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Teddy Abrams Celebrates Tenth Anniversary Season with Louisville Orchestra in 2023–24; Returns to Guest Conduct Utah Symphony and Debuts in Helsinki and Buffalo; Premieres ALI Musical Next Fall

(September 2023) Musical America 2022 Conductor of the Year Teddy Abrams – now celebrating his tenth season as Music Director of the Louisville Orchestra (LO) – will make three high-profile guest-conducting appearances during the 2023–24 season. He returns to the Utah Symphony for a concert of Bach and Jessie Montgomery concertos performed by pianist Awadagin Pratt, paired with Abrams’s own Overture to The Greatest: Muhammad Ali and Copland’s complete Appalachian Spring ballet music (Dec 1 & 2). In another Muhammad Ali-related project, Abrams’s musical, ALI, is set to premiere in Louisville next fall. He also makes two conducting debuts this season: with the Helsinki Philharmonic, performing music of Mason Bates and Mussorgsky (Nov 17), and in the spring with the Buffalo Philharmonic, performing Dvořák’s New World Symphony alongside Michael Tilson Thomas’s The Diary of Anne Frank (Feb 17 & 18). Among the highlights of Abrams’s tenth anniversary season with the Louisville Orchestra are a season opener featuring mandolinist and composer Chris Thile, who debuts his own song cycle ATTENTION! and joins Abrams and the orchestra for the next leg of the “In Harmony” statewide tour; performances of Mahler’s “Tragic” Symphony No. 6 in the spring; and “Creators Fest” concerts featuring world premieres of works from the second round of composers participating in the groundbreaking Louisville Orchestra Creators Corps initiative. More information about Abrams’s performances with the Louisville Orchestra can be found here.

A native of Berkeley, California, Abrams got his start in conducting at the age of nine after seeing Tilson Thomas conduct an all-Gershwin program with the San Francisco Symphony. He wrote a letter soliciting advice and lessons, soon became Tilson Thomas’s protégé, and continues to be inspired by the efforts Tilson Thomas and his teacher, Leonard Bernstein, made toward music education and increased visibility and accessibility for classical music. After graduating from Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music, Abrams spent three years as the Conducting Fellow and Assistant Conductor of the New World Symphony, co-founded by Tilson Thomas to prepare graduates of music programs for leadership roles in professional orchestras and ensembles; so, when Abrams makes his Buffalo Philharmonic debut conducting Tilson Thomas’s Diary of Anne Frank along with Dvořák’s New World Symphony, the program is a double homage to his mentor. In a recent feature article about Abrams in the New York Times, Tilson Thomas said his protégé had created “a very natural space for people to feel comfortable inside of the music.” He continued:

“He is extraordinarily devoted to helping people better understand what the music is all about, and what they’re all about. I’ve never really seen anything quite like it, and it fills me with an enormous sense of hope.”

Composer Mason Bates is a fellow Bay Area native and longtime friend whose music Abrams frequently programs. Bates’s Mothership was part of the Louisville Orchestra’s Festival of American Music in 2016, his Sea-Blue Circuitry was featured in Abrams’s National Symphony debut in 2019 at the Kennedy Center’s Direct Current Festival, and in August 2022, Abrams led the San Francisco Symphony in the West Coast premiere of Bates’s Philharmonia Fantastique, an imaginative concerto for orchestra and animated film. Bates’s Anthology of Fantastic Zoology, based on a compendium of mythological creatures written by Jorge Luis Borges, is described by the composer as “a kind of psychedelic Carnival of the Animals … presented in eleven interlocking movements (a sprawling form inspired by French and Russian ballet scores).” For his Helsinki Philharmonic debut, Abrams pairs the work with another episodic tour, not through a bestiary this time but through a gallery of paintings: Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, using Ravel’s 1922 orchestration of Mussorgsky’s original piano version.

Abrams’s one other guest-conducting engagement in the coming season sees him return to the Utah Symphony for a program comprising the Overture to his own “rap opera,” The Greatest: Muhammad Ali, and Copland’s Appalachian Spring, paired with Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in A, BWV 1055 and Jessie Montgomery’s Rounds, the latter two pieces featuring pianist Awadagin Pratt. After becoming the first student in the history of the Peabody Conservatory to receive diplomas in three performance areas – piano, violin and conducting – Pratt also became, in 1992, the first African American pianist to win the Naumburg International Piano Competition. Montgomery’s 2022 piano concerto Rounds was commissioned for Pratt by Art of the Piano Foundation and inspired by the imagery and themes from T.S. Eliot’s poem Four Quartets. The composer elaborates:

“In addition to this inspiration, while working on the piece, I became fascinated by fractals (infinite patterns found in nature that are self-similar across different scales) and also delved into the work of contemporary biologist and philosopher Andreas Weber who writes about the interdependency of all beings. … Beginning to understand this interconnectedness requires that we slow down, listen, and observe both the effect and the opposite effect caused by every single action and moment. I’ve found this is an exercise that lends itself very naturally towards musical gestural possibilities that I explore in the work – action and reaction, dark and light, stagnant and swift.”

Abrams composed The Greatest in 2017, following the death of boxing legend and Louisville native son Muhammad Ali. Currently he is developing another work inspired by the boxer, the musical ALI, written with actor and director Clint Dyer, Deputy Artistic Director of Britain’s National Theatre. The musical is slated to have its world premiere in fall 2024 in Louisville at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts and is intended for Broadway in 2025.

2022-23 was a banner season for Abrams. Major developments in Louisville included the start of the “In Harmony” statewide tour, a two-year musical journey that began this past May; the inauguration of the “Creators Corps” initiative, a first-of-its-kind program that deeply integrates artists in the city of Louisville and with the orchestra; and a landmark performance in Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave featuring a site-specific composition by Abrams himself titled Mammoth which featured Yo-Yo Ma, bass-baritone Davóne Tines, members of the LO, and many local musicians. The event was profiled along with the orchestra in a feature article by Alex Ross in the New Yorker. This past summer Abrams returned to Ravinia to conduct the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and subsequently made his Hollywood Bowl debut in a return engagement conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

High-resolution photos are available here.

Teddy Abrams 2023–24 Guest Appearances

Nov 17
Helsinki, Finland
Helsinki Philharmonic (debut)
Mason BATES: Anthology of Fantastic Zoology
MUSSORGSKY: Pictures at an Exhibition (orch. Ravel)

Dec 1 & 2
Salt Lake City, UT
Maurice Abravanel Hall
Utah Symphony
Awadagin Pratt, piano
BACH: Keyboard Concerto in A (BWV 1055)
Jessie MONTGOMERY: Rounds
Teddy ABRAMS: Overture to The Greatest: Muhammad Ali
COPLAND: Appalachian Spring

Feb 17 & 18
Buffalo, NY
Buffalo Philharmonic (debut)
Cantor Penny Myers, narrator
Michael TILSON THOMAS: The Diary of Anne Frank
DVOŘÁK: Symphony No. 9 (“From the New World”)

Louisville Orchestra 2023–24 season
Sep 14–23
Opening Night and “In Harmony” Tour
Teddy Abrams, conductor
Chris Thile, mandolin and vocals
Lindsey Branson, guitar and vocals
Sarah B. Adams, mezzo-soprano
Chris THILE: ATTENTION! A narrative song cycle for extroverted mandolinist and orchestra (Kentucky premiere)
COPLAND: “Hoe-Down” from Rodeo
Lisa BIELAWA/Lindsey BRANSON: Home
BARTÓK: Romanian Folk Dances
PROKOFIEV: Symphony No.1 in D, Op. 25, “Classical”

Sep 14: Murray, KY

Sep 16: Louisville, KY (Classics Series Opening Night)

Sep 19: Madisonville, KY

Sep 23: Henderson, KY

Oct 13 & 14
Nkeiru OKOYE: Voices Shouting Out
Alex BERKO: Spiegel Grove
Tanner PORTER: Kin excerpt 2: Act 3, Movement 1–2
Gabriel KAHANE: Heirloom (Jeffrey Kahane, piano)
John ADAMS: Harmonielehre

Oct 13: Louisville, KY (Coffee Series; ADAMS Part 1 only)

Oct 13: New Albany, IN (Nightlites at the Ogle)

Oct 14: Louisville, KY (Classics Series)

Oct 27 & 28
Teddy Abrams, conductor
Sebastian CHANG: Nosferatu (new score and world premiere with film)
BARTÓK: Suite from The Miraculous Mandarin

Oct 27: Louisville, KY (Coffee Series; film score only)

Oct 28: Louisville, KY (Classics Series)

Jan 13
Louisville, KY
Classics Series
Teddy Abrams, conductor
St. Stephen Temple Choir
Program to include new and old Gospel Arrangements by André WILSON and others:
TRADITIONAL: Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow
Kevin JAMES: Worthy of All of the Praise
TRADITIONAL: God is Worthy
Jason CLAYBORN: You’re All I Need
TRADITIONAL: Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around
Richard SMALLWOOD: Anthem of Praise
Christopher J. WATKINS: This Praise

Feb 27–March 9
“In Harmony” Tour
Michael Cleveland, fiddle

Feb 27: Corbin, KY

March 2: Paducah, KY

March 5: Bowling Green, KY

March 8: Danville, KY

March 9: Fort Knox, KY

April 26 & 27
Teddy Abrams, conductor
MAHLER: Symphony No. 6 in A minor, “Tragic”

April 26: Louisville, KY (Coffee Series)

April 27: Louisville, KY (Classics Series)

May 10 & 11
Teddy Abrams, conductor
Three world premieres from Creators Corps members

May 10: Louisville, KY (Coffee Series)

May 11: Louisville, KY (Classics Series)

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© 21C Media Group, September 2023


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