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The World Doctors Orchestra September 11th Concert

These amateur musicians are also physicians, and they're putting on a 9/11 concert to benefit Whitman-Walker Health

The World Doctors Orchestra at Cleveland’s Severance Hall. Photograph by Janet Century

The phenomenon of amateurs making music is not limited to the piano. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra had a huge success last year with its Rusty Musicians program, giving amateur orchestral musicians a chance to play with the professionals. The latest group of BSO amateurs will take the stage at Baltimore’s Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, side by side with BSO players and under the baton of Marin Alsop, on September 20. The concert is free, if you want to dream about making it into the next class of Rusty Musicians. The YouTube Symphony Orchestra brought together orchestral players from around the world for a concert at Carnegie Hall in 2009 and another one at the Sydney Opera House last March. The latter performance was reportedly the most-watched live concert event on the Internet.

Another group of amateur orchestral musicians, the World Doctors Orchestra, brings together physicians from around the world who are all avid classical musicians. A variable roster of musicians gathers in a city to perform a concert, with the proceeds going to benefit a charitable cause. After previous concerts in Berlin, Cleveland, Yerevan, and Taipei, the ensemble will converge on the Washington area this fall, to perform a concert on September 11, in the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda. The WDO claims that its mission is “to raise awareness that healthcare is a basic human right and a precondition for human development and productivity.” In keeping with that goal, the September 11 concert will raise funds for Whitman-Walker Health and “is also a remembrance of 9/11 and a plea for peaceful solutions to world problems.”

One of the violinists who will play in the concert is Dr. Joel C. Ang, a family physician who specializes in HIV/AIDS care, based at a private practice in Dupont Circle with Cesar A. Caceres, a pioneer of HIV medicine in Washington according to Dr. Ang. “I became a member of the orchestra as a first violinist at its creation,” he told The Washingtonian recently. “When it was founded, we wanted to bring something new to the world of classical music—not only as physician/musicians, but also as medical ambassadors from our respective countries.” The physicians come together not only to perform music, says Dr. Ang. “There will also be time to discuss health care in our respective countries during various social events.”

All of the members of the WDO excel in their respective medical fields while somehow finding the time to perform classical music. Dr. Ang started playing the piano when he was five years old, later taking up the violin when he was twelve, after immigrating to the United States from the Philippines. In addition to his medical studies, he studied the violin at Duke University, and he currently studies with William Haroutunian, a first violinist in the National Symphony Orchestra. Dr. Ang has regularly performed in orchestras and is currently also the Assistant Concertmaster of the Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic, based in Alexandria. “Music is a strong passion in my life,” Dr. Ang said. “It makes me a better physician because it gives me the ability to balance the science and art of medicine.”

The WDO’s founder and conductor, Dr. Stefan N. Willich, is a specialist in cardiovascular disease and epidemiology based in Berlin. A violinist since he was a child, Dr. Willich took up conducting and has taken part in conducting workshops under Sergiu Celibidache, Leon Fleisher, and Leon Barzin. To commemorate the victims of the 9/11 attacks and “to remember the international impact of the events,” the WDO will perform Mahler’s second symphony, known as the “Resurrection” symphony. “We felt the work would be quite symbolic as a tribute to such an important date in our history,” says Dr. Ang. “The symbolism and transcendental nature of the symphony was a obvious choice. We also love playing Mahler as an orchestra and have played his fifth symphony at a previous concert.”

The players will represent over 25 nations from the North America, Europe, and Asia. “Many of these physician/musicians were quite serious in their youth about music,” continues Dr. Ang. “Many attended conservatories or participated in music festivals in their respective countries. Many regard music not just as a hobby but an equal passion, and many play regularly as soloists, chamber musicians, symphony musicians, and still study with teachers.” Still, a Mahler symphony is a daunting task for any orchestra: the musicians received the scores months ago and have been practicing independently prior to coming together in Washington shortly after Labor Day. They have planned to begin with rehearsals in Dupont Circle starting on the Wednesday before the concert, says Dr. Ang. “We continue with group rehearsals and coaching sessions by members of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, who have graciously donated their time to help us with this event.”

The World Doctors Orchestra will perform Mahler’s Second Symphony on September 11, at 7 PM in the Music Center at Strathmore. Soprano Jeanine De Bique and mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano will be the soloists, and the National Philharmonic Chorale will perform the important choral parts. Also on the program are Barber’s passionate “Adagio for Strings” and Mozart’s Fifth Violin Concerto, the so-called “Turkish” concerto for its loud Janissary music in the last movement, with Tamaki Kawakubo as soloist.

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