Louisville Orchestra Announces 2016-17 Season, Its Third Under Galvanizing Young Music Director Teddy Abrams
TUESDAY, APRIL 19, LOUISVILLE, KY—On the heels of the inaugural installment of their two-part Festival of American Music, the Louisville Orchestra and its galvanizing young Music Director Teddy Abrams announced today an ambitious 2016-17 season of commissions, premieres, grandly scaled productions, favorite masterworks, cross-genre collaborations, and more. Highlights include a season-opening account of Mahler’s mighty “Resurrection” Symphony; concerto collaborations with such eminent artists as Yo-Yo Ma and Augustin Hadelich; a celebration of “Shakespeare In Music” to accompany Louisville’s upcoming First Folio exhibition; the Louisville premiere of a new commission from Lev Zhurbin; and the world premiere of Abrams’s own new composition, Muhammad Ali Portrait, part of a two-program Festival of American Music that will also feature guest conductor Michael Tilson Thomas. This diverse and stimulating lineup continues the creative resurgence of the orchestra that has been sparked by its multi-talented young Music Director – who is, as the Wall Street Journal notes, possessed of a “prodigious, almost intimidating” energy – since starting his tenure two years ago. Marked by a signature mix of compelling programming and extensive community engagement, the orchestra’s partnership with Abrams is one to which Louisville audiences have responded with unbridled enthusiasm, as evidenced by a 93% increase in ticket sales since 2012-13.
In one of Abrams’s key innovations, the orchestra now launches each season with an ambitious, immersive community collaboration. In 2014, their powerhouse performance of Carmina Burana drew on a local cast of hundreds, “offer[ing] incontrovertible proof that Abrams [was] leading the Louisville Orchestra into the next great leg of its journey” (Arts-Louisville). Likewise, last fall some 240 musicians joined forces for Leonard Bernstein’s Mass, a tour de force that Abrams “endowed … with coherence, humanity, and winning theatricality” (Wall Street Journal). Once again calling for extensive local reinforcements, this year’s offering is Mahler’s monumental Second Symphony, the “Resurrection,” which, besides employing huge orchestral forces – the score calls for unusually numerous woodwinds and percussion, ten trumpets and horns, and “the largest possible contingent of strings” – also features soprano and alto soloists, full choir, and organ (Oct 8).
Sharing the Louisville Orchestra’s mission of reaching the widest possible audience, superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma, a recent Kennedy Center honoree, consistently pushes the boundaries of musical communication, whether through concerto engagements, chamber music, recitals, or the exchange of cultural ideas fostered by his groundbreaking Silk Road Project. He joins the orchestra for a special performance of Elgar’s Cello Concerto (Oct 30). Other concerto soloists include young German violinist Augustin Hadelich, winner of the 2016 Grammy Award for Best Classical Instrumental Solo, who joins Abrams and the orchestra for Britten’s elegiac Violin Concerto on an English-themed program that closes with selections from Walton’s Façade (March 31, April 1).
Under Abrams’s auspices, the orchestra has undertaken interdisciplinary collaborations with a variety of local institutions, including the Louisville Ballet and the Center for Interfaith Relations. To commemorate this year’s 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, the Folger Shakespeare Library has organized a tour of the Bard’s First Folio of 1623 – the first collected edition of his plays – to all 50 U.S. states, as well as to Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico. In honor of the First Folio display at Louisville’s Frazier History Museum, “Shakespeare in Music” (Nov 18, 19) pairs excerpts from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet, Berlioz’s “symphonie dramatique” Roméo et Juliette, and Debussy’s incidental music to Le roi Lear with Let Me Tell You, a transcendent new song cycle from Denmark’s Hans Abrahamsen, with celebrated new-music exponent Susan Narucki as soprano soloist. Based on Paul Griffiths’s novel of the same name, the cycle explores the troubled soul of Shakespeare’s Ophelia through a first-person narrative that uses only the few words she speaks in Hamlet. As the New Yorker marveled, Abrahamsen’s setting “causes thousands of people to stop breathing for a long moment,” and it was named as the winner of the coveted 2016 Grawemeyer Award.
An immediate success at its premiere, Shostakovich’s evocative and politically subversive Symphony No. 11 has remained an audience favorite ever since. Incorporating revolutionary songs from the composer’s youth, the symphony has come to serve as something of a requiem for Russia’s post-Revolutionary generation, of which Shostakovich himself was a member. Programmed alongside the symphony is Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto with soloist Andrew Tyson, who recently swept Zurich’s 2015 Géza Anda International Piano Competition, as well as the world premiere of a new commission from the “dizzyingly versatile” (New York Times) Russian violist-composer Lev ‘Ljova’ Zhurbin (Jan 28). Commissioning new music to expand and revitalize the orchestral literature is a key component of Abrams’s appointment and has long been central to Louisville’s mission; indeed, since receiving a 1953 Rockefeller grant, the orchestra has won 19 ASCAP awards for Adventurous Programming of Contemporary Music. As Abrams puts it: “Being at the forefront of music that is ‘now’ is at the heart of what the Louisville Orchestra is about.”
After two seasons of programming in which new and homegrown music has played an increasingly central part, Abrams has succeeded in fostering an extraordinary level of trust between the orchestra and its audience. It is this that gave him the confidence to launch another signature initiative: the annual Festival of American Music. In 2017, this will open with “American Journey” (April 15), a program led by guest conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, one of the great champions of new American composition and a key mentor to Abrams. Under Abrams’s own leadership, the festival will conclude with “All Concertos” (April 29), which showcases two world premieres: First, Louisville Concerto II, the second installment of a hit group composition project that Abrams conceived to bring together musicians from different genres with shared ties to the Louisville community; and secondly, his own new composition, Muhammad Ali Portrait. About his new piece, Abrams explains:
“The Muhammad Ali Portrait gives us a unique opportunity to celebrate one of Louisville’s own and to collaborate with the Muhammad Ali Center (MAC). … I envision the piece as a living, breathing orchestra jazz work that fuses multiple styles including rap. While there will be text, the piece is not a narrative but rather an art piece that captures Ali’s life as a symbol. … I will collaborate with a rap artist using Ali’s words, writings and poetry as inspiration for the through-composed rap. While the rapper must work within the parameters of the music, the text he/she chooses for inspiration will be uniquely personal, so each performance of this piece will be distinctive.”
A further collaboration with community partners is the “Classic Film and Music” event (Feb 25), presented in conjunction with the new film initiatives at Louisville’s recently renovated and reopened Speed Art Museum. An account of Debussy’s Jeux will accompany the world premiere of a new baseball documentary from filmmaker Dennis Scholl, in partnership with another Louisville institution, the Louisville Slugger Museum. The program will also include a live orchestral performance of the score to a classic Hollywood blockbuster that is yet to be announced.
When Time for Three, the genre-bending string trio hailed as “the future of music” (Sir Simon Rattle), took part in the closing concert of Abrams’s inaugural season, Arts-Louisville marveled: “This terrific trio deserved every second of the standing ovations that they received.” Now the three classically trained musicians rejoin the orchestra for an eclectic mix of ’90s hip-hop, grunge, bluegrass, and pop and classical standards, when the Music Director takes the podium for his first Louisville Pops concert (March 25). This concludes another full pops season for the orchestra, which – under the auspices of Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt – also features tributes to Ella Fitzgerald, John Williams, and the late David Bowie.
Finally, beyond the concert hall, Abrams continues to find numerous alternative ways of reaching Louisville listeners. In the neighborhood series “LG&E Music Without Borders,” he leads favorite classics in city churches and synagogues. Meanwhile, besides taking his piano to the streets to meet locals face to face, the Music Director continues to wire his own pianos to an external sound system, so that passers-by can hear the music-making that takes place in his home. All told, Louisville’s 2016-17-16 offerings confirm that, as the Wall Street Journal recently concluded, “There’s a reason for optimism at the Louisville Orchestra.”
About the Louisville Orchestra
Established in 1937 through the combined efforts of Louisville mayor Charles Farnsley and conductor Robert Whitney, the Louisville Orchestra is a cornerstone of the Louisville arts community. With the launch of First Edition Recordings in 1947, it became the first American orchestra to own a recording label. Six years later it received a Rockefeller grant of $500,000 to commission, record, and premiere 20th-century music by living composers, thereby earning a place on the international circuit and an invitation to perform at Carnegie Hall. In 2001, the Louisville Orchestra received the Leonard Bernstein Award for Excellence in Educational Programming, presented annually to a North American orchestra. Continuing its commitment to new music, the Louisville Orchestra has earned 19 ASCAP awards for Adventurous Programming of Contemporary Music, and was also recently awarded large grants from the Aaron Copland Fund for Music and the National Endowment for the Arts, both for the purpose of producing, manufacturing and marketing its historic First Edition Recordings collections. Over the years, the orchestra has performed for prestigious events at the White House, Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall, and on tour in Mexico City. The feature-length, Gramophone Award-winning documentary Music Makes A City (2010) chronicles the Louisville Orchestra’s founding years. More information is available at the orchestra’s newly redesigned website.
High-resolution photos are available here.
Louisville Orchestra: 2016-17 season
Except where noted, all concerts take place at Whitney Hall under the leadership of Music Director Teddy Abrams.
MAHLER: Symphony No. 2 in C minor (“Resurrection”)
Celena Shafer, soprano
J’nai Bridges, mezzo-soprano (LO debut)
Kent Hatteberg, chorusmaster
Oct 21, 22
DVORÁK: Slavonic Dances (Nos. 1, 7, 8)
DVORÁK: Cello Concerto (with Amit Peled, cello)
DVORÁK: Symphony No. 7
Donato Cabrera, conductor
Concert with Yo-Yo Ma
ELGAR: Cello Concerto
Nov 18, 19
“SHAKESPEARE IN MUSIC”
ABRAHAMSEN: Let Me Tell You
PROKOFIEV: Selected excerpts from Romeo and Juliet
DEBUSSY: Movement 1 from Le roi Lear
BERLIOZ: “Queen Mab Scherzo” from Romeo et Juliette
Jan 13, 14, 2017
DEBUSSY: Prelude to The Afternoon of a Faun
MOZART: Sinfonia concertante
BRAHMS: Symphony No. 2
Soloists from the Louisville Orchestra
Vladimir Kulenovic, conductor
Jan 27, 28
ZHURBIN: New commission (Louisville premiere)
RACHMANINOFF: Piano Concerto No. 3 (with Andrew Tyson, piano)
SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 11
“CLASSIC FILM & MUSIC”
March 10, 11
“TIME FOR THREE”
March 31, April 1
“WALTON & BRITTEN”
BRITTEN: Violin Concerto (with Augustin Hadelich, violin)
WALTON: Selections from Façade 1 and 2
NICO MUHLY: So To Speak (After Thomas Tallis)
“Festival of American Music 1: American Journey”
Michael Tilson Thomas, guest conductor
April 28, 29
“Festival of American Music 2: All Concertos”
NORMAN: Split (with Andrew Hsu, piano)
ABRAMS: Muhammad Ali Portrait (world premiere)
ARR. ABRAMS: Louisville Concerto II (world premiere)
All dates, programs, and artists are subject to change.