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Starting This Week: Louisville Orchestra Celebrates Power of Black Culture in 6th Annual Festival of American Music, Streaming Live in “LOVE” (Louisville Orchestra Virtual Edition)

Music Director Teddy Abrams (photo: courtesy of the Louisville Orchestra)

It was the inaugural edition of the Louisville Orchestra’s Festival of American Music that prompted Arts-Louisville to conclude: “The orchestra, specifically this orchestra, is a living, breathing, evolving, and relevant art form.” This spring, the annual festival returns for a sixth season as part of “LOVE,” the Louisville Orchestra Virtual Edition, with two concerts streaming live from Louisville’s newest venue, Old Forester’s Paristown Hall. Accompanied by four additional video releases, the first concert celebrates “Ravel and the Power of Black Music,” with Louisville rapper and narrator Jecorey “1200” Arthur and a trio of local vocalists under the baton of Music Director Teddy Abrams (livestream March 27; on-demand April 9–May 23), while the second salutes the sound of “Wailing Trumpets,” with Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt, trumpet virtuoso Byron Stripling and other members of the acclaimed Columbus Jazz Orchestra (livestream April 10; on-demand April 23–June 6). Click here to learn more about “LOVE” and the sixth Festival of American Music.

Galvanizing young Music Director Teddy Abrams has been variously described as the “next Leonard Bernstein” (WQXR), “an unstoppable force” (Arts-Louisville) and “the orchestra’s great young hope” (Wall Street Journal). In 2016, he founded the orchestra’s annual festival to celebrate the glorious diversity of the past century of American music. About this year’s offerings, he says:

“Every arts organization is reflecting and asking: ‘Did we contribute to the challenges and inequities of our time? What we are supposed to do right now – and how do we rethink the future?’ I’d like to think that we in Louisville are trying to at least steer in the right direction. So as our community deals with the one-year anniversary of Breonna Taylor’s death and puts this very difficult year behind us, I thought it would be more valuable, rather than exploiting Black music just so we can check a box, and proclaim that we are programming more Black composers in our concerts, actually to explore the storytelling element of where Black music came from and how it’s intersected with American life.”

To launch the festival, Abrams and the orchestra present “Ravel and the Power of Black Music.” A central part of their ongoing tribute to Black songwriters and composers, the program pairs Ravel’s jazz-inflected Piano Concerto in G, which the versatile music director will lead from the keyboard, with a survey of seminal Black musical styles featuring local vocalists JD Green, lead singer of The Afrophysicists; R&B prodigy Chanson Calhoun; and Grammy-nominated gospel powerhouse Jason Clayborn. Ranging from the traditional spiritual “Go Down Moses” to James Brown’s Black power anthem, “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud,” the set will be led and narrated by Louisville rapper Jecorey “1200” Arthur. Recently elected as one of the city’s Metro Councilmen, Arthur previously collaborated with the orchestra for an audience of 35,000 at its 2014 Independence Day Waterfront concert and headlined its world premiere performances of Abrams’s grand-scale work The Greatest: Muhammad Ali. Arthur explains:

“This program is almost like the peak of the work we’ve been doing over the years, because the Louisville Orchestra has been at the forefront of innovation when it comes to inclusivity, the type of music that you program and the type of musicians that you program. … I think there’s plenty of room for us to continue to grow, but I’m really proud of the fact that we’ve already started growing, five or six years ago, here in our city with our orchestra.”

Arthur and Abrams will discuss the upcoming festival and their past collaborations with Ari Shapiro on NPR’s All Things Considered this Friday, March 26. Meanwhile, click here to see the two in conversation.

Next, the Louisville Orchestra’s Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt takes the Paristown podium for “Wailing Trumpets,” a festive celebration of ragtime, blues and jazz. This features the conductor’s longtime collaborator, trumpet virtuoso Byron Stripling, together with three of his fellow Columbus Jazz Orchestra members – Bobby Floyd on keyboards, Andy Woodson on bass and Jim Rupp on drums – in music by “Jelly Roll” Morton, W.C. Handy and others.

To round out the 2021 festival, the Louisville Orchestra will release four additional videos. Three capture members of the orchestra in small ensemble works by prominent Black American composers: the third movement of Rubispheres for flute, clarinet and bassoon by Valerie Coleman, Performance Today’s 2020 Classical Woman of the Year; Duo for Violin and Cello by Jessie Montgomery, winner of the ASCAP Foundation’s Leonard Bernstein Composer Award; and Meeelaan for bassoon and string quartet by Wynton Marsalis, Pulitzer Prize- and nine-time Grammy-winning artistic director of New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center. To complete the set, Louisville poet and activist Hannah Drake, whose work has impressed the likes of Ava DuVernay, Colin Kaepernick and Michelle Obama, will contribute a spoken word video.

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The Festival of American Music continues the orchestra’s ongoing efforts to serve the vibrant city where it makes its home. Recent projects include the season-opening LOVE livestream, which presented bass-baritone Davóne Tines in the orchestral premiere of VIGIL, his tribute to slain Louisville native Breonna Taylor. Available here for on-demand viewing, this prompted Vogue magazine to conclude: “In Kentucky, the times are very much a-changing.” The creative process for VIGIL served as the catalyst for a subsequent discussion about the arts, social justice and the role of artistic commemorations that the orchestra presented in collaboration with Lincoln Center on March 13 to mark the first anniversary of Taylor’s death. Anchored by Tines and Teddy Abrams, and also featuring Jecorey Arthur, Jessie Montgomery and Kentucky House of Representatives member Rep. Attica Scott, the conversation is still available on Lincoln Center’s Facebook page.

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. In 2001, the Louisville Orchestra received the Leonard Bernstein Award for Excellence in Educational Programming, presented annually to a North American orchestra. In recognition of its continued commitment to new music, the Louisville Orchestra has won 19 ASCAP awards for Adventurous Programming of Contemporary Music, as well as 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, and its last two albums for the Decca Gold label, All In (2017) and The Order of Nature (2019) – the latter launched with an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon – both topped the Billboard Classical and Crossover charts. The feature-length Gramophone Award-winning documentary Music Makes a City (2010) chronicles the Louisville Orchestra’s founding years, and in spring 2018 Teddy Abrams and the orchestra were profiled on the popular television program CBS Sunday Morning.

High-resolution photos are available here.

Louisville Orchestra Virtual Edition (LOVE) presents Festival of American Music
“Abrams Plays Ravel”
Teddy Abrams, conductor
Jecorey “1200” Arthur, vocals and narrator
Livestream: March 27 at 7:30pm
On demand: April 9–May 23

RAVEL: Piano Concerto in G (with Teddy Abrams, piano)
TRADITIONAL: “Go Down Moses” (JD Green, Chanson Calhoun & Jason Clayborn, a cappella vocals)
HANDY: “The Memphis Blues” (with Jason Clayborn, vocals)
FITZGERALD/JACQUET/THOMPSON: “Robbins Nest” (with JD Green, vocals)
REDDING/FRANKLIN: “Respect” (with Chanson Calhoun, vocals)
THARPE: “Strange Things Happening Every Day” (with JD Green, vocals)
BROWN/ELLIS: “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud” (Jason Clayborn & Chanson Calhoun, vocals)
FRESH/RICK: “The Show” (with Jecorey Arthur, JD Green, Chanson Calhoun & Jason Clayborn, vocals)

“Wailing Trumpets: Ragtime & Jazz”
Bob Bernhardt, conductor
With Byron Stripling, trumpet; Bobby Floyd, keyboards; Andy Woodson, bass; Jim Rupp, drums
Livestream: April 10 at 7:30pm
On demand: April 23–June 6

CREAMER/LAYTON (arr. Tyzik): “After You’ve Gone”
BERLIN (arr. Tyzik): “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”
MILLS (arr. Tyzik): “St. James Infirmary”
TRADITIONAL (arr. Tyzik): “Down By The Riverside”
HANDY (arr. Tyzik): “St. Louis Blues”
MORTON (arr. Tyzik): “Black Bottom Stomp”
TRADITIONAL: “This Little Light Of Mine”
HOWE (arr. Albam): “Battle Hymn Of The Republic”
TRADITIONAL (arr. Cook): “When The Saints Go Marching In”

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

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© 21C Media Group, March 2021


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