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Teddy Abrams has had such a galvanizing effect on The Louisville Orchestra since he arrived three years ago that his future here was often a cause of concern. Such a huge talent, such fresh ideas, such an important reputation in the making, how could we expect to keep such an artist here? To fulfill his greatest potential must require that he move on to a higher profile market, Boston, say, or even New York City. I know I heard it plenty of times myself.
All the more satisfying then, that the Orchestra announced today that they have renewed Abram’s contract for a further three years. Each season through 2019-20 he will not only conduct the orchestra for a full twelve weeks, but also undertake an additional six weeks of community engagement and administration – more than is offered by any other conductor of a top metropolitan or regional orchestra nationwide.
Given the truly transformative nature of Abrams’s tenure to date, the news should come as little surprise. It was he whose leadership jumpstarted the orchestra’s current creative resurgence. Fueled by talent, energy, vision, drive, and an extraordinary commitment to community engagement, since launching his directorship two seasons ago, Abrams’s innovative, outside-the-box initiatives have succeeded in reconnecting the orchestra with its remarkable history, integrating it into the fabric of Louisville life, and re-establishing it as the cornerstone of the city’s vibrant music scene. As a result, there have been full houses, double-digit growth in contributions and ticket sales, and widespread excitement about the orchestra throughout Louisville.
“I am incredibly excited and honored to continue my relationship with the Louisville Orchestra family and this extraordinary community. We have worked very hard these past three seasons to demonstrate that this great institution can be a vital part of our city’s culture, and a source of strength and inspiration for every person living in the Louisville region. Over the next three years we plan on growing our reach and connectivity with our community by focusing on creative music-making, innovative and experimental projects, and engagement activities that serve our citizens in the most inclusive and fun ways! I deeply love this town and our orchestra, and I will continue to do everything that I can to support our musical culture and to bring our music to every Louisvillian.”
“Needless to say we are truly pleased to be extending Teddy’s contract to 2020,” states Jim Welch, retired Vice Chairman of the Brown-Forman Corporation and President of the orchestra’s Board. “It’s a clear statement of our commitment to him and his commitment to the community. He is at the forefront of our effort to redefine what it means to be an orchestra in the 21st century. We are thrilled to continue to have his infectious spirit of engagement and creativity among us.”
The many innovations of Abrams’s two-year tenure include numerous initiatives to give Louisville artists a voice in the musical life of the city. He launched a series of ambitious, immersive season-launching community collaborations –2014’s powerhouse performance of Carmina Burana, last season’s production of Bernstein’s colossal Mass, and this fall’s account of Mahler’s epic “Resurrection” Symphony – each of which has drawn on a local cast of hundreds. Integrating the orchestra ever more deeply into Louisville life, Abrams reinstated its free annual Independence Day concert, an open-air event that last year attracted an audience of 35,000, and initiated its participation in the “Thunder Over Louisville” soundtrack, which accompanies the fireworks display capping the official kick-off to the Kentucky Derby Festival. Breaking with the traditional concert formula, he presented pop-up concerts around the city, as well as performances at such non-traditional venues as restaurants, shopping centers, galleries, his own home, and – through the LG&E Music Without Borders series – local churches and synagogues, many of which were sold to capacity and filled by people who had never heard the orchestra before.
Reconnecting with the orchestra’s history as a leading commissioner and programmer of contemporary music, Abrams has made it a key component of his tenure to expand and revitalize the orchestral literature. He has commissioned and premiered new works from a variety of living composers, including award-winning Californian Sebastian Chang, jazz phenomenon Chase Morrin, and a quartet of local musicians whose genre-bending group composition represented a celebration of the diverse spectrum of homegrown talent in Louisville.
It is thanks to Abrams that the orchestra embarked on new partnerships with a number of key Louisville institutions. They undertook their first full co-production with the Louisville Ballet, comprising three fully staged ballets with original choreography. They collaborated with the city’s Center for Interfaith Relations to supplement Bernstein’s MASS with talks by representatives of different religions. And when the Music Director issued a recording of Float Rumble Rest, his improvisatory first salute to the newly deceased Muhammad Ali, he dedicated all proceeds to the city’s Muhammad Ali Center, which is scheduled to collaborate with the orchestra this season at the second annual Festival of American Music.
Under Abrams’s auspices, the season brings further inspired collaborations with Louisville’s Speed Art Museum and Louisville Slugger Museum, and the orchestra recently worked with such local institutions as the University of Louisville School of Music, the Louisville Male High School Band, psychedelic alt-rockers My Morning Jacket, the Kentucky Shakespeare theater company, the Waterfront Development Corporation, the outstanding acrobats of CirqueLouis, and the Louisville Leopards Percussionists, a non-profit organization offering free and low-cost extracurricular music to local children.
This winter and spring, Abrams and the Louisville Orchestra continue to strive for maximum engagement with the Louisville community. Upcoming season highlights include collaboration with Grammy Award-winning young German violinist Augustin Hadelich, and the orchestra’s second annual Festival of American Music, featuring guest conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and the world premiere of Abrams’s Ali Portrait. Ultimately, Abrams’s mission is simple. In his words: “We want to become known as the most interesting orchestra on the planet.”