a campus where students are endlessly preoccupied by classes and pre-professional pursuits, it is no surprise that playing live music is often neglected as an extracurricular activity. For 35 years, the Georgetown University Orchestra has remained one of the university’s hidden gems. A large ensemble made up of roughly 50 students, the orchestra performs a wide range of music spanning the baroque, classical, romantic and modern periods. Yet, few students know about the plethora of talent that quite literally radiates from the rehearsal halls in New North Hall.
Students— who join the orchestra after a competitive audition process— devote a significant amount of time to rehearsing, meeting for two-hour sessions twice per week. While none of the students are music or performance majors, they may receive one class credit for their participation in the orchestra.
Orchestra Director Angel Gil-Ordóñez believes students are motivated by their passion for music.
“After a full day of classes, the students are there. They are there because they want to be there and they can’t imagine leaving aside their love for their instrument,” Gil-Ordóñez said.
The orchestra performs at several events each semester. Earlier this fall, the group played at an event commemorating the quincentenary of St. Teresa in Lohrfink Auditorium. Just last Sunday, the orchestra performed 20th century composer Charles Ives’ notoriously difficult piece— “Symphony No. 2”— in Gaston Hall as part of a concert called “Charles Ives’ America: Part Two.” In a review of the Ives performance, The Washington Post commended GU Orchestra for a “colorful and often spirited performance,” attributing its success to Gil-Ordóñez’s leadership.
The former associate conductor of the national symphony orchestra of Spain and the current music director of PostClassical Ensemble in D.C., Gil-Ordóñez has led GU Orchestra for the past three and a half years. Originally born in Madrid, Gil-Ordóñez boasts numerous awards for his work as a conductor, including the highest civilian decoration in Spain — the Royal Order of Queen Isabella — awarded by the king of Spain in 2006.
The music department discovered Gil-Ordóñez when it began a partnership with the PostClassical Ensemble six years ago. This partnership has only strengthened under Gil-Ordóñez’s leadership. Last Sunday’s concert included a performance of Ives’ “Piano Sonata No. 2, ‘Concord, Massachusetts 1840-1860’” by the local PostClassical Ensemble in conjunction with GU Orchestra. For pieces where GU Orchestra is lacking members in necessary sections, Gil-Ordóñez brings in members of the PostClassical Ensemble to rehearse and perform with the students.
Roy Park (MSB ’19), the principal cellist, said that he was drawn to the orchestra by Gil-Ordóñez.
“I joined the orchestra because I heard such wonderful things about the conductor, Angel, and they all proved to be true. He guided us through a very difficult and profound piece with humor and discipline, and his passion was what made the concert successful,” Park said.
To student musicians, the orchestra presents an opportunity not only to sharpen their musical skills and technique, but also to participate in a group activity. The teamwork required of all of GU Orchestra members ensures what Orchestra Committee Chair Kyle Rinaudo (SFS ’18) describes as “organized polyphony” as opposed to “random cacophony.”
“Orchestra is a group endeavor, no doubt about it,” Rinaudo said. “If everyone in the orchestra just focused on making their own part perfect and being the star 100 percent of the time, then the overall product would sound like a bunch of dogs barking at the top of their lungs with no direction.”
Rinaudo said that students at Georgetown are often surprised by the diversity of talents among their peers.
“In my experience at Georgetown, the beauty of everyone here is that you just don’t know what everyone can do. Everyone seems to have special talents that you would never guess,” Rinaudo said. “I think it’s the same with Georgetown’s musical vibe. You might not see it on the outside, but lots of people here are brilliant musicians behind their skills and endeavors in government, physics, languages, you name it.”
According to Gil-Ordóñez, the diversity of student musicians is what makes the orchestra distinct from established music schools. Drawing musicians from numerous fields such as government, business and international relations, GU orchestra consists of a range of talents, both academic and musical.
“What is very interesting about our orchestra here, and I think this is a pattern for the future, what we want to attract is all you brilliant students who are very good in humanities, chemistry, but also play very well in instruments because you have the [musical] education,” said Gil-Ordóñez.
Looking ahead, Gil-Ordóñez said he hopes more students will pursue music at Georgetown. In addition to formal auditions held in the beginning of each semester, students can also attend an open rehearsal and audition at any time during the school year.
According to Gil-Ordóñez, music professor Anna Celenza and director of Georgetown’s music program Anthony DelDonna are making a concerted effort to increase the presence of the music department on campus.
“It would be so great to make Georgetown a place where talented students can find everything,” Gil-Ordóñez said. “We have very prestigious departments here from international studies to science to medicine. … So why not also present a phenomenal music program that can also attract those students as well? I think we are in the right direction, and that is very exciting.”
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