On the heels of the Louisville Orchestra’s world premiere with pianist Yuja Wang of Music Director Teddy Abrams’s new Piano Concerto – which the Wall Street Journal declared is “engagingly orchestrated and speaks in a language as accessible as it is familiar, with many appealing passages and no shortage of toe-tapping moments” – this spring the orchestra presents a three-part festival of Latin American music with world premieres by Angélica Negrón and Dafnis Prieto. Also featured this spring is the first concert in a multi-season series called “Reclaimed Treasures,” exploring confluences and influences in Black and Jewish music; a Louisville Orchestra-commissioned world premiere from rising young Louisville composer KiMani Bridges on a program with a world premiere by Adam Schoenberg; guest appearance by conductors Jonathon Heyward and Kalena Bovell; and much more. Attendance at all performances is subject to currently recommended COVID-19 safety protocols.
Festival of Latin American Music
It was the inaugural edition of the Louisville Orchestra’s Festival of American Music that prompted Arts-Louisville to conclude: “The orchestra, specifically this orchestra, is a living, breathing, evolving, and relevant art form.” Continuing to exemplify those qualities, this season’s festival looks for the first time to Latin America for inspiration. Abrams, Musical America’s Conductor of the Year for 2021 and now in his eighth season as the orchestra’s Music Director, explains: 
“The concept of our Festival of Latin American Music started with the extraordinary opportunity to commission a new work from Dafnis Prieto, a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” fellow and multi-Grammy-winning Cuban composer and performer. He agreed to write a piece that redefines the concept of a “soloist” – in this case, we will welcome the timba band People of Earth to Louisville to create a dynamic world premiere that blurs the lines between a salsa club and concert hall. With this commission confirmed, we recognized two additional elements: that Louisville has the second-largest Cuban population per capita of any American city outside of Florida, and that the Louisville Orchestra had a rich history of commissioning Latin American composers back in the early First Edition records era.”
The world premiere of Prieto’s work – titled Tentación: A Concerto for People of Earth and Orchestra – is featured on the first concerts of the festival (March 4–5). Also on the bill is a world premiere commission from Puerto Rico native Angélica Negrón titled Fractal Isles, and those two new commissions are balanced by a Louisville Orchestra commission from almost 70 years ago: Villa-Lobos’s evocative overture Alvorada na floresta tropical. Latin American music as filtered through the imagination of Leonard Bernstein completes the program in the form of the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story.
The second program of the Festival (March 11–12) includes two Latin American-inspired works by North Americans: Copland’s El Salón México, a tribute to a Mexican nightclub he experienced in the company of Mexican composer Carlos Chávez, and Gershwin’s Cuban Overture, written after a two-week stay in HavanaThree Mexican works are also on the program: Arturo Márquez’s Danzón No. 2Daniel Catán’s Orchestral Suite from Florencia en el Amazonas, an opera based on the novel Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquezand José Pablo Moncayo’s Cumbres, another early commission by the Louisville Orchestra. Rounding out the repertoire is Concertino Cusqueño by Gabriela Lena Frank, a 21st-century exponent of Latin American sounds who often draws inspiration from her mother’s Peruvian heritage. The Coffee Series version of this concert, taking place March 11 at 11am, also includes Grammy-nominated Brazilian-American composer, pianist and vocalist Clarice Assad’s Nhanderú
The celebration of Latin and Latin-inspired music continues beyond the official festival with the final concert in the orchestra’s Music Without Borders series, “Concierto de Aranjuez” (March 24-26). On the podium for these performances is Kalena Bovell, Assistant Conductor of the Memphis Symphony and Conductor of the Memphis Youth Symphony and recently recognized with an award from the Taki Alsop Conducting Fellowship. She conducts the beloved work by Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo that gives the program its name, performed by guitarist Stephen Mattingly, a founding member of the Tantalus Quartet who directs classical guitar studies at the University of Louisville; and Bizet’s Suite No. 1 from Carmen, a story set in the southern Spanish town of Seville. A mini concerto for orchestra – Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera’s Variaciones concertantes – brings a Latin American perspective to the program.
Reclaimed Treasures: Connections Between Black and Jewish Music
On April 30, Abrams and the orchestra give a performance exploring the commonalities between Black and Jewish music, the first in a projected multi-season series. Featured on the concert is violinist Julia Noone, assistant concertmaster of the Louisville Orchestra, performing Korngold’s D-major Violin Concerto. Also on the program is the Louisville Orchestra-commissioned Notturno (from 1954) by Ernst Toch, who, like Korngold, fled his native Austria after the rise of the Nazis but whose fame did not survive his transplantation to the U.S. Crowning the program, the Louisville Chamber Choir and soloists to be announced perform the spectacular oratorio The Ordering of Moses by R. Nathaniel Dett, one of the first conservatory-trained Black musicians in the U.S. Descended from escaped slaves, he studied at Oberlin Conservatory and with Nadia Boulanger at the American Conservatory in Fontainebleau, France, before earning his Master of Music degree from Eastman and becoming a touring pianist and renowned choir director. The oratorio, considered his greatest work, was premiered by the Cincinnati Symphony during the May Festival in 1937 and broadcast nationwide, which may have marked the first network broadcast of a major work by a Black composer; unfortunately, the broadcast was interrupted two-thirds of the way through for an unknown reason, speculated to be listener complaints.
Fantastique: KiMani Bridges world premiere plus Adam Schoenberg
The orchestra’s season finale (May 13–14) features STATiC, a Louisville Orchestra-commissioned world premiere by KiMani Bridges, a freshman at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music and winner of several young composer competitions, including the 2020 G. Schirmer Prize, established to recognize students in Missy Mazzoli and Ellen Reid’s Luna Composition Lab. Also on the program is the world premiere of Automation by Adam Schoenberg, an Emmy-winning and Grammy-nominated composer who has twice ranked among the top 10 most performed living composers in the U.S. Automation is a double concerto for orchestra, cello, and halldorophone – an electronic self-playing cello being custom built for the occasion – that also incorporates multimedia visuals. The soloist is cellist Yves Dhar, praised for his “primer of technical feats” (New York Sun), and a warm, lush tone “that might be described as something akin to rich old wood” (Boston Musical Intelligencer). The season finale program is completed by Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique.
Rounding out the Classics Series
Finally, on April 2 rising star conductor Jonathon Heyward, recently named Chief Conductor of the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie, leads violinist Benjamin Beilman – lauded by the New York Times for his “handsome technique, burnished sound, and quiet confidence” – as soloist in Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto, along with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade.
About the Louisville Orchestra
Established in 1937 through the combined efforts of Louisville mayor Charles Farnsley and conductor Robert Whitney, the Louisville Orchestra is a cornerstone of the Louisville arts community. With the launch of First Edition Recordings in 1947, it became the first American orchestra to own a recording label. Six years later it received a Rockefeller grant of $500,000 to commission, record, and premiere music by living composers, thereby earning a place on the international circuit. In 2001, the Louisville Orchestra received the Leonard Bernstein Award for Excellence in Educational Programming, presented annually to a North American orchestra. Continuing its commitment to new music, the Louisville Orchestra has earned 19 ASCAP awards for Adventurous Programming of Contemporary Music, and was also awarded large grants from the Aaron Copland Fund for Music and the National Endowment for the Arts, both for the purpose of producing, manufacturing and marketing its historic First Edition Recordings collections. Over the years, the orchestra has performed for prestigious events at the White House, Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall, and on tour in Mexico City, and their last two albums for the Decca Gold label, All In (2017) and The Order of Nature (2019) – the latter launched with an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon – both topped the Billboard Classical and Crossover charts. The feature-length, Gramophone Award-winning documentary Music Makes a City (2010) chronicles the Louisville Orchestra’s founding years, and, in spring 2018, Teddy Abrams and the orchestra were profiled on the popular television program CBS Sunday Morning.