Press Room

Under Teddy Abrams’s Galvanizing Leadership, Louisville Orchestra’s 2018-19 Season Combines New Commissions and Interdisciplinary Collaborations with Creatively Programmed Classics

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

Next season represents the Louisville Orchestra’s fifth under the galvanizing leadership of Teddy Abrams, “the young music director [who] understands better than most how music makes a city” (The Guardian). Their characteristically creative 2018-19 lineup combines world premieres of new commissions, a heartfelt tribute to a 20th-century master, innovative approaches to the classics, guest appearances by world-class conductors and soloists, and imaginative interdisciplinary collaborations with local arts institutions. Reconnecting the orchestra with its remarkable past while reestablishing it as the cornerstone 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.” The Los Angeles Times advises: “Watch this guy; he’s going places.” As Time magazine puts it: “A genre-defying orchestra in Louisville? Believe it. The locals do.

In their opening-night concert, the Music Director and orchestra honor a giant of American culture, celebrating Leonard Bernstein at 100 (Sep 29). Following in his hero’s footsteps, Abrams is also a prolific American composer-conductor, and his is one of two new commissions whose world premieres are highlights of the orchestra’s Fourth Annual Festival of American Music (Feb 23 & March 9). The festival also features the Louisville Ballet, while a collaboration with the Kentucky Center of Art and Design enriches the orchestra’s wide-ranging exploration of “Art + Music” (Jan 26). In “Teddy Talks Brahms,” the Music Director and orchestra offer an illuminating deconstruction of Brahms’s Fourth Symphony (April 27), and two more timeless European classics – Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers and Mozart’s Requiem – are the vehicles for their ambitious choral extravaganza (Oct 27). Finally, it is with a masterwork of the late-Romantic literature – Mahler’s “Tragic” Sixth Symphony – that they draw the season to an emotional close (May 11). Three guest-conducting engagements complete the Classics Series lineup, including the return to Louisville of one of Abrams’s mentors, the legendary Leonard Slatkin (Jan 12).

Looking ahead to next season, the young Music Director explains:

“The 2018-19 season builds on our mission to create uniquely curated and adventurous programs for our audiences. We are balancing dramatic new projects with large-scale repertoire presented in creative formats. From a celebration of Leonard Bernstein that includes multiple sets of his music in populist, classical, and religious idioms to a juxtaposition of the Monteverdi Vespers of 1610 with the Mozart Requiem, plus an intensive discussion and exploration of Brahms’s Symphony No. 4, we are performing great works of the past in ways that invite audiences to forge deep relationships with the art itself. Our projects include several major initiatives during our annual Festival of American Music: a new staging of Appalachian Spring, a premiere of an immersive musical work that tells the story of America from the Revolution to the present through songs about Kentucky’s most famous product – bourbon! – and a program devoted to jazz and its intersection with the orchestral world. I am also thrilled to welcome my mentor Leonard Slatkin as a guest conductor next season – it is wonderful to bring an icon of American music to an orchestra that has an iconic history of its own. Between our commissions, projects, and experiments with form and format, I am very proud that the Louisville Orchestra continues to reshape and grow the definition of what a 21st-century orchestra can be.”

*          *          *          *          *

Opening night: Bernstein 100

The spirit of Leonard Bernstein lives on in Louisville, where the orchestra’s honors include the Leonard Bernstein Award for Excellence in Educational Programming, Abrams’s “gifts as an educator and sense of civic responsibility are reminiscent of his hero, Leonard Bernstein” (Departures magazine), and powerhouse performances of the composer’s monumental MASS launched the 2015-16 season. Fittingly, then, in the American master composer’s centenary year, he is once again the focus of the orchestra’s opening-night concert. Titled “Bernstein 100,” the program showcases his work across multiple genres, through excerpts from his Broadway shows West Side Story and On The Town; his operetta, Candide; two of his most overtly Jewish compositions, Chichester Psalms and the Third Symphony, “Kaddish”; and “Simple Song” from the MASS itself. To perform this program, Abrams and the orchestra will be joined by soprano Morgan James, “a phenomenal talent whose feel for classic soul music is bone deep” (New York Times), and who has just been named Huffington Post’s “Brightest Breakout Artist of the Year.”

Fourth Annual Festival of American Music

Celebrating the glorious diversity of the past hundred years of New World composition, Louisville’s annual Festival of American Music is one of Abrams’s most ambitious signature initiatives to date. It was the festival’s inaugural edition that prompted Arts-Louisville to conclude: “The orchestra, specifically this orchestra, is a living, breathing, evolving, and relevant art form.”

In spring 2019, the festival returns for a fourth pioneering season, with a pair of programs under the Music Director’s leadership. Part 1, “Bourbon Spring” (Feb 23), opens with a fully staged performance of Copland’s Pulitzer Prize-winning ballet Appalachian Spring. Marking the orchestra’s second full co-presentation with the Louisville Ballet, this shares the program with the world premiere of Abrams’s own new work commissioned by the orchestra. The piece depicts the colorful history of Kentucky’s distilled spirit industry, from moonshine to bourbon. The Music Director’s work has been called “mesmerizing” (The Guardian), and his most recent composition for the orchestra also celebrates its native city, paying tribute to Louisville’s late great boxing legend. As Arts-Louisville recognized, “This was indeed a great work. … The music and the message of The Greatest: Muhammad Ali will be resonating with me for a very long time.

Part 2, “The Jazz Influence” (March 9), explores the intersection of classical music and jazz with the world premiere of a second new commission, a Jazz Violin Concerto from violinist-composer Johannes Dickbauer, a top prize winner at Switzerland’s Concours International de Violon Sion, who undertakes the solo role himself. The program’s second half features Grammy-nominated soprano Measha Brueggergosman, who joins the orchestra for selected jazz songs and the Louisville premiere of Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind, a work that was written for her by Michael Tilson Thomas. Another key mentor of Abrams’s, Thomas was the subject of the “Classics: Maverick – A Celebration of MTT” program at last year’s festival, in which he also took part.

Creatively programmed classics

As Arts-Louisville observes, “Teddy Abrams is an unstoppable force. … He is reconnecting the orchestra with the community in a meaningful way.” Under his auspices, the Louisville Ballet is just one of the local institutions with which the orchestra has worked. The upcoming program themed to “Art + Music” (Jan 26) introduces a new affiliation, being created in collaboration with artists at the Kentucky Center of Art and Design at Spalding University, who are joining forces with the orchestra to offer a multi-sensory exploration of the relationship between the two art forms. Inspired by music, their new artworks will accompany examples of music inspired by the visual arts, from Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition to selections by Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Stravinsky, Sibelius, Bartók, and Ives.

Abrams’s remaining programs with the orchestra are no less creatively conceived. In “Teddy Talks Brahms” (April 27), the Music Director builds on the success of a similar project last season to offer an innovative take on one of the orchestral literature’s great masterworks. Before taking the podium for a complete traversal of Brahms’s Fourth Symphony, he helps unpack this masterfully constructed work, using the orchestra to illustrate points about its use of themes, harmonic and rhythmic devices, and overall architecture. According to Arts-Louisville, last season’s deconstruction of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony made “a good case against the decline of classical music,” leaving the critic “absolutely enthralled.”

In “Mozart Requiem” (Oct 27), Abrams and the orchestra look forward to pairing two very different masterpieces of the sacred choral repertoire. Juxtaposing traditional Gregorian chant with the richest, most up-to-date sonorities in a revolutionary synthesis of old and new, Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 was unprecedented in the grandeur of its scale and exhilarating opulence of its sound. Written more than 175 years later, Mozart’s Requiem in D minor was left incomplete at his death, inspiring some of the speculation that fueled the movie Amadeus. Yet behind all the rumor and mythology lie some of the composer’s most dramatic, gripping, and poignant music. Together, these two monumental works provide a compellingly intensive introduction to the genre.

To conclude their fifth season together, Abrams leads the orchestra in an account of Mahler’s mighty Sixth Symphony, known as the “Tragic” (May 11). Dating, ironically, from an exceptionally happy period of the composer’s life, his Sixth Symphony is an especially dark work that paints a powerful portrait of devastation and despair. Abrams and the orchestra have already demonstrated their way with Mahler, whose epic “Resurrection” Symphony was the vehicle for their 2016-17 season-launching concert, which “showed the artistic muscle it takes to present such monumental music” (Courier-Journal).

Rounding out the Classics Series

To complete the Classics Series, Abrams cedes the podium to guest conductors Ken-David Masur, “a brilliant and commanding conductor with unmistakable charisma” (Leipziger Volkszeitung) (Nov 17); Francesco Lecce-Chong, new Music Director of the Eugene Symphony (March 30); and Leonard Slatkin, who leads a pairing of Elgar’s beloved Enigma Variations with American works that include his own Kinah (Jan 12). The six-time Grammy Award-winner is Music Director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, where Abrams formerly served as his assistant.

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 2018-19 season, visit:

Banner 80th anniversary season

This full 2018-19 lineup follows on the heels of the Louisville Orchestra’s 80th anniversary season, which has already proved something of a banner year. After an opening-night collaboration with superstar pianist Yuja Wang that gave Arts-Louisvillea renewed faith that classical music is indeed still relevant and necessary in our society,” the orchestra went straight to No. 1 on the Billboard Classical Traditional Chart with the release of All In, its first new recording in almost three decades. As for its world premiere performance of Abrams’s genre-straddling oratorio, The Greatest: Muhammad Ali, this drew on the combined talents of Louisville hip-hop artist and educator Jecorey “1200” Arthur, 2017 MacArthur fellow Rhiannon Giddens, and Grammy-nominated baritone Jubilant Sykes, engaging the local community in an exhilarating, multicultural salute to one of its most beloved heroes. Small wonder that NPR Music advises, “To help boost interest in classical music, look no further than Teddy Abrams.”

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 Season Classics Series

All concerts in this series take place at 8pm at the Kentucky Center for the Arts

Sep 29

“Bernstein 100”
Teddy Abrams, Music Director
BERNSTEIN: Overture to Candide
BERNSTEIN: “Simple Song” from MASS
BERNSTEIN: Selections from West Side Story and On The Town
BERNSTEIN: Symphony No. 3 (“Kaddish”), movement no. 1
BERNSTEIN: Chichester Psalms, movement no. 1
(with Morgan James, soprano)

Oct 27

“Mozart Requiem”
Teddy Abrams, Music Director
MONTEVERDI: Vespers of 1610
MOZART: Requiem in D minor
Chorus TBA

Nov 17

“Oboe Concerto”
Ken-David Masur, guest conductor
ERIC NATHAN: the space of a door
STRAUSS: Concerto in D for Oboe (with Alexander Vvedenskiy, oboe)
BRAHMS: Serenade No. 1

Jan 12

“Slatkin Conducts Elgar”
Leonard Slatkin, guest conductor
CINDY McTEE: Double Play
PISTON: Suite from The Incredible Flutist
ELGAR: “Enigma” Variations

Jan 26

“Art + Music”
Teddy Abrams, Music Director
HANDEL: “Alla Hornpipe” from Water Music
MOZART: Overture to The Magic Flute
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 8, movement no. 4
SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 3, movement no. 4
STRAVINSKY: “Infernal Dance” from The Firebird
SIBELIUS: The Oceanides
BARTÓK: Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta, movement no. 4
IVES: “The Housatonic at Stockbridge” from Three Places in New England
MUSSORGSKY: Night on Bald Mountain
MUSSORGSKY: Pictures at an Exhibition

Feb 23

Festival of American Music I: “Bourbon Spring”
Teddy Abrams, Music Director
COPLAND: Appalachian Spring (with dancers from the Louisville Ballet)
TEDDY ABRAMS: TBA (world premiere of new commission)

March 9

Festival of American Music II: “The Jazz Influence”
Teddy Abrams, Music Director
JOHANNES DICKBAUER: Jazz Violin Concerto (world premiere of new commission; with Johannes Dickbauer, violin)
Jazz Song Selections (with Measha Brueggergosman, soprano)
MICHAEL TILSON THOMAS: Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind (Louisville premiere; with Measha Brueggergosman, soprano)

March 30

“Tchaikovsky Concerto No. 1”
Francesco Lecce-Chong, guest conductor
BACEWICZ: Polish Overture
TCHAIKOVSKY: Piano Concerto No. 1 (with Andrew von Oeyen, piano)
SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 10

April 27

“Teddy Talks Brahms”
Teddy Abrams, Music Director
BRAHMS: Symphony No. 4

May 11

“Mahler’s Sixth”
Teddy Abrams, Music Director
MAHLER: Symphony No. 6 (“Tragic”)

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

#             #             #

© 21C Media Group, March 2018

Return to Press Room