Teddy Abrams attempts to channel Lenny Bernstein in New World’s “American Journey”

Teddy Abrams
South Florida Classical Review

Teddy Abrams is a multitasking bundle of musical energy. The current music director of the Louisville Orchestra and former New World Symphony conducting fellow returned to the podium at Miami Beach’s New World Center on Saturday night for a program of Americana that also displayed his talents as keyboard player, clarinetist and composer.

For two seasons Abrams headed Miami’s now- defunct Garden Music Festival, presenting programs that mixed works from the classical canon with pop and indigenous music. Abrams’ tripartite “American Musical Journey” program continued that format. Like the New World’s Composer Portrait series, the three-hour concert utilized all of the hall’s auxiliary balcony stages and multimedia capacities.

Abrams bookended the opening segment devoted to the influence of folk music with classic scores by Aaron Copland and Charles Ives. The ensemble’s whipcrack articulation and Abrams’ brisk pacing took “Buckaroo Holiday”  from Copland’s Rodeo into high gear. Two movements from Ives’ Three Places in New England showcased the young players’ versatility and flexibility. Abrams’ unbridled reading of “Putnam’s Camp, Redding, Connecticut” emerged sharp-edged and bereft of artificial gloss. The orchestra brought just the right rawness of timbre to Ives’ collage of circus band marches, Revolutionary War tunes and even The Star Spangled Banner. Yet they were able to turn on a dime and sensitively capture the misty ambience of “The Housatonic at Stockbridge” in evocative instrumental colors.

Between the orchestral pieces, Brittany Haas and Jordan Tice offered a set of songs and fiddle tunes that would be at home on a Prairie Home Companion broadcast. Their close harmony (with guitar accompaniment) on the Delmore Brothers’ “Mississippi Shore” was a fine example of American folk pop, sans commercial gloss. Joined by two string players, Haas (alternating on banjo and fiddle) offered a virtuosic demonstration of authentic bluegrass.

Abrams added strings to his big band version of Louis Prima’s “Sing, Sing, Sing.” With three trumpets and four trombones blaring at peak power, Abrams’ own piano riffs and hints of stride updated the classic Benny Goodman version. Morris’s improvisation on tap set was a stunning solo moment.

Mason Bates’ mix of electronics and full orchestra packed a wallop in “Warehouse Medicine” from The B-Sides. There is a sense of the ominous behind Bates’ driving rhythms in his portrait of the birth of techno pop at parties in the deserted warehouses of 1980′s Detroit. Abrams and the orchestra gave this hard thrusting essay their all.

Abrams’ own Overture in Sonata Form only passingly acknowledges rock. This smoothly crafted crowd pleaser traverses mid-twentieth century Americana and the Hollywood sound of John Williams in a celebratory manner.

Abrams displayed boundless energy and enthusiasm throughout the long evening. He appears to be New World artistic director Michael Tilson Thomas’ most prized podium protégé, so much so that Tilson Thomas is guest conducting the Louisville Orchestra this season. Abrams will doubtless be returning and it will be interesting to see the scope of his repertoire and interpretive talents evolve.
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