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Louisville Orchestra Launches 80th-Anniversary Season, Highlighted by Debut Recording for Decca Gold, Third Annual Festival of American Music, and World Premiere of Teddy Abrams’s New Work about Muhammad Ali

“A genre-defying orchestra in Louisville? Believe it. The locals do.” – Time magazine

For the  Louisville Orchestra, 2017-18 marks not only its fourth season under the galvanizing leadership of Teddy Abrams, the youngest Music Director of a major American orchestra, but its 80th anniversary. To celebrate this milestone, September 22 brings the release of All In, the orchestra’s first new recording in almost three decades, on which triple-threat Abrams appears as conductor, composer, and clarinet soloist. The following day, he and the orchestra join superstar pianist Yuja Wang for a season-launching program of Russian masterworks (Sep 23) that kicks off a characteristically adventurous lineup. Highlights include the world premieres of Abrams’s new genre-straddling work, The Greatest: Muhammad Ali (Nov 4), and of Sebastian Chang’s War, as the centerpiece of a themed concert spanning four centuries (Feb 3). Other projects range from the Third Annual Festival of American Music (March 24 & April 7), a celebration of homegrown composition, cross-genre collaboration, and local Louisville talent; to “Why Beethoven?” (Oct 14), in which Abrams and the orchestra offer an equally innovative and eye-opening approach to a timeless European classic. Reconnecting the orchestra with its remarkable past while reestablishing it as the cornerstone of today’s vibrant Louisville music scene, Abrams’s “tireless advocacy and community outreach” are, notes Listen magazine, “putting the history-rich Louisville Orchestra – and classical music – back on the map.” NPR Music agrees: “If we’re relying on the younger generation to help boost interest in classical music, look no further than Teddy Abrams.”

For the young Music Director, Louisville’s mission is simple. In his words: “We want to become known as the most interesting orchestra on the planet.” As for the 2017-18 season, he explains:

“Our new season offers a really exciting balance of project-based and thematic concerts, as well as favorites from the standard repertoire that I know the orchestra will play to the hilt. Seeing how theater companies focus on a single work gave me the idea to have one of our programs focus exclusively on one of the greatest masterpieces of all, Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony; it’s also a rethinking of how we approach the traditional classical music concert. As in previous seasons, we will present massive productions that cross genres and engage the community in unique ways, such as the Muhammad Ali-inspired work that I wrote to celebrate this legendary American. And our Festival of American Music will return for its third season in the spring, and will include the first song cycle by Jim James of the renowned Louisville-based band, My Morning Jacket.  I can honestly say that I’m excited about every single program: each has a story and purpose, and while they stand alone, they also come together across the season to offer a dynamic picture of the whole world of music that is there to explore.”

All In: album debut on Decca Gold

It is seven decades this year since Louisville became the first American orchestra to issue its own recordings. Now the ensemble makes its album debut on the new Decca Gold label with All In, exploring relationships between popular styles in a joyful, genre-melting celebration of the communicative power of American music. Its focal point is the world premiere recording of Abrams’s ballet Unified Field, which draws on influences ranging from neo-Romanticism to jazz, funk, bluegrass, and the blues. When he and the orchestra performed its premiere in a special collaboration with the Louisville Ballet last season, Arts-Louisville marveled: “I need to hear this composition again and again. … This was perhaps the best piece we’ve heard from the Maestro, and that is saying quite a bit.” The new recording also includes Copland’s Clarinet Concerto, featuring the Music Director – “a triple threat and then some in the classical music world” (San Francisco Chronicle) – as soloist, and selected songs by Abrams, Cole Porter, and vocalist Storm Large, who joins the orchestra to sing them. Abrams says:

“We have selected works that deliberately join together styles of music in a pluralistic – or American – way. The strength of our country’s art is both its great diversity of expression and our relationship with populism – the music of the people. The works in this collection all relate to American populism and iconoclasm (sometimes one and the same) as a central theme.”

Due for release on September 22, All In is already available for pre-order.

Bookending the season with Russian masterworks

Alongside repertory ranging from Beethoven and Tchaikovsky to Lennon and McCartney, the fourth movement of Unified Field may also be heard live, in an “80th Anniversary Season Preview Concert” led by Bob Bernhardt, Louisville’s Principal Pops Conductor (Sep 9). Free and open to the public, this special event serves as an upbeat to the new season, whose official launch takes place two weeks later, when Abrams leads the orchestra in a pairing of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony with Rachmaninoff’s Fourth Piano Concerto; Yuja Wang, Musical America’s 2017 Artist of the Year, makes her Louisville Orchestra debut as soloist (Sep 23). It is also with Russian fireworks that the 80th anniversary celebrations draw to a thrilling close next spring, when Abrams takes the podium for a grand season finale coupling Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra with Stravinsky’s iconic Rite of Spring (May 12).

World premiere of Abrams’s The Greatest: Muhammad Ali

Last June, the death of Muhammad Ali sparked a worldwide outpouring of appreciation, as much for his work as an activist, moral beacon, and humanitarian as for his incomparable achievements in the ring. Nowhere was his loss more deeply felt than in Louisville, where the peerless boxer was born, raised, and cherished as a native son.

A prolific and award-winning composer with an extraordinary commitment to community engagement, Abrams was one of the first to commemorate Ali’s death in music. As the New York Times reported, the Music Director “led an impromptu tribute to Ali, playing ‘Amazing Grace’ at a makeshift memorial outside Louisville’s Muhammad Ali Center.” His next offering was Float Rumble Rest for piano and electric guitar, created and recorded with My Morning Jacket’s Jim James. Yet Abrams was still keen to do more. The further he immersed himself in Ali’s life and legacy, the more strongly he felt the need to delve deeply into race and the other social issues so critical to Ali and so painfully pressing today. He explains:

“As a Louisvillian and a musician, I wanted to offer an artistic tribute to the legendary figure who has inspired, influenced, and captivated humanity in the modern era. Learning from Ali’s story and message, I’ve found both personal inspiration and a call for the world to be a far more peaceful, empathetic, and tolerant place.”

These seeds come to fruition in his new work The Greatest: Muhammad Ali, an immersive orchestral experience with music, poetry, narration, and dance. Three excerpts from the opera – “Still I Rise,” set to Maya Angelou, “Song of the Broad-Axe,” to Walt Whitman, and “Float Rumble Rest” – were previewed at the orchestra’s Second Annual Festival of American Music earlier this year, and the work will be heard in its entirety for the first time this fall.

Anchored by Abrams and the orchestra, the world premiere performance is set to feature a first-rate team of collaborators. Grammy-nominated baritone Jubilant Sykes returns, not only to star, but also to make his directorial debut, after headlining Louisville’s account of Bernstein’s MASS two years ago, which impressed the Wall Street Journal with its “coherence, humanity, and winning theatricality.” Likewise, local Louisville hip hop artist and educator Jecorey “1200” Arthur returns to create the title role, having graced such previous Louisville Orchestra events as a sensational Independence Day Waterfront concert in summer 2014, which attracted an audience of 35,000. Making her eagerly anticipated Louisville Orchestra debut in the female lead is Rhiannon Giddens, frontwoman of the Grammy Award-winning African-American stringband known as the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and the creative team is completed by Cuban-American choreographer Rosie Herrera (Nov 4).

Third Annual Festival of American Music

Celebrating the glorious diversity of the past hundred years of New World composition, Louisville’s annual Festival of American Music is one of Abrams’s most ambitious signature initiatives to date. It was the festival’s inaugural edition that prompted Arts-Louisville to conclude: “The orchestra, specifically this orchestra, is a living, breathing, evolving, and relevant art form.”

This spring, the two-part festival returns for a third pioneering season. Part 1, “Kentucky Classics,” showcases local artists in music inspired by the bluegrass state. Double bassist Paul Kowert, of the Grammy-nominated Punch Brothers, joins Abrams and the orchestra for contemporary works by himself and by his former teacher, the multiple Grammy Award-winning bassist Edgar Meyer. Neo-folk singer Lizzie No, singer-songwriter Tyrone Cotton, cellist-composer Ben Sollee, and Michael Cleveland – the International Bluegrass Music Association’s most awarded fiddler – and his band Flamekeeper, all perform sets on a program crowned by the Four Dance Episodes from Copland’s high-octane ballet Rodeo (March 24). Cleveland and Flamekeeper also join Abrams and the orchestra for a night of bluegrass-themed pops (March 10).

Next, bringing together some of the most potent voices in contemporary American composition, is the festival’s Part 2, “PLAY.” This takes its name from the work that won Andrew NormanMusical America’s 2017 Composer of the Year – the University of Louisville’s coveted 2017 Grawemeyer Award. Also on the program is a pair of Louisville premieres: riSE and fLy by Pulitzer Prize-winner Julia Wolfe, with percussion soloist Gabe Globus-Hoenich, and Natural History by Michael Gordon. Created for 2016’s National Parks Service centennial, and premiered under Teddy Abrams’s leadership on sacred land in Oregon, this explores the spiritual connection between the land and the traditions of the Klamath tribe; the Louisville performance will feature a Native American drumming ensemble. Finally, to complete the concert, special guest artist Jim James – founding frontman of famed Louisville alt-rock band My Morning Jacket – joins the orchestra for the world premiere performance of his own new song cycle, written in collaboration with Abrams (April 7).

Rounding out the Classics Series: from a new commission to a new take on a classic

Abrams’s two remaining programs with the orchestra are no less creatively conceived. In “Why Beethoven?” he offers an innovative take on one of the orchestral literature’s great masterworks. Before taking the podium for a complete traversal of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, the Music Director provides a deconstruction of the exhilarating work, using the orchestra to illustrate points about its use of themes, harmonic and rhythmic devices, and overall architecture (Oct 14).

In a program themed to “War + Peace, Abrams leads the orchestra in music ranging from Monteverdi’s Madrigals of War and Love to Schoenberg’s dramatic cantata A Survivor from Warsaw, by way of Mahler, Ravel, Vaughan Williams, Ives, Prokofiev, Weill, Barber, Arvo Pärt, and Sebastian Chang. Having recently commissioned and premiered multiple new works from Chang, whose numerous honors include five ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Awards, now they present the world premiere of his latest Louisville Orchestra commission. Titled simply War, this was created in collaboration with Louisville-based Iraqi-American visual artist Vian Sora, whose powerful images of wartime life have been exhibited in galleries from Aspen to Istanbul (Feb 3).

To round out this season’s Classics Series, Louisville’s new concertmaster, Gabriel Lefkowitz, makes his solo debut in the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto under the baton of Jayce Ogren (Jan 13); Thomas Wilkins leads a space-themed program accompanied by NASA footage in “The Planets: An HD Odyssey” (Feb 24); and pianist Andrew Hsu joins the orchestra under Courtney Lewis for Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto (April 28). All told, Louisville’s rich and heterogeneous programming shows that even after eight decades of adventurous music-making, the orchestra remains defiantly young at heart.

The Louisville Orchestra’s Classics Series is made possible by the generous support of Brown-Forman.

Additional Concerts and Special Events

In addition to these Classics Series concerts, the Louisville Orchestra performs an array of pops, neighborhood, education, and special event concerts to serve the community. The Hilliard Lyons Coffee Concerts offer selections from the main Classics Series for 90-minute morning matinees on seven Fridays throughout the season. A new staging of Peter and the Wolf (Mar 17) showcases the giant-sized creativity of the Louisville-based Squallis Puppeteers. The Louisville Orchestra holiday season will glow with the exquisite talents of the elite Louisville Chamber Choir in four performances of Handel’s Messiah (Nov 30 – Dec 3), seasonal favorites in Home for the Holidays (Nov 25), an HD presentation of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets with the Orchestra performing the soundtrack live, and Christmas with Jennifer Nettles (Dec 7) featuring music from the country star’s latest holiday release. Twelve Neighborhood Series performances take the Orchestra and Teddy Abrams’s creative programming to locations throughout the metro area to community centers, churches and schools.

For a complete schedule of the Louisville Orchestra’s 2017-2018 season, visit:

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.

High-resolution photos are available here.

Louisville Orchestra: 2017-18 Season Classics Series

All concerts in this series take place at 8pm at the Kentucky Center for the Arts

Sep 9

“80th Anniversary Season Preview Concert”

With Bob Bernhardt, Principal Pops Conductor

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 7, movements 2 and 4, “Finale”

TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 5, movement 3, “Waltz”

ROSSINI: “Largo al factotum” from The Barber of Seville

JOHN WILLIAMS: “Harry’s Wondrous World” from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

BARBER: Adagio for Strings

BERNSTEIN: Overture to West Side Story


TEDDY ABRAMS: Unified Field, movement 4

HOLST: “Jupiter” from The Planets

Sep 22

Album Release on Decca Gold

With Teddy Abrams, Music Director

All In

TEDDY ABRAMS: Unified Field

COPLAND: Clarinet Concerto (with Teddy Abrams, clarinet)

COLE PORTER, TEDDY ABRAMS, STORM LARGE: Songs (with Storm Large, vocalist)

Sep 23

“Yuja Wang plays Rachmaninoff”

With Teddy Abrams, Music Director

FORD LALLERSTEDT (arr. S. Chang): Mumbo! Jumbo!
RACHMANINOFF: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G minor, 1941 version (with Yuja Wang, piano)
TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64

Oct 14

“Why Beethoven?”

With Teddy Abrams, Music Director

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 7 in A (a breakdown by movement)
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 7 in A

Nov 4

“The Greatest Muhummad Ali”

With Teddy Abrams, Music Director

TEDDY ABRAMS: The Greatest: Muhammad Ali (with Jubilant Sykes, baritone and director; Jecorey Arthur, vocalist; Rhiannon Giddens, vocalist; dancers TBA; Rosie Herrera, choreographer)

Jan 13

“Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto”

With Jayce Ogren, conductor

SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 7 in C, Op. 105
TCHAIKOVSKY: Violin Concerto in D, Op. 35 (with Gabriel Lefkowitz, violin)

Feb 3

“War + Peace”
With Teddy Abrams, Music Director

(With narrator, chorus, vocalist, TBA)
IVES: They are There
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Dona nobis pacem, movement II, “Beat! Beat! Drums!”
MONTEVERDI: Madrigali Guerrieri e Amorosi (“Songs of War and Love”)
PROKOFIEV: Waltz from War and Peace
SEBASTIAN CHANG: War: Collaboration with Vian Sora (world premiere)
SCHOENBERG: A Survivor from Warsaw
MAHLER: “Revelge” from Des Knaben Wunderhorn
ARVO PÄRT: Summa for Choir
BARBER: Adagio for Strings
RAVEL: La Valse

Feb 24

“The Planets: An HD Odyssey”

With Thomas Wilkins, conductor
TBA, chorus / Kent Hatteberg, director
Featuring big-screen presentation of NASA images

DEBUSSY: Nocturnes
JIM BECKEL: Toccata for Orchestra
HOLST: The Planets

March 24

“KENTUCKY CLASSICS: Festival of American Music I”

With Teddy Abrams, Music Director

(with Lizzie No, folk singer; Tyrone Cotton, singer-songwriter; Ben Sollee, cello
Paul Kowert, bass; Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper)

The program will feature sets by each guest artist.
PAUL KOWERT: Short Piece for Bass
EDGAR MEYER: New Piece for Orchestra
COPLAND: Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo

April 7

“PLAY: Festival of American Music II”

With Teddy Abrams, Music Director

(with percussionists, chorus, Native American ensemble, TBA)

ANDREW NORMAN: Play¸ Level 1
MICHAEL GORDON: Natural History

April 28

“Beethoven Piano Concerto”

With Courtney Lewis, conductor

WEBERN: Oberon Overture
BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G (with Andrew Hsu, piano)
SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 2 in C, Op. 61

May 12

“The Rite of Spring”

With Teddy Abrams, Music Director

STRAUSS: Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30
STRAVINSKY: The Rite of Spring (“Le sacre du printemps”)

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

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© 21C Media Group, September 2017

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