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This Winter, Louisville Orchestra Premieres Teddy Abrams’s Piano Concerto with Yuja Wang (Jan 7 & 8) and Adolphus Hailstork’s Fourth Symphony (Feb 12)

Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, home of the Louisville Orchestra (photo: Frankie Steele)

“A model for other orchestras, large and small, across the country.”
San Francisco Classical Voice on the Louisville Orchestra

This winter, the Louisville Orchestra gives the world premiere of the eagerly anticipated Piano Concerto by its galvanizing Music Director, Teddy Abrams, now in his eighth season at the orchestra’s helm (Jan 7 & 8). The soloist is Yuja Wang, Abrams’s former classmate at the Curtis Institute of Music, who has been lauded by The Guardian for playing that incorporates both “devil-may-care glamour and dexterity” and “exquisite poise.” The orchestra’s upcoming highlights also include a program titled “Gospel at the Symphony,” showcasing the world premiere of Adolphus Hailstork’s Fourth Symphony, “Survive,” with pianist Harry Pickens and the St. Stephen Church Choir as special guests (Feb 12). Rounding out the winter programming are the Music Without Borders concert “Celebrating Young Talent,” which features a Louisville Orchestra commission from rising young Louisville composer KiMani Bridges (Jan 20-22); performances of the group composition The Blue Hour at Old Forester’s Paristown Hall (Feb 19); and much more. Attendance at all performances in the 2021-22 season is subject to currently recommended COVID-19 safety protocols.

The Piano Concerto marks Abrams’s 14th composition for the Louisville Orchestra since the start of his eight-year tenure. It was written expressly for Wang, who last appeared with the orchestra in 2017 – the year she was named “Artist of the Year” by Musical America – to celebrate its 80th anniversary with a rapturously received performance of Rachmaninoff’s Fourth Piano Concerto. The Financial Times says of the pianist: “Her combination of technical ease, colouristic range and sheer power has always been remarkable[,] … but these days there is an ever-greater depth to her musicianship, drawing you into the world of each composer with compelling immediacy.” Now she premieres Abrams’s latest work on a program that also includes Rachmaninoff’s Tchaikovsky-inspired Symphony No. 2. Abrams explains:

“Yuja is one of the music world’s biggest stars. She is absolutely virtuosic but also incredibly thoughtful and creative. She’s been a favorite collaborator of mine for many years – I first started working with her when we were students together at the Curtis Institute and I would accompany her during her lessons! A couple of years ago, I told her my idea to write her a piano concerto in an American populist style, and I was thrilled when she said that she was up for it. Our upcoming premiere of my concerto is the result. The work is something like a musical child of Rachmaninoff and Gershwin, if they’d met in the 23rd century! It’s extremely technically challenging to play – written for Yuja’s exceptional capabilities – and it’s also a positive, joyous work, intentionally celebratory as an antidote to these turgidly tough times. The piece traverses a wide range of populist musical genres, from ragtime to funk and Latin jazz, but it’s also Romantic in its sensibilities – a piece that’s meant to spark energy and joy in a moment that needs it.”

Abrams’s past works for the orchestra have included a fanfare composed on the occasion of a visit from England’s Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles; the ballet Unified Fields, co-presented with the Louisville Ballet in its first full co-production with the orchestra and featured on All In, the orchestra’s debut album for Decca Gold, which reached #1 on Billboard’s Traditional Classical Chart in 2017; and the rap-opera The Greatest, honoring heavyweight champion and Louisville native Muhammad Ali, which starred local rapper Jecorey Arthur, now newly elected as one of Louisville’s Metro Councilmen. The tribute to Ali and the ongoing collaboration with Arthur both exemplify Abrams’s overriding commitment to engaging with the Louisville community and making the orchestra a welcoming musical home for the entire city. This commitment and many other accomplishments were recently recognized by Musical America, which named Abrams Conductor of the Year for 2022.

After the killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville in 2020, Abrams and the orchestra embarked on a series of ongoing unity initiatives, of which their “Gospel at the Symphony” program is one example. Highlighting the program is the world premiere of Adolphus Hailstork’s Fourth Symphony, titled “Survive.” In 2019, when the Los Angeles Philharmonic premiered “Still Holding On,” the first movement of what was then still a work-in-progress, the Los Angeles Times noted the influence of William Grant Still, whose pioneering Symphony No. 1 (“Afro-American”) it quotes. The same review lauded the movement’s oboe/cello duet, a nod to two of the instruments Still played, as “exquisite.” Hailstork – a graduate of Howard University and the Manhattan School of Music, who studied composition with David Diamond and Nadia Boulanger, among others – turns 80 this year. Featuring Louisville’s own Harry Pickens, the “Gospel at the Symphony” program opens with Duke Ellington’s New World A-Comin’, a work for piano and orchestra that mixes jazz, gospel, blues and West Indian dance with traditional symphonic music. As Ellington says about the piece in his biography: “I visualized this new world as a place in the distant future, where there would be no war, no greed, no categorization, no non-believers, where love was unconditional, and no pronoun was good enough for God.” The program is rounded out by the rousing gospel music of the celebrated St. Stephen Church Choir, hailing from the Louisville church led by renowned preacher Kevin W. Cosby.

Music Without Borders and Old Forester’s Paristown Hall

Abrams also takes the podium this winter in the Music Without Borders series, which takes the orchestra and the conductor’s creative programming out of the concert hall and into the community. “Celebrating Young Talent” features pianist Michelle Cann – who made her orchestral debut at age 14 – performing Gershwin’s Second Rhapsody for piano and orchestra, as well as the Louisville Orchestra-commissioned STATIC by KiMani Bridges, a freshman at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music. The program is rounded out by Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8.

Streaming live from Old Forester’s Paristown Hall, last season’s innovative LOVE (Louisville Orchestra Virtual Edition) earned recommendations from both New York magazine and the New York Times. In February the orchestra returns to the venue for the live performance of a milestone group composition titled The 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, some of the orchestra’s favorite past collaborators among them: Rachel Grimes, Angélica Negrón, Shara Nova, Caroline Shaw and Sarah Kirkland Snider. Reviewing Forché’s book, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette seemed to anticipate this future use of the text, describing it as “polyrhythmic, multilingual poetry, best understood…in the hearing,” and as “musical rather than discursive in manner”; as the review concluded, the collection is “a tactile, empathic equation of our lives and the lives of strangers.”

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, as well as receiving large grants from both the Aaron Copland Fund for Music and the National Endowment for the Arts, 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, while its two most recent albums for the Decca Gold label – All In (2017) and The Order of Nature (2019), the latter of which was launched with an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallontopped the Billboard Traditional Classical and Classical Crossover charts respectively. 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: winter 2022
Except where noted, all concerts take place at 8pm at the Kentucky Center for the Arts

Jan 7 at 11am
Coffee Series
“Yuja Wang Premieres Abrams Concerto”
Teddy Abrams, conductor
Yuja Wang, piano
TEDDY ABRAMS: Piano Concerto (world premiere)
RACHMANINOFF: Symphony No. 2, Op. 27 in E minor (selected movements)

Jan 8
Classics Series
“Yuja Wang Premieres Abrams Concerto”
Teddy Abrams, conductor
Yuja Wang, piano
TEDDY ABRAMS: Piano Concerto (world premiere)
RACHMANINOFF: Symphony No. 2, Op. 27 in E minor

Jan 20-22
Music Without Borders Series
“Celebrating Young Talent”
Jan 20: Congregation K’hal Adath Jeshurun
Jan 21: Ballard High School Auditorium
Jan 22: Indiana University Southeast
Teddy Abrams, conductor
Michelle Cann, piano
KIMANI BRIDGES: STATIC (world premiere of Louisville Orchestra commission)
GERSHWIN: Second Rhapsody for piano and orchestra
DVOŘÁK: Symphony No. 8

Jan 28 at 11am
Coffee Series
“Pines of Rome”
Rei Hotoda, conductor
L. BOULANGER: D’un matin de printemps (“A Spring Morning”)
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 8
RESPIGHI: Pines of Rome

Jan 29
Classics Series
“Pines of Rome”Rei Hotoda, conductor
L. BOULANGER: D’un matin de printemps (“A Spring Morning”)
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 8
RESPIGHI: Fountains of Rome
RESPIGHI: Pines of Rome

Feb 12
Special Event
“Gospel at the Symphony”
Teddy Abrams, conductor
Harry Pickens, piano
St. Stephen Church Choir
ELLINGTON: New World A-Comin’
ADOLPHUS HAILSTORK: Symphony No. 4, “Survive” (world premiere)
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”
TRADITIONAL: “Done Made My Vow”

Feb 19
Old Forester’s Paristown Hall

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

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© 21C Media Group, December 2021


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