Composer Antonin Dvořák
From The New World
Teddy Abrams, conductor
Anne Akiko Meyers, violin
J’Nai Bridges, mezzo-soprano
Elena Urioste, violin
By Shaun Kenney
Entire contents are copyright © 2019 by Shaun Kenney. All rights reserved.
The opening night program of the Louisville Orchestra Signature Classics Series, From the New World, featured soloists recognized by WQXR (New York City’s Classical Music Radio Station) as “19 for 19”: Artists to Watch in the Upcoming Year. Our own Teddy Abrams is also one of these notable artists! The pieces performed by these soloists as well as Antonin Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, subtitled “From the New World,” made for a very enjoyable evening of music and were a perfect way to kick off the season.
The performance, broadcast not only on Louisville’s WUOL but also on New York’s WQXR, began with a bit of patriotism as Teddy Abrams led the orchestra in “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The audience stood, and many sang along, including a woman behind us, singing a very unique version you’d be more likely to hear on American Idol than in orchestra performance. No shame, it just made me giggle a little. She was really feeling it.
Adam Schoenberg’s Orchard in Fog was first up with violinist Anne Akiko Meyers giving us a hauntingly beautiful performance. The piece was literally written for her by Schoenberg and first premiered in February 2018 with the San Diego Symphony. A photograph of the same title given to him and his wife as a wedding gift from photographer Adam Laipson inspired Schoenberg. In an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune Schoenberg says of the photograph “It’s gorgeous, it’s haunting, it’s beautiful. It was the perfect inspiration to write a love story.” Written in three movements, the work tells the story of an old man visiting the orchard where he and his wife were married. He reminisces about his youth and early days with his wife and then brings us back to the present in a farewell song to his love. This piece of music is completely stunning. Meyers plays with such emotion and gravitas that you can tell the composer knew her strengths and wrote a work that would showcase them beautifully. It was a privilege to see her perform lives.
J’Nai Bridges has a rich and luxurious vocal quality perfectly suited for the three pieces she performed. After hearing and watching her perform Georges Bizet’s “Habanera” from Carmen I would love to see the entire opera with her in the title role. Equally entertaining and lovely were her performances of “Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix” from Camille Saint-Saëns’s opera Samson and Delilah and George Gershwin’s “My Man’s Gone Now” from Porgy and Bess but my favorite moment of hers was an arrangement of Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky” where we got to hear some of her lower registers. This also exhibited the range of her talent and the less operatic side of her voice, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Elena Urioste’s virtuosic skills were wonderfully displayed in her performance of Tzigane, Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra by Maurice Ravel. The work opens with a nearly three-and-a-half-minute solo which shows off many extended techniques, all of which Urioste masterfully tackled. She played with an infectious energy that was palpable in the audience. The composition is inspired by Gypsy melodies first heard by Ravel in 1922 and brought to fruition in April of 1924 when the work first premiered. The orchestra was fantastic here as well, especially the harpist, whose talent was frequently brought to the fore.
Until now I’ve focused on the individual soloists, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the Louisville Orchestra itself was extraordinary in all of the works highlighted thus far and was especially so after intermission when performing Antonin Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 (“From the New World”). Strictly anecdotally speaking, this composition has to be one of the few symphonies where all four movements are equally familiar, even to one not versed in classical music. The orchestra, under the deft hand of Teddy Abrams, performed this “misunderstood masterpiece” artfully. The ubiquitous English horn solo from the second movement was lovely and expressive. The fourth movement, Allegro con Fuoco (quickly with fire), made my heart race in all the best ways and was by far the highlight of my evening. This symphony has held a special place with me ever since we played a pared-down version in my high school orchestra. I loved it then and grew to love it more when I first heard it in its entirety and this performance by the Louisville Orchestra did not disappoint. Bravo to fantastic opening night!
From the New World
September 28, 2019
Whitney Hall, Kentucky Center for the Arts
501 W Main St
Louisville, KY 40202
Shaun Kenney studied Music Education and Instrumental at Campbellsville University. In Louisville, he has worked with Finnigan Productions since its inception, as Stage Manager, Sound Designer, and Director.