Composer Nkeiru Okoye

Creators Fest

Louisville Orchestra
Teddy Abrams, conductor
Stewart Goodyear, piano
Artefact Ensemble, vocals
Tanner Porter, vocals
Liz Faure, guitar
Nicole Patrick, drums

A review by Annette Skaggs

Entire contents are copyright © 2024 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.

To say that the 2023-24 season for the Louisville Orchestra has been a whirlwind of excitement would be an understatement, from the opener at Iroquois Park with Nickel Creek’s Chris Thile and the introduction of his Mandolin Concerto to deservedly winning a Grammy for their work with renowned pianist Yuja Wang to now, where we get to hear the culmination of works that have been composed by our Creator Corps.

Patterned after the use of “in-house” composers under the employ of wealthy financiers and patrons in the days of Beethoven and Haydn, our Louisville Orchestra, with grants from The Aaron Copeland Fund for Music and the Mellon Foundation, developed the Creators Corps. The 2023-24 season introduced the second cohort of composers in this initiative

This weekend’s Creators Fest was a fitting ending to the season and we are lucky to have an orchestra that pursues and insists on playing the works of living composers. In listening to these world premiere works I feel that classical music, as well as the other various genres being explored, are in good hands.

Alex Berko, who has a background in choral writing, sat at the piano and presented a lovely piece called A House on the Hill. It could be used in a Hallmark Rom-Com, with impassioned lyrics by Kentucky Poet Laureate bell hooks, and performed by a vocal group, Artefact Ensemble. 

Just a quick aside about Artefact Ensemble, one word…. mesmerizing.

Berko’s second piece of the evening, Heirlooms, was a three-movement premiere that tells the story of remembering those of our past through the physical items that they have left behind. The text was pulled from writings in the Louisville Story Program and Berko’s wife, Laura. Written for 8 voices and orchestra, the piece is technical and intriguing. Artefact flawlessly pulls off a challenging octet that rivaled similar fragments found in operas.

We met Tanner Porter at the beginning of the year and she shared her vocal prowess then and with her premiere of True Lover’s Knot, based on the traditional English folk song Barbara Allen, we also got to experience her writing skills.

Knot, a five-movement composition, brings it closer to home using a version of lyrics associated with Kentucky artist Jean Ritchie. With assistance from Liz Faure on guitar and Nicole Patrick on drums, Porter’s orchestral and vocal score was thematically true to the familiar tune, with some variation. Overall, the piece sounded experimental, along the lines of Laurie Anderson, but Porter’s vocal performance lends itself more to Judy Collins or Sarah McLaughlin. 

Nkeiru Okoye was also introduced last fall and I liked what I heard then, such as Songs of Harriet Tubman, but her new Passing By The River is perhaps my favorite piece of her compositions. The sound is as easy on the ear as riding down the Ohio River on the Belle of Louisville. Inspired in part by Aaron Copeland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and its prototypically American sound, Okoye first composed the piece in electronica sound, yet with the new arrangement for a full orchestra, it works much better.

Our orchestra ended the night with George Gershwin’s Concerto in F. Featuring the nimble fingers of our guest pianist, Stewart Goodyear, our musicians glided through this iconic Americana with smiles and talent on full display.

Gershwin incorporated dance music into this expressive concerto and you can hear some familiar themes used in movies and sporting events, such as “An American in Paris”.

During the 2023-24 season, the Louisville Orchestra celebrated Teddy Abrams’ 10th anniversary as Artistic Director and Conductor. In that time he has been able to incorporate institutionalized ideas of the LO of old into the 21st century and I cannot wait to see what he and our tremendous musicians have in store for the next 10 years and beyond.

Thank you for a remarkable season!!

Bravi Tutti!!!

Creators Fest

May 11, 2024

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 25+ years of experience in the classical arts.