DC-based Conductor Angel Gil-Ordóñez Brings Classical Music to 40th Annual Havana Film Festival

When patrons of the 40th annual Havana Film Festival in Cuba enter the city’s Cine la Rampa on December 8, they’ll be treated to an unexpected viewing experience – a conductor and an orchestra beneath the venue’s large projection screen. DC-based conductor Angel Gil-Ordóñez will lead Cuba’s Mozart Lyceum Orchestra of Havana in a live performance of the score to classic Mexican neo-doc, Redes.

Angel Gil-Ordóñez, Conductor and Music Director of the PostClassical Ensemble and the Georgetown University Orchestra. Photo by Andre Chung.
Angel Gil-Ordóñez, Conductor and Music Director of the PostClassical Ensemble and the Georgetown University Orchestra. Photo by Andre Chung.

The festival is one of the most significant of its kind in Latin America, with more than 300 films from Latin America and nearly 45 from other countries screened at venues throughout Havana.

“It is a great honor to be invited for such an experience in the Havana Film Festival’s 40th anniversary year,” said Gil-Ordóñez. “I am sure that the Cuban audiences will understand why I am so passionate about Redes; it is a unique visual and symphonic poem.”

The only screening in the festival to feature live music, Redes is a 1935 film about fisherman struggling to make a living on the Gulf of Mexico. It is the product of American and Mexican collaboration, combining the talents of composer Silvestre Revueltas and cinematographer Paul Strand, as well as co-directors Emilio Gómez Muriel and Fred Zinnemann, the future Oscar-winner who would go on to direct High Noon and From Here to Eternity.

Gil-Ordóñez recorded the world premiere of the full Redes score for classical music label Naxos in 2016, performing with PostClassical Ensemble.

Though generally regarded as a cinematic triumph, Gil-Ordóñez says Redes doesn’t have greater familiarity in popular culture for three reasons: “The first is that it is Mexican. The second is that there existed no decent print until Redes was restored by Martin Scorsese’s [The] Film Foundation. The third is that the quality of the original soundtrack was very bad. Only with the Naxos release, with a fresh recording of the score, can the full impact of Redes be realized.”

The performance reunites Gil-Ordóñez with the Mozart Lyceum Orchestra of Havana, with whom he has forged a relationship based on cultural diplomacy. A faculty member at Georgetown University, Gil-Ordóñez has arranged for the university’s student Orchestra and the Mozart Lyceum Orchestra to visit and perform with each other in their home countries.

On his first trip to Cuba, he led the Mozart Lyceum Orchestra in a selection from Redes and was profoundly moved by the performance. As it turns out, so was Havana Film Festival president Ivan Giroud, who was in the audience and invited Gil-Ordóñez to participate on the spot.

Angel Gil-Ordóñez. Photo by Tom Wolff.
Angel Gil-Ordóñez. Photo by Tom Wolff.

For the conductor, there was no other answer but an enthusiastic yes. Not only is this his first time performing the full work in Cuba and his first time exhibiting in the Havana Film Festival, but it is also an extension of a career-long mission to elevate the work of Latinx and Spanish composers.

“For many reasons, excellent Latin American and Spanish composers have never occupied the place they deserve within the regular orchestral repertoire. As examples, I would mention the Spaniard Manuel de Falla and the Mexican Silvestre Revueltas,” said Gil-Ordóñez. “Every time I perform their music with American orchestras, the response is always the same: ‘How is it possible we have never played his music before?’ It is precisely my ‘quest’ to bring these composers to the attention of American musicians and the general public.”

More information about the Havana Film Festival is available online