Now in its eighth season under the inspired and inspiring leadership of galvanizing young Music Director Teddy Abrams, the Louisville Orchestra celebrates diverse musical voices in 2021-22, with works by composers of color and women composers of three centuries; a three-part festival of Latin American music featuring world premieres by Angélica Negrón and Dafnis Prieto; and the first concert in a multi-season series exploring Black and Jewish music. A major highlight of the season is the world premiere of Abrams’s Piano Concerto, written for and featuring acclaimed pianist Yuja Wang. The season also features the world premiere of a Louisville Orchestra commission from rising young Louisville composer KiMani Bridges, a new edition of the popular “Teddy Talks…” series deconstructing Schubert’s “Great” Symphony No. 9, world-class guest conductors and soloists, and much more. Attendance at all performances in the 2021-22 season is subject to currently recommended COVID-19 safety protocols.
 
Engaging with the orchestra’s remarkable past while keeping it at the center of today’s vibrant Louisville music scene, Abrams’s “tireless advocacy and community outreach” are, Listen magazine notes, “putting the history-rich Louisville Orchestra – and classical music – back on the map.” Looking ahead to the new season, the conductor explains:
“Throughout the past year the Louisville Orchestra has reaffirmed its aspirations to function as a core civic service in Louisville, to help lead our community into a new era of growth and creativity, and to inspire a programming culture called the New American Canon – a philosophy that our city’s stage should reflect the vitality and diversity of its citizens. The 2021-22 season is a reflection and amplification of these values. Despite the challenges our city and nation have faced, we felt strongly that a significant and ambitious investment in creative programming was the best thing we could offer Louisville during a time of change, redress, and uncertainty.Our dual commitments to equity and commissioning new work (derived from the Orchestra’s long history of leading in these fields) are intertwined as we put our New American Canon on display: world premieres from seven local musicians to memorialize the pandemic era are juxtaposed with commissions from composers such as Dafnis Prieto, Angélica Negrón, Adam Schoenberg, and KiMani Bridges. Our annual Festival of American Music focuses on Latin America this season. Dafnis Prieto’s new work is a highlight of the Festival: it will be a danceable concerto grosso for a 10-member Cuban timba band and orchestra. We also begin a four-year exploration of the relationship between Jewish and Black composers, revealing interconnected narratives and mutual inspiration as we rediscover pieces that were suppressed or forgotten, by composers of both backgrounds. I’m also very excited about the premiere of my own new work – a monstrously virtuosic piano concerto I’ve written for my friend Yuja Wang.”
Yuja Wang Plays Abrams
The Financial Times says of Yuja Wang: “Her combination of technical ease, colouristic range and sheer power has always been remarkable … but these days there is an ever-greater depth to her musicianship, drawing you into the world of each composer with compelling immediacy.” Formerly a classmate of Abrams at the Curtis Institute of Music, she appeared with the orchestra in 2017 – the same year she was named “Artist of the Year” by Musical America – to celebrate its 80th anniversary with a rapturously received performance of Rachmaninoff’s Fourth Piano Concerto. She performs the world premiere of Abrams’s new Piano Concerto, written expressly for her, on a program that also includes Rachmaninoff’s Tchaikovsky-inspired Symphony No. 2 (Jan 8).
Opening night: A Concert for Unity
Throughout his tenure as Music Director, Abrams has envisioned the Louisville Orchestra as a focal point, an artistic home inclusive of the entire population of the city. The suffering of the community following the tragic killing of Breonna Taylor in early 2020 and the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests inspired numerous orchestra events, including a recent livestreamed concert in collaboration with hip-hop artist, activist and Louisville Metro Councilperson Jecorey Arthur, which charted the history of Black music in America. An NPR interview with Abrams and Arthur about that performance can be found here. As Abrams said:
“As we rebuild – and Louisville has a lot of rebuilding [to do], more rebuilding than most because of everything that’s happened here – you want the artists to be leading those conversations. They’re the ones that see clearly the connections between people and strive to break those barriers down. We’re the ones that should be at the table talking about the future of our communities and our cities.”
In keeping with that sentiment, and the theme of inclusion that the season is built around, the Classics series opens with “A Concert for Unity” (Oct 2), featuring Valerie Coleman’s celebrated UMOJAAnthem for Unity, as well as a roster of local guest artists performing world premiere songs that reflect on the past year. Rounding out the program is Tchaikovsky’s “Pathetique” Symphony. Coleman, a native of Louisville, was named Performance Today’s “Classical Woman of the Year” for 2020, and UMOJA was named one of the “Top 101 Great American Ensemble Works” by Chamber Music America.
Festival of Latin American Music
The inaugural edition of the Louisville Orchestra’s Festival of American Music prompted Arts-Louisville to conclude: “The orchestra, specifically this orchestra, is a living, breathing, evolving, and relevant art form.” This season’s festival looks south to Latin America: joining the orchestra for the first of the two concerts (March 5) will be the salsa band People of Earth, performing the world premiere of the Concerto for People of Earth and String Orchestra by Grammy- and MacArthur Fellowship-winning Cuban composer Dafnis Prietoco-commissioned by the Louisville Orchestra. Also on the bill is a world premiere commission from Puerto Rico native Angélica Negrón, 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 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 HavanaTwo Mexican works, Arturo Márquez’s Danzón No. 2 and José Pablo Moncayo’s Cumbres, the latter another early commission by the Louisville Orchestra, are also on the program, along with Concertino Cusqueño by Gabriela Lena Frank, a 21st-century exponent of Latin American sounds who often draws inspiration from her mother’s Peruvian heritage.
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 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. 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. 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 14) features a Louisville Orchestra-commissioned world premiere by KiMani Bridges, a freshman at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music. 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, Bridges will also have her work performed in the “Celebrating Young Talent” concert on the Music Without Borders series (see below). 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. Featuring cellist Yves DharamrajAutomation is a double concerto for cello, pre-recorded digital cello and orchestra that also incorporates multimedia visuals. Rounding out the season finale program is Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique.
Teddy Talks: Schubert
The popular “Teddy Talks…” series focuses in 2021-22 on Franz Schubert’s “Great” Symphony No. 9, which marked a revolutionary advance in terms of length, complexity, and formal and harmonic innovation (Oct 30). Now entering its fourth season after a hiatus for the pandemic, the “Teddy Talks…” series is a natural development of Abrams’s engagement with the Louisville community and his insistence on making the orchestra and its music accessible to all. He provides the audience with a window into the mind of the composer, entertainingly deconstructing the music before reassembling it in a full performance after an intermission. According to Arts-Louisville, his exposition of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony made “a good case against the decline of classical music,” leaving the critic “absolutely enthralled.”
Rounding out the Classics Series
The Classics series also includes three concerts featuring guest conductors. “Schumann & Brahms” (Nov 20) will be led by Edwin Outwater, former Music Director of Canada’s Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony and former resident conductor at the San Francisco Symphony, who Michael Tilson Thomas called “one of the most innovative conductors on the scene today.” Featured in Schumann’s Piano Concerto is Mexican pianist Jorge Federico Osorio, praised by the Los Angeles Times as “one of the more elegant and accomplished pianists on the planet.” Also on the program are an overture by Louise Farrenc, a relatively unsung composer who was the only woman appointed as professor at the Paris Conservatory in all of the nineteenth century; Lutosławski’s Little Suite; and Brahms’s Variations on a Theme of Joseph Haydn.
 
Conductor Rei Hotoda, the Music Director of the Fresno Philharmonic called “an inexhaustible dynamo” by Spokane’s Spokesman-Review, leads a program (Jan 29) juxtaposing Respighi’s Fountains of Rome and Pines of Rome with Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony and Lili Boulanger’s D’un matin de printemps (“Of a Spring Morning”). Finally, rising star conductor Jonathon Heyward, recently named Chief Conductor of the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie, leads violinist Benjamin Beilman – praised 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 and Kanashibari by British composer Hannah Kendall (April 2). Heyward’s debut with the Seattle Symphony in 2019 included the U.S. premiere of another of Kendall’s works, and he conducted the U.S. premiere of Kanashibari with the same orchestra this past spring.
 
The Louisville Orchestra’s Classics Series is made possible by the generous support of the Brown-Forman Foundation.
Music Without Borders Series
The Music Without Borders series, which takes the orchestra and Abrams’s creative programming out of the concert hall and into the community, begins its season with an Abrams-led program titled “Backward Glances” (Oct 14-16), featuring music by twentieth century composers who took their inspiration from the past. The Capricorn Concerto for flute, oboe, and trumpet, an early work by Samuel Barber, shows the strong influence of Bach. Erwin Schulhoff’s Concerto for String Quartet and Wind Orchestra is modeled after the Baroque concerto grosso, but inverts the ratio of winds to strings, and Stravinsky’s ballet Pulcinella marked the beginning of his neoclassical period. Also in the fall, Louisville Orchestra concertmaster Gabriel Lefkowitz leads a program of “Baroque and Classical Jewels” (Nov 11-16), featuring music by RameauVivaldi, and Bach, as well as Mozart’s “Haffner” Symphony.
 
Abrams takes the podium once again for the program “Celebrating Young Talent” (Jan 20-22), featuring pianist Michelle Cann – who made her orchestral debut at age 14 – performing Gershwin’s Second Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra, as well as the Louisville Orchestra-commissioned work that KiMani Bridges wrote in her first year out of high school, also programmed in the Classics series. The program is rounded out by Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8.
 
The final concert in the Music Without Borders series, “Concierto de Aranjuez” (Mar 25-27), is conducted by Kalena Bovell, Assistant Conductor of the Memphis Symphony and Conductor of the Memphis Youth Symphony. Part of the Festival of Latin American Music, the performance includes the beloved Rodrigo piece of the same name as the program, performed by guitarist Stephen Mattingly, a founding member of the Tantalus Quartet who directs classical guitar studies at the University of Louisville. Bizet’s Suite No. 1 from Carmen and Ginastera’s Variaciones concertantes complete the program.
 
For a complete schedule of the Louisville Orchestra’s 2021-22 season, visit: https://louisvilleorchestra.org/
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.