Under Galvanizing Leadership of Teddy Abrams, Louisville Orchestra Launches 2015-16 Season with Most Ambitious Project to Date: Full-Scale Production of Bernstein’s MASS (Sep 26 & 27)

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Under Galvanizing Leadership of Teddy Abrams, Louisville Orchestra Launches 2015-16 Season with Most Ambitious Project to Date: Full-Scale Production of Bernstein’s MASS (Sep 26 & 27)

“Bernstein’s Mass is a visionary work whose pertinence has never been more vivid.”– Teddy Abrams
Under the galvanizing leadership of Music Director Teddy Abrams, the Louisville Orchestra – winner of a Bernstein Award – launches the 2015-16 season with back-to-back accounts of Leonard Bernstein’s MASS (Sep 26 & 27).  The orchestra’s presentation of this grandly scaled, deeply affecting masterpiece – scored for a cast of hundreds – will feature baritone Jubilant Sykes reprising his Grammy-nominated portrayal of the Celebrant and a Street Chorus drawn from the local community in an original production by Drama Desk Award-winning director Arvin Brown. A partnership with Louisville’s Center for Interfaith Relations (CIR) will enhance the musical proceedings with a number of public talks featuring representatives from different religions.  As a major musical, community, and interfaith event, MASS represents, as Abrams puts it, not only “the biggest project the Louisville Orchestra has ever undertaken,” but one that constitutes “a giant celebration of the human spirit.”

Commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy, MASS received its world premiere in 1971 at the opening of the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. Bernstein (1918-90) was a social liberal, lifelong activist, and the son of Russian Jews, so his decision to set the Roman Catholic Tridentine Mass was a surprising one. Characteristically, however, rather than producing a traditional setting of the Latin liturgy, he collaborated with Broadway’s Stephen Schwartz and singer-songwriter Paul Simon to create an innovative, fully-staged, dramatic pageant that juxtaposed the 16th-century ritual with original and highly contemporary text as a means of exploring the crisis in faith and cultural breakdown of the post-Kennedy era. Embracing an exuberant array of musical styles, the resulting MASS has been hailed variously as “a cornucopia of genius” (New York Times) and “arguably the best thing Bernstein ever wrote” (Washington Post). For Teddy Abrams, its meaning is simple:

“This work’s clear message is that the strength of our humanity and spirituality is in our diversity, which Bernstein demonstrates by employing the widest range of musical styles – from rock to folk to the avant-garde. Bernstein’s MASS is a metaphor for our own human diversity.”
Now embarking on the second season of his tenure, it was the 28-year-old Music Director who spearheaded the orchestra’s creative resurgence and reconnection with the Louisville community last year. As he explains, the upcoming MASS presentation is very much in keeping with his plans for the orchestra:
“This is one of the most ambitious productions an orchestra can present: a combination of theater, music, ritual, and drama by an enormous number of performers. We are all very excited about the creative team leading this, including renowned director Arvin Brown and designer Nicolas Raubertas, both of whom are passionate about this exceptional work.  Our artistic and community engagement goals are clear: to give a world-class performance and to interact with the complete Louisville population through open rehearsals, discussions, services and video projections. I hope our MASS production will be an opportunity for the Louisville Orchestra to unite the entire region in a powerful, cathartic and immersive creative experience.”
The conductor discusses MASS further in this three-minute video preview.
Behind Louisville’s MASS project is the inspiration of Thomas Merton (1915-68), the American Catholic writer and mystic who lived in a monastery near the city and who was a progenitor of the interfaith movement, pioneering dialogue with such prominent Asian spiritual figures as D.T. Suzuki and the Dalai Lama. Fittingly, then, Abrams and the orchestra will partner with the Louisville-based Center for Interfaith Relations (CIR), which celebrates the diversity of faith traditions and encourages the recognition of their common purpose. The CIR will coordinate a series of special events at which representatives of different religions will come together to discuss Bernstein’s work. Testifying to the orchestra’s unwavering commitment to innovative community engagement, there will also be public discussions following open rehearsals and opportunities for the Louisville choristers who comprise the Street Chorus to work together during the month before the performance.

Abrams and the Louisville Orchestra have already demonstrated their ability to pull off ambitious community collaborations with aplomb, for it was last year’s powerhouse performance of Carmina Burana, which employed a local cast of hundreds, that “offer[ed] incontrovertible proof that Abrams [was] leading the Louisville Orchestra into the next great leg of its journey” (Arts-Louisville).

A video about Louisville’s Carmina Burana in the Music Makes a City Now series.
Additional highlights of the orchestra’s 2015-16 season include the world premieres of four new commissions, two of them by the multi-talented Abrams himself; a two-part Festival of American Music; a fully-staged production of Stravinsky’s Petrushka, presented complete in an unprecedented partnership with the Louisville Ballet; concerto collaborations with such eminent artists as banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck and violinist Augustin Hadelich; an exploration of “The Bach Effect” on German composers as diverse as C.P.E. Bach, Wagner, and Hindemith; favorite masterworks including Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony, Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, and seasonal selections from Handel’s Messiah; and collaborations with local musicians that typify Abrams’s and the orchestra’s extraordinary dedication to community engagement.
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: 2015-16 season

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

Sep 26 & 27
“Opening Night”
Bernstein: MASS (with Jubilant Sykes, baritone)

Oct 9
“Four Last Songs”
With Jorge Mester, Music Director Emeritus
R. Strauss: Four Last Songs
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4

Oct 23 & 24
Teddy Abrams: composition for community collaborators (world premiere)
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3, “Eroica”

Nov 6 & 7
“The Bach Effect”
R. Strauss: Don Juan
Wagner: Overture to Tannhäuser
C.P.E. Bach: Sinfonia in B minor No. 5, WQ182
J.S. Bach (arr. Webern): Musical Offering
Hindemith: “Ragtime” from Suite “1922”
Mozart: Symphony No. 41 in C, K. 551, “Jupiter”
Wolfgang Rihm: Nature morte

Dec 4 & 5
Messiah: Christmas Selections”

Dec 5
“Home for the Holidays: A Family Concert”

Jan 8 & 9
“Rachmaninoff’s Second”
With Jorge Mester, Music Director Emeritus
Martinu: Symphony No. 6
Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 2 (with William Wolfram, piano)

Jan 29 & 30
“Brahms & Rachmaninoff”
Brahms: Violin Concerto (with Augustin Hadelich, violin)
Rachmaninoff: Symphonic Dances
Students from the Curtis Institute of Music: world premiere of new commission

March 4 & 5
PETRUSHKA – An Orchestra & Ballet Collaboration”
Teddy Abrams: new work tba (world-premiere ballet)
Philip Glass: Violin Concerto
Stravinsky: Petrushka (with Louisville Ballet)

March 25 & 26
“Festival of American Music I”
Ives: Thanksgiving and Forefather’s Day
Prima (arr. Abrams): Sing, Sing, Sing
Copland: Clarinet Concerto (with Teddy Abrams, clarinet)
Antheil: A Jazz Symphony
Meredith Monk: Songs of Ascension
Steve Reich: Three Movements for Orchestra

April 8 & 9
“Festival of American Music II”
John Adams: Harmonielehre, Movement I
Mason Bates: Mothership
Chase Morrin: Piano Concerto (world premiere; with Chase Morrin, piano)
Copland: Symphony No. 3

April 29 & 30
“Béla Fleck”
Mancini: Theme from Peter Gunn
Béla Fleck: The Impostor (with Béla Fleck, banjo)
Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique

All dates, programs, and artists are subject to change.


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