LO Announces 2016-2017 Season and Teddy Abrams Is An Unstoppable Force

Teddy Abrams
Arts Louisville

When Teddy Abrams was hired as Music Director a little over 2 years ago, the Louisville Orchestra was struggling to survive an extended financial crisis that threatened its very existence. It was a sad state of affairs for the once-celebrated pillar of the Louisville arts scene. Other cities had seen the dissolution of major symphonic groups, causing national media outlets from Time Magazine to the New York Times to ask if the orchestra, as a form, was dying.

What a difference two seasons have made. Mr. Abrams has set such a bold course for the LO through collaborations with local musicians such as Ben Sollee and Will Oldham, and by taking the orchestra out into the community with an aggressive schedule of concerts at churches, schools, and community centers. With the announcement of his 3rd season, he shows no signs of slowing down in his pursuit of a vital and sustained future for the company. He is reconnecting the orchestra with the community in a meaningful way.

Highlights of the ambitious 2016-17 season will include a season-opening account of Mahler’s mighty “Resurrection” Symphony; concerto collaborations with such eminent artists as Yo-Yo Ma and Augustin Hadelich; a celebration of “Shakespeare In Music” that will accompany Louisville’s upcoming First Folio exhibition; the Louisville premiere of a new commission from Lev Zhurbin; and the world premiere of Abrams’ own new composition, Muhammad Ali Portrait, part of a two-program Festival of American Music that will also feature guest conductor Michael Tilson Thomas. Marked by a signature mix of compelling programming and extensive community engagement, the orchestra’s partnership with Abrams is one to which Louisville audiences have responded with unbridled enthusiasm, as evidenced by a 93% increase in ticket sales since 2012-13.

In one of Abrams’s key innovations, the orchestra now launches each season with an ambitious, immersive community collaboration. In 2014, their powerhouse performance of Carmina Burana drew on a local cast of hundreds, “offer[ing] incontrovertible proof that Abrams [was] leading the Louisville Orchestra into the next great leg of its journey” (Chris Stewart, Arts-Louisville.com). Likewise, last fall some 240 musicians joined forces for Leonard Bernstein’s Mass, a tour de force that Abrams “endowed … with coherence, humanity, and winning theatricality” (Wall Street Journal). Once again calling for extensive local reinforcements, this year’s offering is Mahler’s monumental Second Symphony, the “Resurrection,” which, besides employing huge orchestral forces – the score calls for unusually numerous woodwinds and percussion, ten trumpets and horns, and “the largest possible contingent of strings” – also features soprano and alto soloists, full choir, and organ (Oct. 8).

Sharing the Louisville Orchestra’s mission of reaching the widest possible audience, superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma, a recent Kennedy Center honoree, consistently pushes the boundaries of musical communication, whether through concerto engagements, chamber music, recitals, or the exchange of cultural ideas fostered by his groundbreaking Silk Road Project. He joins the orchestra for a special performance of Elgar’s Cello Concerto (Oct. 30). Other concerto soloists include young German violinist Augustin Hadelich, winner of the 2016 Grammy Award for Best Classical Instrumental Solo, who joins Abrams and the orchestra for Britten’s elegiac Violin Concerto on an all-English program that closes with selections from Walton’s Façade (March 31, April 1).

Under Abrams’s auspices, the orchestra has undertaken interdisciplinary collaborations with a variety of local institutions, including the Louisville Ballet and the Center for Interfaith Relations. To commemorate this year’s 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, the Folger Shakespeare Library has organized a tour of the Bard’s First Folio of 1623 – the first collected edition of his plays – to all 50 U.S. states, as well as to Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico. In honor of the First Folio display at Louisville’s Frazier History Museum, “Shakespeare in Music” (November 18, 19) pairs excerpts from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet with let me tell you, a transcendent new song cycle from Denmark’s Hans Abrahamsen, with celebrated new-music exponent Susan Narucki as soprano soloist. Based on Paul Griffiths’ novel of the same name, the cycle explores the troubled soul of Shakespeare’s Ophelia through a first-person narrative that uses only the few words she speaks in Hamlet. As the New Yorker marveled, Abrahamsen’s setting “causes thousands of people to stop breathing for a long moment,” and it was named as the winner of the coveted 2016 Grawemeyer Award. 

Read the rest of the review here