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Teddy Abrams & Members of Louisville Orchestra Perform in Mammoth Cave with Special Guest Yo-Yo Ma (April 29)

Rafinesque Hall at Mammoth Cave National Park (photo: courtesy of National Park Service)

“A pioneering force in new music.” — Billboard on the Louisville Orchestra

(January 18, 2023)—One of the world’s most awe-inspiring natural wonders will serve as the setting for a once-in-a-lifetime experience on April 29, when members of the Louisville Orchestra (LO), its Music Director and Musical America 2022 Conductor of the Year Teddy Abrams, bass-baritone Davóne Tines, the Louisville Chamber Choir and a solo percussionist will join forces with cellist Yo-Yo Ma at Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park for two immersive concerts directed by Zack Winokur.

Held inside the cave, both concerts will feature a site-specific composition by Teddy Abrams that was inspired by the environment where it will be performed. Tickets for the performances, taking place at 11am and 3pm CDT, will be distributed by a lottery process through, beginning Monday, January 30, by which time the site will be live. More information about Mammoth Cave can be found here. Meanwhile, the Louisville Orchestra has also just announced new details of its historic statewide touring program, a two-year musical journey across Kentucky that begins in May. Titled “In Harmony – The Commonwealth Tour of the Louisville Orchestra,” the tour will include full orchestral performances as well as intimate, collaborative engagements by individual LO musicians in schools, community centers and libraries in dozens of communities. More information about the tour is available here.

Over the past year, Abrams has explored Mammoth Cave National Park – the longest-known cave system in the world – and immersed himself in the cave’s geology and history, specifically focusing on the origins of the cave, the people who have lived and worked in it, and the stories they have told. Abrams explains:

“These performances are an homage to and celebration of this remarkable place, its history, and its people. Visitors have always been drawn to Mammoth Cave to experience its ancient stillness and expansiveness. It’s no surprise that this otherworldly treasure has inspired art in all forms, some of which can still be seen in the cave. Performing music in a cave, where untold generations of people before us have created their own music, connects us in a vital way to our past.”

The genesis of this project came about through a conversation between Abrams and Yo-Yo Ma, during preparations for a podcast interview that Abrams conducted with the cellist in 2020. Ma mentioned his admiration for a documentary featuring a concert conducted by Abrams at Crater Lake National Park. Ma then shared the thinking behind his national parks project: “Our Common Nature.” That conversation led to the idea of a concert in Mammoth Cave. Abrams composed his work with Ma in mind, to be performed inside the cave in a large open passageway known as Rafinesque Hall. The composer-conductor explains:

“My work will position Yo-Yo Ma in the role of spiritual guide, twinned with the voice of Davóne, and using a complement of vocalists and musicians from the Louisville Orchestra to bring the interdependent natural, human and mythological stories of Mammoth Cave to life. The inspiration for this work is the interlinking of nature and humanity – the role caves play in our collective imagination and storytelling. From ancient mythology to modern fiction, caves have represented archetypical wonder and terror, symbolized the unknown, and served as the setting for our contemplation of the borders of life, death and the great beyond.”

Louisville Orchestra Chief Executive Graham Parker adds:

“This once-in-a-lifetime performance represents more than a collaboration between Teddy Abrams, the Louisville Orchestra and the great Yo-Yo Ma; equally important to the collaboration is the mystical splendor of one of the world’s most astounding natural wonders. We are also bringing attention to Mammoth Cave as part of the broader mission of the Louisville Orchestra to serve the entire Commonwealth of Kentucky, from its vibrant cities and small towns to its glorious natural resources.”

Mammoth Cave National Park Superintendent Barclay Trimble says:

“We are thrilled to offer this amazing opportunity to experience the sounds of Yo-Yo Ma and the Louisville Orchestra inside Mammoth Cave. Music is universally loved and recognized as a way to connect and bring people together. Mammoth Cave has been a source of artistic inspiration for thousands of years – and now, through a composition created by Teddy Abrams and a historic performance by Yo-Yo Ma, we can add another fantastic musical moment to the cave’s history.”

Zack Winokur will serve as director of the performances. Known for work described as “pure poetry” (Boston Globe) and “my favorite theatrical experience of the last decade” (New York Times), Winokur is recognized as one of the most innovative and exciting talents working in opera today. He co-founded the American Modern Opera Company, an ensemble of singers, musicians and dancers committed to creating a body of new, discipline-colliding music-theater works. Winokur explains:

“In the process of creating this piece I have gotten to know people with deep history in these caves and surrounding lands, connecting with their generational stories of curiosity and discovery. I have been inspired by the work of the park guides and am excited to work with the properties of the cave – the pure blackout where you’re left with only your heartbeat, the cacophonous echoes of sound, the sensitivity of a pin dropping, the one light in the dark that can form a glow for us all to gather around – as we transform the stories of the cave into theater.”

Tickets for the performances will be distributed via a lottery system to give all interested visitors an equal opportunity to attend these limited events. The lottery will be open from Monday, January 30 to Monday, February 6 at Only one application per email address will be accepted, but each applicant may request up to four tickets. Performances are open to all ages, although children under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult aged 18 or older. All lottery applicants will be charged a $1 application fee, but there is no fee for tickets to the events.

Rafinesque Hall, the area of the cave where the performances will take place, is a natural environment, with low lighting and a temperature of around 54ºF (12ºC). There is no seating in the hall, and the performances will last approximately one hour each. The performers will use different zones of the cave and audience members will be encouraged to move around the performance spaces to experience the aural and visual contrasts as elements of the composition evolve. Audience members must walk 0.75 miles (1.2 km) round-trip to reach the performance area. The access trail includes a steep outdoor hillside to and from the cave’s natural entrance, with a total of 130 stairs. Inside the cave, the trail will travel along broad walkways in some of the largest rooms inside Mammoth Cave. The trail is mostly level but includes some hilly and uneven areas.

About Yo-Yo Ma

The life and career of cellist Yo-Yo Ma are testaments to his enduring belief in culture’s power to generate trust and understanding. Whether performing new or familiar works from the cello repertoire, collaborating with communities and institutions to explore culture’s role in society, or engaging unexpected musical forms, Ma strives to foster connections that stimulate the imagination and reinforce our humanity.

Yo-Yo Ma was born in 1955 to Chinese parents living in Paris, where he began studying the cello with his father at age four. When he was seven, he moved with his family to New York City, where he continued his cello studies at the Juilliard School before pursuing a liberal arts education at Harvard.

Ma has recorded more than 100 albums, is the winner of 19 Grammy Awards, and has performed for nine American presidents, most recently at President Biden’s inauguration. He has received numerous awards, including the National Medal of the Arts, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Birgit Nilsson Prize. He has been a UN Messenger of Peace since 2006 and was recognized as one of TIME magazine’s “100 Most Influential People of 2020.”

Ma’s most recent album is Beethoven for Three: Symphony No. 6 “Pastorale” and Op. 1, No. 3, recorded with pianist Emanuel Ax and violinist Leonidas Kavakos.

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. 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, and their 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.

About Mammoth Cave

Mammoth Cave National Park is a park on two levels – 52,830 acres of reclaimed hardwood forest and winding riverways, and, below them, the longest-known cave system in the world, surveyed at 428 miles to date. The park preserves evidence of prehistoric indigenous people at Mammoth Cave from between 4,000 and 5,000 years ago, as well as evidence of modern humans who rediscovered the cave in around 1800. These modern settlers left behind more than 200 years of artifacts from the early days of saltpeter mining operations, science/health experiments and cave tour activities, together with historic structures that were built in the development of the region as a tourist destination and national park. Music has been an important part of Mammoth Cave’s more than 200-year modern history with classical musicians, choirs and contemporary artists composing and often performing their music inside the cave. Located within a day’s drive of several major population centers, Mammoth Cave National Park offers camping, hiking, horseback riding, bicycling, canoeing, picnicking and cave tours. The park was established as a national park in 1941, designated a World Heritage Site in 1981, designated an International Biosphere Reserve in 1990, and certified as a Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association in 2021.

High-resolution photos are available here.

Louisville Orchestra at Mammoth Cave

April 29 at 11am & 3pm CDT
Mammoth Cave, KY
Members of the Louisville Orchestra
Louisville Chamber Choir
Teddy Abrams, conductor
Yo-Yo Ma, cello
Solo percussionist TBA
Zack Winokur, director
Teddy ABRAMS: new work

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© 21C Media Group, January 2023


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