Press Room

Teddy Abrams and Louisville Orchestra Present Classics from Dvořák to Mahler, Plus Renowned Guest Soloists and Conductors, Festival of American Music, and Much More in 2019-20

The Louisville Orchestra’s 2019-20 season, the sixth under the galvanizing leadership of Music Director Teddy Abrams, features the adventurous programming Louisville audiences have come to cherish, with multi-media collaborations, innovative approaches to the classics, world-class guest conductors and soloists, and much more. Engaging with the orchestra’s remarkable past while keeping it at the center 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.” As Time magazine puts it: “A genre-defying orchestra in Louisville? Believe it. The locals do.

Highlighting the history and vitality of Louisville, the 2019-20 Classics season opens with Dvořák’s beloved New World Symphony, which was first conceived a few days after the composer read an article about the nascent American style by Louisville musicologist Mildred Hill (Sep 28). The annual Festival of American Music likewise celebrates the orchestra’s hometown, with performances by renowned Louisville gospel virtuosos the St. Stephen Baptist Church Choir in a program titled “Gospel at the Symphony.” Detailed programming for the Festival of American Music will be announced in the coming months (Feb 22; March 14). The touring exhibit “Violins of Hope” – comprising violins that survived the Holocaust – provides the theme for a program that features LO concertmaster Gabriel Lefkowitz and music by Michael Tilson Thomas (Oct 26); a program of atmospheric water-themed music includes a work by Emmy Award-winning composer Garth Neustadter (Oct 12); and the popular “Teddy Talks…” series focuses on Mahler’s Fifth Symphony (Jan 18). Three guest conductors enrich the Classics lineup, including 2018 Sir Georg Solti Conducting Award winner Roderick Cox (Jan 31). Finally, the season comes to a thrilling conclusion with the group composition Blue Hour by Rachel Grimes, Angélica Negrón, Shara Nova, Caroline Shaw, and Sarah Kirkland Snider, along with Bartók’s tour-de-force Concerto for Orchestra (April 24).

Looking ahead to the new season, Abrams explains:

“Each program on the 2019-20 season is inspired by a single concept. Our season-long mission is to combine cutting-edge projects with storytelling that connects with our shared human (and local) experiences. Even the traditional repertoire we’re presenting fits this narrative emphasis, from Dvorak’s 9th Symphony (mysteriously inspired by a woman musicologist from Louisville) to our annual “Teddy Talks,” a sub-textual breakdown of a musical work, in this case, the Symphony No. 5 by Gustav Mahler.

“Our nearly obsessive commitment to living composers continues to grow next season with deeper attention to diversity  among the composers of our contemporary works. Our thematic programs include “From the Sea,” with the music of Garth Neustadter; the inspirational “Violins of Hope,” showcased in a program that includes Michael Tilson Thomas’s From the Diary of Anne Frank; and “Gospel at the Symphony” featuring Louisville’s own St. Stephen Choir, which is considered one of the greatest gospel choirs in the United States.

“Some of our upcoming major projects include premieres of collaborations with dance, theater, and visual artists. We want the Louisville Orchestra to be a central forum for creativity in programming, which is something our wonderful community values deeply. We owe our audiences unique experiences that represent the best of Louisville’s cultural capabilities, and my hope is that this next season offers programs that inspire and unify the audiences in our town in the broadest way possible.”

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Opening night: From the New World

Though virtually a by-word for adventurous programming, with swelling audiences that revel in new compositions and innovative ideas, the Louisville Orchestra is equally at home with and enthusiastic about the staples of the repertoire. That proficiency will be on display throughout the season, beginning with the opening-night performance of Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony (“From the New World”), a work for which Louisville can in fact take some of the credit. Mildred Hill, a musicologist who also wrote the melody which would later be used as the basis of the song “Happy Birthday to You,” was born in Louisville in 1859. Writing under the pseudonym Johann Tonsor, she published an article in which she declared that African-American spirituals would become the basis of a distinctly American style; her article was brought to Dvořák’s attention just a few days before he started the initial sketches for his Ninth Symphony.

The guest artist for the opening night program is violinist Anne Akiko Meyers, whose career began when she was a child prodigy in the 70s and who now has 37 albums to her credit. A champion of new music, she is also responsible for commissioning a host of new works from a long list of contemporary composers. After she gave a world premiere with the San Diego Symphony last year, the San Diego Union-Tribune raved:

“Meyers’ playing is what it always has been: a national treasure. She is a musical wizard, with astonishing access to every kind of expressive color. Whether within a phrase or on just a single note, she can change tone color in a micro-second from smooth grain to rough, from dark to radiant, from thoughtful to assertive. And she can, like magic, bring new work to vibrant life.”

Themes of Hope, History and Nature

A special program in October is themed to “Violins of Hope,” a traveling exhibition of instruments that were played by Jewish violinists before and during the Holocaust and that have been painstakingly restored by Israeli violin maker Amnon Weinstein as a tribute to those who were lost, including hundreds of his own relatives. Louisville Orchestra musicians will give voice to these beautiful instruments, with concertmaster Gabriel Lefkowitz as soloist, in a program that includes Ljova’s Klezmer Music, three pieces by John Williams from the score to Schindler’s List, and From the Diary of Anne Frank by Abrams’s mentor Michael Tilson Thomas, whose music has been featured in Festival of American Music programs for the last two seasons.

Also in October, “From the Sea” combines two beloved ocean-themed classics—Sibelius’s The Oceanides and Debussy’s La Mer—with two twenty-first century evocations of the natural world. Become River by John Luther Adams is one of a series of landscape-themed pieces that also includes the 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning Become Ocean. Seaborne, a work by the young Emmy Award-winning TV and film composer Garth Neustadter, was originally written for the celebrated percussion ensemble The Percussion Collective, which will be featured in this concert along with the stunning film shot in Hawaii that the piece was written to accompany. This will be the first performance of Seaborne in its fully-orchestrated version.

Teddy Talks Mahler, and Season Finale

The “Teddy Talks…” series of concerts, now entering its third season, is a natural development of Abrams’s engagement with the Louisville community and his insistence on making the orchestra and its music accessible to all. He provides the audience with a window into the mind of the composer, entertainingly deconstructing the music before reassembling it in a full performance after an intermission. According to Arts-Louisville, his exposition of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony two seasons ago made “a good case against the decline of classical music,” leaving the critic “absolutely enthralled.” These concerts are reminiscent of Leonard Bernstein’s wildly successful Omnibus programs in the 1950s, which earned him a reputation as the quintessential advocate for classical music. It is thus appropriate that Mahler’s Fifth Symphony should be the subject for “Teddy Talks Mahler” next season, since Bernstein was in large part responsible for raising the profile of Mahler’s symphonies through his many performances and recordings. Mahler is an equally appropriate choice for the Louisville Orchestra itself, with the Courier-Journal declaring that the orchestra’s 2016-17 season-launching performance of Mahler’s epic “Resurrection” Symphony “showed the artistic muscle it takes to present such monumental music.”

Concluding the season, Abrams turns to Bartók, with the groundbreaking tour-de-force Concerto for Orchestra. This crowd-pleasing work demands virtuosity from the entire ensemble, from the first violins to the bass trombone, and was one of the composer’s last and most enduringly popular works.

Rounding out the season finale program is a milestone group composition titled Blue Hour. Using texts from American poet Carolyn Forché’s acclaimed poetry collection of the same name, the work is composed by a Who’s Who of today’s female composers and some of the LO’s favorite past collaborators: Rachel Grimes, Angélica Negrón, Shara Nova, Caroline Shaw, and Sarah Kirkland Snider. Reviewing Forché’s book, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette seemed to predict this future use of the text, describing it as “polyrhythmic, multilingual poetry, best understood…in the hearing,” and “musical rather than discursive in manner,” concluding the collection to be “a tactile, empathic equation of our lives and the lives of strangers.”

Rounding out the Classics Series

The Classics series also includes three concerts featuring guest conductors. November’s “Don Quixote & Other Journeys” will be led by Vinay Parameswaran, Assistant Conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra and former Associate Conductor of the Nashville Symphony. Strauss’s virtuosic and profound tone poem Don Quixote, featuring LO principal cellist Nicholas Finch in the musical portrait of the title character, shares the program with Night Ferry by British composer Anne Clyne. In January, Roderick Cox, winner of the 2018 Sir George Solti Conducting Award and former Associate Conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra, conducts Brahms’s Symphony No. 3 and Grieg’s Piano Concerto; and Rei Hotoda, Music Director of the Fresno Philharmonic, takes the podium in April for the Second Symphonies of both Rachmaninoff and Beethoven, whose 250th birthday will be celebrated in 2020. Completing this last program is Missy Mazzoli’s Rouge River Transfiguration.

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 2019-20 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 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 Signature Classics Series
All concerts in this series take place at 8pm at the Kentucky Center for the Arts

Sep 28
“From the New World”
Teddy Abrams, conductor
Anne Akiko Meyers, violin
Dvořák: Symphony No. 9 (“From The New World”)
Violin Selection TBA

Oct 12
“From the Sea”
Teddy Abrams, conductor
The Percussion Collective
SIBELIUS: The Oceanides
GARTH NEUSTADTER: Seaborne (first performance of fully-orchestrated version)

Oct 26
“Violins of Hope”
Teddy Abrams, conductor
Gabriel Lefkowitz, violin
LJOVA: Klezmer Music
JOHN WILLIAMS: Three pieces from Schindler’s List
MICHAEL TILSON THOMAS: From the Diary of Anne Frank

Nov 23
“Don Quixote & Other Journeys”
Vinay Parameswaran, guest conductor
ANNA CLYNE: Night Ferry

Jan 18
“Teddy Talks Mahler”
Teddy Abrams, conductor
MAHLER: Symphony No. 5

Jan 31
“Brahms’s Third”
Roderick Cox, guest conductor
TBA, soloist
GRIEG: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra
BRAHMS: Symphony No. 3

Feb 22
“Gospel at the Symphony: Festival of American Music 1”
Teddy Abrams, conductor
St. Stephen Baptist Church Choir
ELLINGTON: Three Black Kings

March 14
“Festival of American Music 2”
Teddy Abrams, conductor
Program TBA

April 11
“Seconds of Beethoven & Rachmaninoff”
Rei Hotoda, guest conductor
MISSY MAZZOLI: River Rouge Transfiguration
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 2
RACHMANINOFF: Symphony No. 2

April 24
Bartók: Concerto for Orchestra

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

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© 21C Media Group, March 2019

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