Jeffrey Kahane, guest pianist. E.F. Marton Productions

Lasting Legacies

Louisville Orchestra
Teddy Abrams, conductor
Jeffrey Kahane, guest pianist

A review by Annette Skaggs

Entire contents are copyright © 2023 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.

Ah, so nice to be back in Whitney Hall for the Louisville Orchestra’s Classics series and “Lasting Legacies,” a brilliantly conceptualized theme for the first in the series..

Obviously, music has been passed on from generation to generation for millennia, culminating in all the sounds and styles that we know, love/hate to this day. There is a primal need to share these sounds and music is simply another way to communicate our thoughts and emotions.

The compositions were developed as part of the Louisville Orchestra’s Creators Corps, an innovative residency program launched just a couple of years ago. Beginning with New York-born Nkeiru Okoye’s Voices Shouting Out. Okoye shared that this piece was intended to be a somber and reflective response to the September 11 attacks, but the more she worked the composition evolved into a testament of resilience, defiance, and a jubilant “you can’t keep us down” attitude. Premiered with the Virginia Symphony in 2022, I am very glad that she brought it to our stage as it is an exciting and vibrant work and makes me anxious to hear what else she may be cooking up.

Next, we move to another corps member, Alex Berko, and his composition Spiegel Grove. In his introduction to the piece, Berko shared that he was inspired by Instagram articles about shipwrecks and other materials in the ocean that are eventually consumed by ocean life and transformed into reefs. It’s an interesting idea but does Berko evoke the ocean in his orchestral work? He most certainly does. I could hear an ocean liner having trouble navigating the deep blue sea and then suddenly the gurgle, gurgle, gurgle of a sinking ship. After the tumult of the sinking, there is a calm that takes over where you can imagine barnacles and seaweed starting to cover the hull of the vessel all while seahorses, plankton, and thousands of varieties of sea creatures make their way in and out of the open windows of the sunken vessel.   

We first met third member Tanner Porter one month ago when she performed with Chris Thile during the LO’s statewide tour and performance at Iroquois Park.

Porter’s Act 3: Movements 1 & 2 is a part of Kin, an orchestral accompaniment that she had composed for her friend Claudia Schrier’s ballet of the same name. An elegant piece that certainly has elements of danceable moments and features an unusual instrument: the waterphone, or ocean harp. In a classic Louisville way, Ms. Porter found the instrument at a local flea market and learned that it had belonged to our venerable Actors Theatre of Louisville. Admittedly, it had been a while since last I heard this instrument, and brava to Porter for using it to add resonance to the piece.

To finish the first half of the evening we were treated to a son’s love letter to his father. Gabriel Kahane is a renowned singer/songwriter and his Craigslistlieder has gained attention throughout the music community and is now part of Broadway star Audra McDonald’s repertoire. Despite the preference of writing more for smaller scale vocal and instrumental projects, Gabriel at first shied away from larger pieces, but after some gentle persuasion by friends, he composed Heirloom, which is essentially an aural family scrapbook composed with his father in mind. Gabriel’s father, Jeffrey, is a renowned concert pianist, so it makes sense that Heirloom would turn into a concerto for piano and orchestra. We were fortunate to be able to hear Jeffrey himself tickle the ivories in this evening’s performance. The composition in three movements is ambitious and has a few surprises here and there, specifically with nods to classic lullabies and George Gershwin. Kahane the Younger allows his father to experiment with the abilities of the piano, including plucking the strings directly inside of the case simultaneously with the keys. With delightful movement titles such as Guitars in the Attic (which is mimicked by harps) and VERA’S CHICKEN-POWERED TRANSIT MACHINE (named after Gabriel’s daughter), Abrams feels that this piece very well could become a part of the orchestral repertoire. I tend to agree.

To conclude, we are treated to John Adams’ Harmonielehre. While in the middle of writer’s block, Adams dreamed about an oil tanker floating in the San Francisco Bay suddenly lifting and floating into the clouds. This dream opened the window and the music for “Study of Harmony” came flooding in. Written in three parts, the whole of the piece is rather playful and full of thematic treasures. Mr. Abrams shared that the opening of this orchestral piece is perhaps his favorite of all orchestral music…. meh. Music, (all art) is subjective. But while I was not taken with the beginning, by the end of the first movement I was persuaded and could not wait to hear what was next. The second movement, The Anfortas Wound, is based on the story of the Fisher King. A departure from the minimalistic style of the first, Wound is a stroll into a brute force of sadness and brooding. Then in the third, Meister Eckhardt and Quackie (Adams’ nickname for his daughter), the movement has a childlike simple approach with lilt and lightness which makes sense as the music was inspired by another Adams dream in which Quackie is floating along the clouds while on the shoulders of Meister Eckhardt, a Catholic theologian and mystic of the 13th century Roman Empire.

As we can determine, inspiration came from the oddest places: stories we have read and told, dreams, and our respective families and friends. Such inspirations can create the most amazing results in musical form and I believe that this evening’s choices will leave some lasting legacies. 

Bravi Tutti!!

Lasting Legacies

October 14, 2023

Louisville Orchestra
Kentucky Center
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202

Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years experience in the classical arts.