Teddy Abrams Continues Inaugural Season as MD of Louisville Orchestra with World Premiere of Classical Symphony by Sebastian Chang (Jan 29 & 30)

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Teddy Abrams Continues Inaugural Season as MD of Louisville Orchestra with World Premiere of Classical Symphony by Sebastian Chang (Jan 29 & 30)


Since launching his tenure as Music Director of the Louisville Orchestra in September, Teddy Abrams has succeeded in starting a fresh and game-changing new chapter in the ensemble’s history, that – fueled by the 27-year-old’s talent, vision, energy, drive, and commitment to innovative community engagement – looks set to continue apace. He and the orchestra launch the New Year together with a program pairing Brahms’s monumental First Symphony with the world premiere performances of Classical Symphony, a new Louisville commission from contemporary Californian composer Sebastian Chang (Jan 29 & 30), in the first of three creatively curated programs that Abrams will conduct at Louisville over the coming months. For the second set of concerts they juxtapose a trio of favorites – Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin, and Lully’s Suite from Le bourgeois gentilhomme – with On the Guarding of the Heart, winner of the 2014 Grawemeyer Award, by Djuro Zivkovic (March 6 & 7). Then, for their season-closing event, Abrams leads performances by Time for Three, the genre-bending trio hailed as “the future of music” (Sir Simon Rattle), flanked by the orchestra’s accounts of The Cowboys Overture by Academy Award-winner John Williams and Beethoven’s iconic Fifth Symphony (April 23 & 25). These follow a string of critical and audience successes led by the high-octane new Music Director, including concerts showcasing Carmina Burana that offered “incontrovertible proof that Abrams is leading the Louisville Orchestra into the next great leg of its journey” (Arts-Louisville).


Commissioning new American music to expand and revitalize the orchestral literature is not only a key component of Abrams’s new appointment, but has long been central to Louisville’s mission; since receiving a 1953 Rockefeller grant to commission, record, and premiere music by living composers, the orchestra has won 19 ASCAP awards for Adventurous Programming of Contemporary Music. Classical Symphony (2015) marks the orchestra’s second new commission from Sebastian Chang (b. 1988), whose own numerous honors include five ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Awards; under Abrams’s leadership, Louisville commissioned and premiered Chang’s shorter work Walking in a “Preview Concert” last winter. As the Music Director explains, however, the young composer’s new symphony represents a significantly more ambitious undertaking:


“It’s not a short overture, or a suite of light music, but a full symphony, modeled after Prokofiev’s ‘Classical Symphony.’ Sebastian Chang’s mind ranges from death metal to jazz to classical, and he’s a prodigiously talented pianist and improviser. I’m not exaggerating when I call him a genius.”


Tackling such a potentially consequential addition to the repertoire is especially meaningful to Abrams, who adds: “I think that we can create a contemporary music that people love and care about and feel connected to. Being at the forefront of music that is ‘now’ is at the heart of what the Louisville Orchestra is about.


Carmina Burana and other recent successes

The galvanizing force behind Louisville’s artistic renewal, both in the concert hall and beyond it, Abrams has already enjoyed a succession of critical triumphs with the orchestra. After a season-opening gala in which he showed himself to be “exactly the catalyst needed to facilitate [the orchestra’s] evolution” (Arts-Louisville), the new Music Director offered an exploration of American music through works by Gershwin, Copland, and Weill, and followed it up with a program combining choral masterpieces by Tallis and Mozart with contemporary American works from Jeremy Kittel and Pulitzer Prize-winner Caroline Shaw, all crowned by a powerhouse performance of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana that featured a community cast of hundreds.


The Louisville Courier-Journal called the concert a thunderous frolic.” Arts-Louisville pronounced Louisville’s to be “an orchestra whose excitement and passion are evident from every corner of the concert hall,” and praised the “challenging, diverse, and musically rich program,” in which “Abrams demonstrated simultaneously his commitment to quality music as well as to diversity and inclusion.” As for this program’s centerpiece, the critic pointed out,


With Carl Orff’s masterpiece, the rules are essentially go big or go home. I’ve seen Carmina Burana in three cities, including one performance by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and Teddy Abrams went bigger than any of them.


The inclusion of local high-school choirs prompted the Louisville Courier-Journal to note: “Knowing that … Thursday’s performance included so many young people on stage gives great hope for a bright future for the Louisville Orchestra.” As Arts-Louisville recognized,


“Teddy’s decision to make use of young talent is further evidence that Louisville’s new conductor ‘gets it.’ Abrams knows what it means to conduct in the 21st century, and his decisions show that the statements made in his debut performance weren’t hollow words, but a sincere commitment. … 

        “Bringing the orchestra to the people and relying on young talent to fill out his choir offer incontrovertible proof that Abrams is leading the Louisville Orchestra into the next great leg of its journey.”


Indeed, as Louisville’s chorus master Kent Hatteberg observed, “All these forces coming together – this is a statement for the city.


Hatteberg may be heard sharing this view in a short video titled “Carmina Burana in Louisville,” the fourth episode of Music Makes A City Now, a new, all-access web series that documents Abrams’s first season with the orchestra. Episode Five of the series investigates composer/violinist Jeremy Kittel’s original work Big Fiddle and the ways contemporary composition can transcend audiences’ assumptions; Abrams comments, “The whole point of art is not only to meet their expectations – we’re supposed to give them more. We’re supposed to open up their worlds.” And in a YouTube video, playfully titled #TEDDYTalks, the Music Director addresses the all-important matter of “Conductor Hair.”


Beyond the concert hall, Abrams has found numerous ways to reach Louisville listeners. In the Neighborhood Series “LG&E Music Without Borders,” he leads favorite classics of the repertoire in city churches and synagogues; the Magic of Music Adult Education Series offers community members the chance to learn about the season’s music and artists in more intimate venues, like clubs and restaurants; and Composer’s Corner invites still smaller audiences into private homes, to discover the works of the great composers. 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.


Such creative resurgence coincides with good news about the orchestra’s finances, which have recently taken an upward turn. The Louisville Orchestra’s Executive Director Andrew Kipe – a key player behind Abrams’s appointment – reports:


“We are enormously excited about the renaissance taking place at the Louisville Orchestra. Strong ticket sales – including the most successful subscription campaign in the last ten years – and the very notable enthusiasm of the community both inside and outside the concert hall has led us to believe that the new partnership between Teddy and the orchestra has been a transformational event. Later this month we will announce the Louisville Orchestra’s 2015-16 season, which will be full of surprises and many firsts. This is a very exciting time to be working with this superb orchestra.”


More information is provided at the Louisville Orchestra’s website, www.louisvilleorchestra.org, and high-resolution photos are available here: www.louisvilleorchestra.org/media


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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.




Louisville Orchestra: upcoming engagements


Except where noted, all concerts take place at Whitney Hall under the leadership of Music Director Teddy Abrams.


Jan 29 & 30

“Brahms Symphony No. 1”

Sebastian Chang: Classical Symphony (world premiere)

Johannes Brahms: Symphony No. 1


Feb 21

“Enigma Variations”

Brown Theatre

With Jorge Mester, Music Director Emeritus

William Schuman: New England Triptych

Dmitri Shostakovich: Cello Concerto No. 1 in E-flat (with Julian Schwarz, cello)

Edward Elgar: Variations on an Original Theme for Orchestra (“Enigma”), Op. 36


March 6 & 7

“Vivaldi’s ‘The Four Seasons’”

Brown Theatre

Jean Baptiste Lully: Suite from Le bourgeois gentilhomme

Djuro Zivkovic: On the Guarding of the Heart

Maurice Ravel: Le tombeau de Couperin

Antonio Vivaldi: The Four Seasons


April 9 & 10

“Tchaikovsky’s ‘Pathétique’”

With Jorge Mester, Music Director Emeritus

Hector Berlioz: Le carnaval romain

Sergei Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3 (with Robert Thies, piano)

Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 (“Pathétique”)


April 23 & 25

“Beethoven’s Fifth”

John Williams: The Cowboys Overture

Time for Three: Selections TBA (with Time for Three)

Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 5






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