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The Louisville Orchestra is Pushing Into New Musical Territories Under the Direction of Teddy Abrams

Photography Provided

Louisville OrchestraWhen Teddy Abrams was considering taking over as music director for the Louisville Orchestra in 2013, he saw great potential in making Louisville his new home. Now wrapping up his sixth season at the helm, he’s never been more confident in his decision.

“Everything I saw before I got the job was very indicative of the possibilities of what this city could be, and what the orchestra could be,” Abrams says.

At just 32 years old, Abrams has received acclaim and praise within the music industry, leading the Louisville Orchestra to impressive heights.

“Louisville was already an amazing city, and I saw the ingredients there to take the artistic community – and possibly even the whole city – to a new level,” he says. “A major urban growth spurt, revitalizations, and an artistic flowering have taken place.”

Although he is originally from Berkeley, California, Abrams will say he is from Louisville when asked. He has already signed on for at least five more years as music director for the Louisville Orchestra – a huge commitment to the city.

“It’s been a great adventure,” says Abrams of his time so far in the city. “We’ve done lots of crazy projects, pushed the envelope, and made that the standard.”

Louisville Orchestra

Abrams and the team at the Louisville Orchestra have worked together to eliminate the routine and expected, instead striving to weave a full narrative into each of their productions. The team quickly found that patrons are not only open to this new artistic philosophy, but encouraging of it.

Jim James, frontman for musical act My Morning Jacket, recently teamed up with Abrams and the Louisville Orchestra to produce an album titled “The Order of Nature”. The project had a special meaning for James, whose great aunt performed for the Louisville Orchestra under Music Director Robert Whitney.

The nine-song album, which was released in October via the Decca Gold record label, garnered a level of national praise and attention that very few orchestral albums achieve. Only two orchestras, Louisville and the New York Philharmonic, are signed to the label, which is under the Universal umbrella.

“Decca Gold is a fantastic label, and they’ve believed in us since we started our relationship,” Abrams says. “It’s a big deal for an orchestra of our size to sign with any label, much less a major label, and it’s been really cool to see the relationship that’s developed. [James] is a very special collaborator and musical visionary. He’s open to letting people’s talent complement his. He provided seeds and foundation for each song, and was open to letting us explore orchestral colors you don’t have access to on a pop or rock album.”

Typically, an orchestra may hope to sell a couple thousand copies of an album, and expect to play for small groups of local orchestra lovers and subscribers. “The Order of Nature” gave the Louisville Orchestra the opportunity to take their show on the road, with performances in several major U.S. cities including Chicago, New York and Seattle.

“Those shows have given us a great opportunity to really share what we’re doing here in Louisville with other orchestras and communities where [James] has a following,” Abrams says.

The album had a national rollout, with a review in Rolling Stone and the opportunity to appear on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” 

“That was an amazing experience that orchestras usually never get a taste of,” Abrams says. “It was a really proud moment for all of us representing the city. Part of our mission is to really carry the banner for Louisville, and make positive associations with the town. We want to increase the understanding of how special Louisville is and how creative our arts community is.”

The national attention will continue into 2021, as it was recently announced that the Louisville Orchestra was invited to perform at Carnegie Hall as part of the “Carnegie Hall Presents” series. The orchestra will join James and the Louisville Ballet for a February 20 performance.

Louisville Orchestra

“[The Carnegie Hall leadership] has been keeping their eye on what we’ve been doing over the last several years, and it’s really wonderful that they’re inviting us to share that with a New York audience,” Abrams says. “We’re hoping to turn it into a week-long festivity celebrating Louisville and Kentucky. This is an opportunity to redefine how people see our state, and New York is the place to do it.”

The Carnegie Hall show won’t be the first taste of the Louisville Orchestra for New Yorkers. At the beginning of the current performance season, the city’s major classical radio station, WQXR, featured a live broadcast of the orchestra’s opening-night performance.

Abrams and his team have continued to grow the Louisville Orchestra’s presence locally as well, with innovative performances and programs to keep locals engaged and coming back for more.

The 2019-2020 performance season will wrap up a bit earlier than usual, with the last performance slated for the end of April. On April 24, the orchestra will take the stage at one of the newest performance venues in the city, Old Forester’s Paristown Hall, followed by a show the next night at Whitney Hall. Both shows include a performance of “The Blue Hour,” a piece of music that has been played only one other time by an orchestra. One of the composers, Shara Nova, will join the orchestra as a vocalist for the performance.

The Louisville Orchestra has also developed a neighborhood series, bringing performances to various pockets of Louisville beyond its downtown home. The orchestra’s outreach has helped bring music to people in a brand new way.

The orchestra performed a concert at the new Paristown venue this winter, and broadcast the concert on an outside wall of the building so people could watch for free. Orchestra leaders and members are looking forward to more shows following this format, especially when warmer weather comes around. 

“It’s a next-generation concert experience,” says Abrams of the Paristown shows. “We take several intermissions so people can socialize, buy drinks and hang out in an informal environment. The sound quality is very vibrant, and gives off more of a rock concert feel.”

As Abrams looks to the future, he is excited to continue creating immersive music pieces (a term he coined) in conjunction with the orchestra, similar to his award-winning composition, “The Greatest: Muhammad Ali”. In creating these immersive pieces, he combines drama, film, poetry and other artistic mediums, with music connecting them all.

“The pieces convey stories and issues that relate to people in a way that seems both relevant, and and connects opposites with each other,” Abrams says. “It’s a really special way of presenting new American music.”

Abrams has already seen an example of the city’s transformational possibilities over the last six years in his own NuLu neighborhood. The burgeoning entertainment district has received national attention, and has been part of what’s kept Abrams interested in sticking around.

“For me, the real change in this city’s artistic profile will occur when artists are moving to Louisville on their own, seeing it as a place they want to come live because the artistic environment aligns with their aesthetic,” Abrams says.

For the latest updates on the Louisville Orchestra and for a calendar of events, call 502-587-8681 and visit louisvilleorchestra.org.

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