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Louisville Orchestra’s 2018-19 Season Features New Commissions, Creatively Programmed Classics, and Interdisciplinary Collaborations, Led by “Unstoppable Force” Teddy Abrams

On September 29, the Louisville Orchestra opens its fifth season under the galvanizing leadership of Teddy Abrams, who Arts-Louisville calls “an unstoppable force. … He is reconnecting the orchestra with the community in a meaningful way.” The characteristically creative and eclectic 2018-19 lineup combines world premieres of new commissions, a heartfelt tribute to a 20th-century master, innovative approaches to the classics, guest appearances by world-class conductors and soloists, and imaginative interdisciplinary collaborations with local arts institutions. 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, Listen magazine notes, “putting the history-rich Louisville Orchestra – and classical music – back on the map.” The Los Angeles Times advises: “Watch this guy; he’s going places.” As The Guardian observes, Abrams “understands better than most how music makes a city.”

In their opening-night concert, the Music Director and orchestra honor a giant of American culture, celebrating Leonard Bernstein at 100 (Sep 29). The Festival of American Music returns for its fourth season in the spring, featuring a collaboration with the Louisville Ballet and a world premiere folk opera and film from Louisville native Rachel Grimes (Feb 23), plus a program of orchestral jazz that includes two world premieres of Louisville Orchestra commissions (March 9). Another collaboration, with the new center for art and design KyCAD in Louisville, enriches the orchestra’s wide-ranging exploration of “Art + Music” (Jan 26). In “Teddy Talks Brahms,” the Music Director and orchestra offer an illuminating deconstruction of Brahms’s Fourth Symphony (April 27), and two more timeless European classics – Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers and Mozart’s Requiem – are the vehicles for their ambitious choral extravaganza (Oct 27). For the final concert of the season, a pinnacle of the Classical literature – Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony – is paired with a new song cycle being composed by Abrams on the theme of bourbon’s influence on American history, in a nod to the orchestra’s Kentucky home (May 11). Three guest-conducting engagements complete the Classics Series lineup, including the return to Louisville of one of Abrams’s mentors, the legendary Leonard Slatkin (Jan 12).

About the season, the young Music Director explains:

“The 2018-19 season of the Louisville Orchestra builds on our mission to create uniquely curated and adventurous programs for our audiences. We are balancing dramatic new projects with large-scale repertoire presented in creative formats. From a celebration of Leonard Bernstein that includes multiple sets of his music in populist, classical, and religious idioms to a juxtaposition of the Monteverdi “Vespers” of 1610 with the Mozart Requiem, plus an intensive discussion and exploration of Brahms’ Symphony No. 4, we are performing great works of the past in ways that invite audiences to forge deep relationships with the art itself. Our projects include several major initiatives during our annual Festival of American Music: a new commissioned staging of Appalachian Spring, a world premiere of a new opera by the brilliant and introspective artist Rachel Grimes about intersecting stories of women from Kentucky’s past, and a program devoted to jazz and its relationship with the orchestral world. Continuing a tradition in which I compose a new work for the LO each season, I’m writing a new song cycle about bourbon’s influence on American history – from the Revolutionary War era to the present – which we are pairing with Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. I am also thrilled to welcome my mentor Leonard Slatkin as a guest conductor next season – it is wonderful to bring an icon of American music to an orchestra that has an iconic history of its own. Between our commissions, projects, and experiments with form and format, I am very proud that the Louisville Orchestra continues to reshape and grow the definition of what an orchestra can be in the 21st Century.”

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Opening night: Bernstein 100

The Louisville Orchestra has long been inspired by the legacy of Leonard Bernstein. The orchestra’s honors include the Leonard Bernstein Award for Excellence in Educational Programming; powerhouse performances of the composer’s monumental MASS launched the 2015-16 season; and Departures magazine even found that Abrams’s “gifts as an educator and sense of civic responsibility are reminiscent of his hero, Leonard Bernstein.” Fittingly, then, the orchestra’s opening-night concert, “Bernstein 100,” celebrates the trailblazing American master’s centenary year. The program showcases Bernstein’s work across multiple genres, through excerpts from his Broadway shows West Side Story and On The Town; his operetta, Candide; and three works on sacred themes: his Symphony No. 1 (“Jeremiah”), which uses texts from the biblical book Lamentations; “Simple Song” from MASS; and Hashkiveinu (Prayer for Divine Protection). Abrams and the orchestra will be joined on the program by soprano Morgan James, “a phenomenal talent” (New York Times) who has just been named Huffington Post’s “Brightest Breakout Artist of the Year.”

The opening night concert also serves as the formal release date for a newly announced limited collector’s edition on vinyl of last season’s chart-topping album, All In, in partnership with leading audio brand Crosley Radio. Limited to 500 copies, the new release will, in Abrams words, “reconnect the modern Louisville Orchestra with its history of seminal vinyl records.” A pre-release event, free and open to the public, is scheduled for September 19 at Louisville’s Gravely Brewing.

Fourth 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.”

In spring 2019, the festival returns for a fourth pioneering season, with a pair of programs under the Music Director’s leadership. Part 1, “Kentucky Spring” (Feb 23), opens with a fully staged performance of Copland’s Pulitzer Prize-winning ballet Appalachian Spring, with new choreography approved by the Copland Foundation for the first time since the premiere of Martha Graham’s 1944 version after she commissioned the music from Copland. This marks the orchestra’s third full co-production with the Louisville Ballet, and the world premiere choreography is by South African-born Andrea Schermoly, who made her name as a dancer with Holland’s Netherlands Dance Theater before winning fame as a choreographer. After the orchestra and ballet collaborated in 2016 on a program including Stravinsky’s Petrouchka and Teddy Abrams’s Unified Fields, Louisville’s WFPL raved: “Collectively, this evening dazzles with the multiple, layered possibilities of collaboration across so many visual and performing art forms.”

On the program with Appalachian Spring is the world premiere of the folk opera and film The Way Forth, created by Louisville native Rachel Grimes. A co-commission of the Louisville Orchestra, Kentucky Arts Center, and Kentucky Foundation for Women, this highlights real and imagined perspectives of generations of Kentucky women from 1775 to the present day, inspired by a treasure trove of family photos, documents, and letters. The filmmaker is Catharine Axley, with the support of Owsley Brown Presents, the production company behind the Louisville Orchestra documentary Music Makes a City. After the Louisville presentation, The Way Forth will travel to Tennessee’s Big Ears Festival, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s Liquid Music Series, Witching Hour in Iowa City, and finally Washington, DC’s Washington Project for the Arts.

Part 2, “The Jazz Influence” (March 9), explores the intersection of classical music and jazz with two world premieres of Louisville Orchestra commissions from Gabriel Evens and Tyshawn Sorey. Evens, an Assistant Professor of Jazz Piano, Composition and Arranging at Louisville University, recently released The Wrong Waltz with the Gabe Evens Trio, which All About Jazz described as “a fine balance of harmonically rich originals with beautiful singing melodies,” praising Evens himself as “a pianist with a vibrant and robust approach to his composing and playing.” Sorey, a rising star virtuoso percussionist and recipient of a 2017 MacArthur “genius grant” Fellowship, is making his first venture into orchestral composition. The Wall Street Journal calls him “a composer of radical and seemingly boundless ideas,” while the New Yorker recently noted that Sorey is “among the most formidable denizens of the in-between zone … an extraordinary talent who can see across the entire musical landscape.”

In addition to the two world premieres, Part 2 will feature the Louisville premiere of Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind, with special guest, Grammy-nominated soprano Measha Brueggergosman. The work was written especially for her by Michael Tilson Thomas, a key mentor to Abrams who was the subject of the “Maverick – A Celebration of MTT” program at last year’s festival, in which he also took part. Finally, these works representing the newest in jazz-influenced orchestral music are juxtaposed with one of the earliest masterpieces in that specialized genre, as Abrams acts as both conductor and soloist for a performance of Gershwin’s pioneering classic, Rhapsody in Blue.

Creatively programmed classics

A prominent feature of Abrams tenure with the Louisville Orchestra has been collaboration with a variety of local institutions, of which the Louisville Ballet is just one example. As Time magazine puts it: “A genre-defying orchestra in Louisville? Believe it. The locals do.” The upcoming program themed to “Art + Music” (Jan 26) introduces a new affiliation, being created in collaboration with artists at KyCAD, who are joining forces with the orchestra to offer a multi-sensory exploration of the relationship between the two art forms. Inspired by music, their new artworks will accompany examples of music inspired by the visual arts, from Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition to selections by Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Stravinsky, Sibelius, Bartók, and Ives.

Abrams’s remaining programs with the orchestra are no less creatively conceived. In “Teddy Talks Brahms” (April 27), the Music Director builds on the success of a similar project last season to offer an innovative take on one of the orchestral literature’s great masterworks. Before taking the podium for a complete traversal of Brahms’s Fourth Symphony, he helps unpack this masterfully constructed work, using the orchestra to illustrate points about its use of themes, harmonic and rhythmic devices, and overall architecture. According to Arts-Louisville, last season’s deconstruction of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony made “a good case against the decline of classical music,” leaving the critic “absolutely enthralled.”

In “Mozart Requiem” (Oct 27), Abrams and the orchestra look forward to pairing two very different masterpieces of the sacred choral repertoire. Juxtaposing traditional Gregorian chant with the richest, most up-to-date sonorities in a revolutionary synthesis of old and new, Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 was unprecedented in the grandeur of its scale and exhilarating opulence of its sound. Written more than 175 years later, Mozart’s Requiem in D minor was left incomplete at his death, inspiring some of the speculation that fueled the movie Amadeus. Yet behind all the rumor and mythology lie some of the composer’s most dramatic, gripping, and poignant music. Together, these two monumental works provide a compellingly intensive introduction to the genre.

If Mozart’s Requiem is a milestone of the genre, Beethoven’s monumental Ninth Symphony might be the work that paved the way out of the Classical style altogether. Following up on their performance of the same composer’s Seventh Symphony last fall, Abrams and the orchestra conclude their fifth season together with an account of this grandly conceived work, featuring four soloists and chorus along with the orchestra and concluding with the triumphant “Ode to Joy” that is one of the Beethoven’s most enduring creations (May 11). Paired with Beethoven’s classic will be a Kentucky-themed novelty: a new song cycle by Abrams on the theme of how American history has been influenced by bourbon. The Music Director’s work has been called “mesmerizing” (The Guardian), and his most recent composition for the orchestra also celebrated its native city, paying tribute to Louisville’s late great boxing legend. As Arts-Louisville recognized, “This was indeed a great work. … The music and the message of The Greatest: Muhammad Ali will be resonating with me for a very long time.”

Rounding out the Classics Series

To complete the Classics Series, Abrams cedes the podium to three guest conductors. Ken-David Masur, “a brilliant and commanding conductor with unmistakable charisma” (Leipziger Volkszeitung), makes his Louisville Orchestra debut with Brahms’s Serenade No. 1, Eric Nathan’s the space of a door, commissioned by the Boston Symphony in 2016, and Richard Strauss’s Oboe Concerto in D with Louisville principal oboe Alexander Vvedenskiy as soloist (Nov 17). The concert’s title, “Oboe Concerto – Suggested by an American Soldier,” refers to the fact that Strauss was approached in April 1945 in Bavaria by American serviceman and oboist John de Lancie, who asked if he would write a concerto for his instrument. Strauss answered no, yet within five months the Oboe Concerto was ready for its premiere.

Francesco Lecce-Chong, new Music Director of the Eugene Symphony, takes the podium on March 30 for a pair of Russian classics: Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony and Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, with Andrew von Oeyen – a pianist of “indisputable gifts and an extravagantly thorough and effortless technique” (Los Angeles Times) – as soloist. The program is rounded out with the Polish Overture by 20th century Polish composer and violinist Grażyna Bacewicz.

Leonard Slatkin, the six-time Grammy Award-winning Music Director of the Detroit Symphony, where Abrams formerly served as his assistant, returns to Louisville on January 12. A life-long champion of American music, his program includes his own Kinah, Walter Piston’s Suite from The Incredible Flutist, and Cindy McTee’s Double Play, which was commissioned by the DSO in 2010 and premiered under Slatkin’s baton. Elgar’s beloved Enigma Variations completes the program.

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

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, including twelve Neighborhood Series performances that take the orchestra and Abrams’s creative programming to locations throughout the metro area in community centers, churches and schools.

For a complete schedule of the Louisville Orchestra’s 2018-19 season, visit:

Banner 80th anniversary season

This full 2018-19 lineup follows on the heels of the Louisville Orchestra’s 80th anniversary season, which has already proved something of a banner year. After an opening-night collaboration with superstar pianist Yuja Wang that gave Arts-Louisvillea renewed faith that classical music is indeed still relevant and necessary in our society,” the orchestra went straight to No. 1 on the Billboard Classical Traditional Chart with the release of All In, its first new recording in almost three decades. As for its world premiere performance of Abrams’s genre-straddling oratorio, The Greatest: Muhammad Ali, this drew on the combined talents of Louisville hip-hop artist and educator Jecorey “1200” Arthur, 2017 MacArthur fellow Rhiannon Giddens, and Grammy-nominated baritone Jubilant Sykes, engaging the local community in an exhilarating, multicultural salute to one of its most beloved heroes. Small wonder that NPR Music advises, “To help boost interest in classical music, look no further than Teddy Abrams.”

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 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 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: 2018-19 Season Classics Series
All concerts in this series take place at 8pm at the Kentucky Center for the Arts 

Sep 29
“Bernstein 100”
Teddy Abrams, Music Director
BERNSTEIN: Overture to Candide
BERNSTEIN: Symphony No. 1 (“Jeremiah”)
BERNSTEIN: Hashkiveinu (Prayer for Divine Protection)
BERNSTEIN: “Simple Song” from MASS
BERNSTEIN: Selections from West Side Story and On The Town
BERNSTEIN: Selections from Candide
(with Morgan James, soprano)

Oct 27
“Mozart Requiem”
Teddy Abrams, Music Director
MONTEVERDI: Vespers of 1610
MOZART: Requiem in D minor
Soloists: Jessica Rivera, soprano; Kendall Gladen, mezzo-soprano; Jesse Donner, tenor; Evan Boyer, bass
Louisville Chamber Choir 

Nov 17
“Oboe Concerto – Suggested by an American Soldier”
Ken-David Masur, guest conductor
ERIC NATHAN: the space of a door
R. STRAUSS: Concerto in D for Oboe (with Alexander Vvedenskiy, oboe)
BRAHMS: Serenade No. 1

Jan 12
“Slatkin Conducts Elgar”
Leonard Slatkin, guest conductor
CINDY McTEE: Double Play
PISTON: Suite from The Incredible Flutist
ELGAR: “Enigma” Variations

Jan 26
“Art + Music”
Teddy Abrams, Music Director
HANDEL: “Alla Hornpipe” from Water Music
MOZART: Overture to The Magic Flute
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 8, movement no. 4
SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 3, movement no. 4
STRAVINSKY: “Infernal Dance” from The Firebird
SIBELIUS: The Oceanides
BARTÓK: Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta, movement no. 4
IVES: “The Housatonic at Stockbridge” from Three Places in New England
MUSSORGSKY: Night on Bald Mountain
MUSSORGSKY: Pictures at an Exhibition

Feb 23
Festival of American Music I: “Kentucky Spring”
Teddy Abrams, Music Director
COPLAND: Appalachian Spring
Dancers from the Louisville Ballet
Andrea Schermoly, choreographer

March 9
Festival of American Music II: “The Jazz Influence”
Teddy Abrams, Music Director
GERSHWIN: Rhapsody in Blue (with Teddy Abrams, clarinet)
MICHAEL TILSON THOMAS: Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind (Louisville premiere; with Measha Brueggergosman, soprano)
TYSHAWN SOREY: world premiere of an LO Commission
GABRIEL EVENS: world premiere of an LO Commission

March 30
“Tchaikovsky Concerto No. 1”
Francesco Lecce-Chong, guest conductor
BACEWICZ: Polish Overture
TCHAIKOVSKY: Piano Concerto No. 1 (with Andrew von Oeyen, piano)
SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 10 

April 27
“Teddy Talks Brahms”
Teddy Abrams, Music Director
BRAHMS: Symphony No. 4

May 11
“Beethoven’s 9th”
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 9 (“Choral”)
Teddy Abrams, Music Director


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


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© 21C Media Group, September 2018

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