Our award-winning special, African American Voices, returns this February. Listen at 10am and 4pm, or anytime at wuol.org/voices, for stories of courage and hope through music.
- Posted by Daniel Gilliam on February 2
Teddy Abrams led the Louisville Orchestra on Thursday and Friday in two symphonies: one premiere and the other one of the most performed since its premiere in 1876. The new work by Sebastian Chang, and commissioned by the LO, is his first major composition, clocking in at around thirty minutes. Titled Classical Symphony, it’s modeled on those of Mozart and Haydn, but with a musical language of today (Prokofiev did the same this with his first symphony).
Chang’s symphony is charming, with moments of nostalgia hinting at Leonard Bernstein and Bernard Herrmann. Chang seems most comfortable writing lush jazz chords or memorable tunes (I’ve remembered the second movement theme since hearing it once at the first rehearsal in December). He is melodically gifted and wants to say something that is personal in every gesture. Chang is also charming, and he smiles a lot, just like his music.
An orchestra at a premiere is a tightly-wound band, which can lead to a mechanical performance. But these performances were full of care and musicality, led by Abrams who didn’t just lead the music, but understood it. Chang’s romantic score gives the bulk of the melodic material to the violins, which at times felt like too much. I kept hoping for some prominent cello lines, or individual wind and brass players showcased. The Whitney Hall audiences were genuinely thrilled, giving Chang a warm, enthusiastic welcome.
At both performances Abrams noted the history of the Louisville Orchestra as a commissioning organization, and how this premiere was continuing that tradition. Crucial in reviving this reputation is funding. The money to commission a composer fairly for their work must come from within the community (individuals, organizations and foundations), even as the orchestra seeks funders on a national level. A composer earns in a year what a high-profile soloist makes in one night. Equally, the composers who are commissioned should be well-known and lesser-known, from around the country and close to home.
Johannes Brahms carefully deliberated over his first symphony for twenty years. Was he a rookie composer and unsure of himself? No, he had written a monumental Requiem, a piano concerto, two lengthy works for orchestra and dozens of chamber works. You could say Brahms developed a complex thanks to Beethoven’s legacy — he, Johannes, was the chosen successor. As a result, we get a symphony that wrestles with demons, finds beauty and playfulness around us, and finally stands on higher ground, like a preacher to the flock, eyes widened and fists shaking.
The orchestra plunged into this complex, emotional narrative, fully invested in every bit of the drama. More tender moments in the music were led by the prinicipal winds and brass. Concertmaster Michael Davis soared at the end of the second movement. Oboist Jennifer Potochnic was sublime, and her richly delivered solos lingered long after their ending. During the symphony’s driving moments, Abrams pushed the orchestra to the edge, almost saying “Let’s try to get even closer!” He was as much a leader as a cheerleader, giving validation to an ensemble that knew exactly what to do. The final movement, an operatic apotheosis, was a statement in and of itself triumphing for Brahms and the Louisville Orchestra.
- Posted by Daniel Gilliam on February 1
The second season of Teddy Abrams’ music directorship with the Louisville Orchestra was announced tonight at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts. Where last season was programmed, roughly, half by Abrams and half by Music Director Emeritus Jorge Mester, 2015-2016 is mostly Abrams, with two concerts led by Mester.
There is nothing restrained or timid next season — this is not an orchestra playing it safe. In fact, one could argue that this season is full of risks, artistically and financially. Producing works that require a large orchestra, and most on next season do, can add up. But this doesn’t feel like opulence, rather what we see here is an orchestra trying to earn back a reputation for being adventurous and innovative.
What has typically been a glitz and glamour, concerto-focused Fanfara, complete with high-price soloist, is now called “Opening Night” and looks to be the most ambitious season opener ever by the Louisville Orchestra, and possibly among any American orchestra of similar budget or market size. If you thought “Carmina Burana” was extravagant, Abrams will unleash Leonard Bernstein’s eclectic “Mass” to open the season on September 26th at 8pm. Jubilant Sykes will sing the Celebrant, a role that garnered him a GRAMMY nomination in 2009. Bernstein’s musical theater work calls for two orchestras (one in the pit and one on stage), two soloists, two choirs, a rock band, and “street musicians,” which includes 45 singers and percussion. Composed for the opening of the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., Mass juxtaposes traditional Latin Mass texts with new lyrics by with Bernstein himself, Stephen Schwartz (“Godspell,” “Wicked”) and Paul Simon.
Now the tone is set for one of the most unique seasons this city has ever seen, replete with premieres and collaborations. Abrams, the composer, has scheduled himself for two new works: a fanfare in March and a work for “Community Collaborators.” In late January the orchestra will feature a commission from students at Abrams’ alma mater, the Curtis Institute of Music. A young American composer named Chase Morrin will write and perform a new piano concerto as part of a “Festival of American Music.”
Cast in two parts in March and April, the festival includes Mason Bates’ “Mothership,” for orchestra and electronica (a laptop), premiered in 2011 by the YouTube Symphony and viewed live by two million people on YouTube. Bates is paired with his fellow Californian John Adams’ “Harmonielehre” (German for “study of harmony”), a 40-minute work for large orchestra. Abrams will be the soloist in Copland’s Clarinet Concerto, and the latter’s post-war Symphony No. 3 concludes the festival.
Another collaboration takes the orchestra and Louisville Ballet relationship beyond The Nutcracker for two works in March: a choreographed Philip Glass Violin Concerto and Stravinsky’s dark burlesque “Petrouchka.”
Among this season’s soloists are pianist William Wolfram playing Rachmaninoff’s second concerto with Jorge Mester, violinist Augustin Hadelich tackling the monumental violin concerto of Brahms and Bela Fleck closing the season with his banjo concerto The Imposter, a work commissioned by the Nashville Symphony.
Bob Bernhardt’s Pops Series brings a few notable soloists, too, opening with Family Guy creator and crooner Seth MacFarlane singing American Songbook standards. MacFarlane released an album in 2011 of songs from the 40s and 50s, and viewers of Family Guy will know him as the voice of Stewie. Randy Jackson (of the band Zebra, not American Idol) will perform as Robert Plant with Brent Havens conducting, Ann Hampton Callaway will sing the Streisand Songbook, and Pink Martini, a group that includes vocalist Storm Large, joins the Louisville Orchestra on March 19th.
Returning for more to-be-announced concerts are the Family Concert Series, Music Without Borders, WOW! Series events, Magic of Music and Holiday concerts. The orchestra also unveiled new logos at Friday’s post-concert announcement.
- Posted by Daniel Gilliam on January 30
Violinist Jinjoo Cho won first prize in the 2014 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis in September, and will be in Louisville with the Gheens Great Expectations Series.
Hear Ms. Cho perform a solo recital in the Performance Studio of Classical 90.5 on Tuesday, February 3 at 2pm. The event is free and open to the public. No RSVP required.
- Posted by Daniel Gilliam on January 29
Italy owns an astonishing thirty percent of the world’s cultural heritage, according to UNESCO. Fine arts, architecture and design are maybe the best known treasures, but music, food and wine have also left a great legacy.
Join Classical 90.5 host, Daniel Gilliam, on a twelve-day art, food and classical music lover’s journey to “Bella Italia.” Celebrate the lives of Verdi, Rossini, Toscanini, Puccini and Stradivarius, walk in the footsteps of great Italian masters by visiting the very places they loved, lived and worked. We’ll also enjoy in-depth, private tours highlighting the origins of painting and sculpture in central Italy. Along the way, you’ll be introduced to the culinary arts and visit the producers of fine wines, delicious olive oils and mouth-watering cheeses. This exclusive Louisville Public Media journey will also include an entertaining cooking class, outings to colorful country markets, private concerts, a backstage tour of the Bologna opera house, the towering hill towns of central Italy and fine multi-course bistro dining. Celebrate some of the best music, food and drink with Louisville Public Media! Space is limited to 28 lucky LPM guests.
TRIP AT A GLANCE
Overnight flight to Italy –
3 Nights Parma/ Bologna (Italy’s premier food producing region)
2 Nights Villa in Fiesole (in the hills above Florence)
3 Nights Kingdom of the Castello di Modanella, Tuscany
2 Nights Eternal Rome, Province of Lazio
Make your reservation and learn more here!
- Posted by Daniel Gilliam on January 27