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New MD Teddy Abrams catapults Louisville Orchestra into bright new era

The Louisville Orchestra is clearly preparing to take a significant step forward, and Mr. Abrams is exactly the catalyst needed to facilitate this evolution.” So stated Arts-Louisville in its frankly euphoric review of the Louisville Orchestra’s season-opening gala. Marking the first concert with high-octane new Music Director Teddy Abrams at the helm, the concert launched a fresh and game-changing new chapter in the orchestra’s history. At just 27 the youngest Music Director of a major American orchestra, Abrams is already the galvanizing force behind Louisville’s artistic renewal, both in the concert hall and beyond it. Even in the first days of his tenure, he succeeded in taking music out onto the streets and – as a featured artist in an original new web series – into people’s homes. Fueled by prodigious talent, vision, energy, drive, and commitment to innovative community engagement, the new Music Director is putting the city back on America’s musical map; now, as Arts-Louisville recognizes, “Louisville has a new ‘Teddy’ to cheer for.”

Abrams explains:

My first official week with the Louisville Orchestra was a great affirmation of the love and devotion that the community here has for this ensemble. The opening concert was so spectacular, and I was especially thrilled to see the audience and orchestra having such a great time together at the party afterwards. To me that illustrated so clearly the kind of musical community that we’re building here in Louisville. We’re not only going out into the community and bringing music to folks where they are through programs like our new ‘LG&E Music Without Borders’ series, but we’re also throwing the doors open to our musical homes – or in my case, my actual home! – so everyone in the community can really feel welcomed and appreciated when they come out and hear us play.”

Under his leadership, with a program pairing Mahler’s “Titan” with the world premiere of his own most recent orchestral work, the opening-night gala was a bona fide triumph. The level of musicianship was such that the reviewer declared:

“The Louisville Orchestra sounded as good as I have ever heard them. … The orchestra’s intonation was immaculate. … With the energy, vision, and conducting prowess of Teddy Abrams driving the orchestra’s progress, I am as excited as I have been in many years to get back to Whitney Hall and hear the Louisville Orchestra again.”

As for the new Music Director’s capacity for leadership, the journal marveled:

“His energy is nothing short of incredible. His belief that the orchestra can be the musical soul of a community was clearly sincere, and the certainty and eloquence with which he expressed this view left me not just wanting to know more about him, but excited to start a new musical adventure with Abrams at the helm.”

That new adventure has already begun. In the first week of his tenure, Abrams’s extraordinary commitment to imaginative community engagement inspired Insider Louisville to publish a profile titled “Teddy talks: New orchestra conductor is on a mission to bring music to the people.” As the interviewer discovered:

“Abrams stresses the value of connecting person-to-person with audience members. He responds to every letter, email and tweet, and stays after events to shake hands. The simplest things, like talking on stage before each piece, sharing its story or trying to help the audience connect to it emotionally, go a long way, he says.”

Matching the deed to the word, besides leading the orchestra in a free open-air concert in Iroquois Park, Abrams took his piano to the streets, meeting locals face to face and prompting Louisville’s mayor to tweet: “Surprise concert right in the middle of the street! Thanks.” He welcomed cameras into his new Louisville home, to chronicle his move to the city – and capture a tantalizing taste of his virtuosic piano improvisations – in “Moving to Louisville,” the first installment of a new, all-access web series, Music Makes A City Now. (A second installment in the series documents the thrills surrounding opening night). And, as Norman Lebrecht was impressed to note, he has even found ways of “looping his pianos to an external sound system so the town can hear him practicing” at home.

Such creative resurgence coincides with good news about the orchestra’s finances, which have recently taken an upward turn. Having joined the Louisville management team within the past year, Executive Director Andrew Kipe – a key player behind Abrams’s appointment – was already able to report an operational surplus for the 2013-14 season, as well as brisk sales for the orchestra’s subscription series and single ticket sales.

Kipe comments: “The most encouraging indicator of how this community is responding to the orchestra and Teddy’s arrival are our subscription sales.  Before the season opened on September 6 we had exceeded all of our subscription goals for the year and are on track to have the most successful subscription campaign in the last 10 years.  We’ve added over 400 new subscribers to our classics series alone this year.”

This era of rejuvenation looks set to continue apace. Today and tomorrow, Abrams leads the Louisville Orchestra in “Gershwin & Copland,” a program of Gershwin, Weill, Copland and Richard Rodgers, with guest soloists soprano Storm Large and pianist Kevin Cole (Sep 25 & 26). Other upcoming highlights include the world premiere of Sebastian Chang’s Classical Symphony, juxtaposed with Haydn and Brahms (Jan 29 & 30); 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 by Djuro Zivkovic, which won the 2014 Grawemeyer Award (March 7); and a performance by Time for Three, a hugely popular trio whose music spans every genre, with Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and The Cowboys Overture by John Williams (April 23 & 25). Meanwhile, in the Neighborhood Series “LG&E Music Without Borders,” Abrams 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.

More information is provided at the Louisville Orchestra’s web site,

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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.


Sep 25 & 26

“Gershwin & Copland”

Richard Rodgers: Overture to Oklahoma!

Kurt Weill: The Seven Deadly Sins (with Storm Large, soprano)

George Gershwin: New York Rhapsody (with Kevin Cole, piano)

Aaron Copland: Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo


Oct 16 & 17

“Carmina burana”

With University of Louisville Choral Department, Kent Hatteberg, chorusmaster

Charles Ives: The Unanswered Question

Carl Orff, arr. Teddy Abrams: Medieval Dance from Carmina burana

Thomas Tallis: Spem in alium

W.A. Mozart: Vesperae solennes de confessore, V. “Laudate Dominum”

Caroline Shaw: Oculi Mei

Jeremy Kittel: Big Fiddle

Carl Orff: Carmina burana (with Celena Shafer, soprano; Javier Abreu, tenor; Hugh Russell, baritone)


Nov 6 & 8

“Sibelius Violin Concerto”

With Jorge Mester, Music Director Emeritus

Jean Sibelius: Finlandia

Jean Sibelius: Violin Concerto in D minor (with Elmar Oliveira, violin)

Felix Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 3 (“Scottish”)


Jan 15 & 16

“Chu-Fang Huang Plays Mozart”

With Jorge Mester, Music Director Emeritus

Maurice Ravel: Mother Goose Suite

W.A. Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 18 (“Paradis”) (with Chu-Fang Huang, piano)

Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony No. 6


Jan 29 & 30

“Brahms Symphony No. 1”

Sebastian Chang: Classical Symphony (world premiere)

Franz Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 43 (“Mercury”)

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 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


© 21C Media Group, September 2014


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