Cover art for You Can’t Stop the Revolution (credit: Stan Squirewell)

On September 22, sonaBLAST! records releases You Can’t Stop the Revolution, a three-part, eight-minute EDM (electronic dance music) composition by Teddy Abrams, Music Director of the Louisville Orchestra. Commissioned by Bang on a Can (BOAC), Abrams’s new work premiered last month at one of the ensemble’s famous new-music marathons. Using 70 sound samples from the recent Louisville protests, as collected by independent journalist Maxwell Mitchell, it captures the raw energy and power of the demonstrations against racial injustice that rocked the city, most notably after the fatal police shooting of Breonna Taylor. The single features artwork by painter, photographer and installation and performance artist Stan Squirewell, whose multi-layered work uses mythology, sacred geometry and science to tackle such themes as race and memory. Proceeds from the record’s sale will go to the Louisville Orchestra’s programs in support of racial equity.
 
Abrams considers his new work a “sound film.” As seen in this video of its premiere in the BOAC marathon, he used a keyboard’s worth of samples to write You Can’t Stop the Revolution, and notated it for performance on the keyboard. About his inspiration and musical technique, the composer explains:
“I had never experienced anything quite like the energy of the protests in Louisville. There was a sense of power and momentum, but also a constant fear and danger of potential conflict with counterprotesters and police. Putting yourself out there inspires a complex dynamic of emotions, along with a sense that you’re involved in something far bigger than yourself. That’s why I am calling this work a ‘sound film.’ It’s not just a musical piece: it’s supposed to make you feel like you’re there in the midst of these experiences. There is a musical quality to the chants that you hear at these protests. This musicality provides  a catchiness and rhythm that conveys the underlying message in a direct and powerful way.  You’ll hear these musical phrases in the samples I have used. The title is a nod to Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,’ which, in its mix of poetry in music, was an early and profoundly influential rap song. While some of the techniques in my work have roots in classical music, my music is a blend of EDM, rap ‘beats’ and funk. I wanted it to show how these different styles of music can work together, which is my overall mission as a musician (and conductor) – to provide a forum for America’s diverse worlds of musical creation to meet and grow.”
Also offered in the spirit of social activism, Abrams’s previous sonaBLAST! release was a tribute to legendary boxer, humanitarian and Louisville native Muhammad Ali. Float Rumble Rest featured Abrams at the keyboard, joined on the guitar by another Louisvillian, Jim James, the front man of My Morning Jacket. Abrams went on to write a full-length orchestral and vocal work inspired by Ali. Premiered by the Louisville Orchestra, The Greatest featured local rapper Jecorey Arthur, now newly elected as one of Louisville’s Metro Councilmen, in the title role.
 
Throughout the pandemic and protests, Abrams has worked with collaborators both within and beyond the Louisville Orchestra, seeking ways to serve and uplift the community as well as to advocate for the critical importance of the arts. In April, he brought together numerous Louisville-based musicians to create “Lift Up Louisville,” a collaborative song released by sonaBLAST! with proceeds benefting the One Louisville COVID-19 Response Fund. In the city’s recent primaries, when voters waited in long lines to cast their ballots, Abrams set up his electronic keyboard and performed live for them. Similarly, he and members of the orchestra performed at community celebrations of the Juneteenth holiday. Last month, he joined other leading Louisville musicians for a call with senior staff of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, lobbying for funding to support arts organizations hit hard by the pandemic.
 
Social activism and justice are at the heart of another of Abrams’s current projects. Collaborating with his friend and colleague double-bassist Nathan Ferrington, the composer has co-written the soundtrack to a documentary titled Building a Bridge. Named after the book by Father James Martin, and produced by Player Piano, the film – now in post-production – explores the efforts by priests and members of the Catholic Church to accept the LGBTQ+ community in the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting. The film’s director, Louisville native Evan Mascagni, discovered Abrams’s music through the album The Order of Nature, which presents songs by Jim James, arranged into an orchestral song cycle by Abrams. Released on the Decca Gold label, the album topped the US Classical and Classical Crossover Charts. Says Abrams:
“When the director contacted me, our discussions of the film’s subject, Father James Martin, got deep very quickly. Martin wrote this book after the Pulse massacre, and after it went viral, it received a huge reaction from militants in the right wing of the Church. The soundtrack features instrumental music and electronic sounds, as well as recorded bass and violin. The director wanted The Four Seasons to be a big part of the film, so we created a score inspired by motives and themes of Vivaldi. I enjoyed working on this soundtrack so thoroughly. Despite the intensity of the subject matter, it was a welcome distraction from the intensity of everything happening in Louisville, and the tumult that has made 2020 such a challenging year for us all.”
The Louisville Orchestra’s season of innovation
Now in his seventh year as music director of the Louisville Orchestra, Abrams has been justly praised for leading the orchestra to a prominent position in the cultural life of the city, as well as drawing national attention – including a profile on TV’s popular CBS Sunday Morning show – to the success of their risk-taking programming and community engagement.
 
As the pandemic sidelined many orchestras across the country, Abrams headed an Innovation Committee to create a viable plan for the Louisville Orchestra’s 2020-21 season. Ever committed to serving all citizens of the vibrant city where they make their home, Abrams and the orchestra replaced their previously announced fall offerings with four online concerts – streaming live and then available for on-demand viewing – from Louisville’s newest venue, Paristown Hall. While each concert will be available for individual streaming, subscribers to the new “Louisville Orchestra Virtual Edition (LOVE)” will also receive access to additional online content, including music, conversations and curiosities particular to Louisville.
 
The series opens on Saturday, October 3 with “Beethoven’s Third,” a program combining the composer’s “Eroica” Symphony with Jessie Montgomery’s Starburst and works for voice and orchestra. “Charismatic bass-baritone” Davóne Tines (New York Times) joins the orchestra for Samuel Barber’s Dover Beach, two songs from Caroline Shaw’s By and By, and the orchestral premiere of Tines’s own composition VIGIL. Paying tribute to Breonna TaylorVIGIL was created in collaboration with Dutch-French producer Igee Dieudonné, and arranged, on commission from the Louisville Orchestra, by Matthew Aucoin.
 
Also upcoming this fall are “Abrams Conducts Stravinsky,” a survey of the styles explored by one of the 20th century’s most protean and ingenious composers (Oct 24), and “America Sings: Copland’s Appalachian Spring,” showcasing legendary newgrass performer and Kentucky native Sam Bush (Nov 7). A fourth fall program, “American Soul,” presents arrangements of favorites by such soul legends as Aretha Franklin, James Brown and Ray Charles (Nov 21). In the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday that follows, this program will be offered to the community free of charge. After streaming live, each performance will be available for on-demand viewing until December 31. Throughout the season, Abrams and the orchestra will also undertake numerous additional activities in the areas of education, wellness and community outreach, and will announce their plans shortly.
 
Abrams says:
“I am very proud of my Louisville Orchestra family for uniting around a shared vision for what a musical institution can and should be at a time like this. Our season will be one of public service, focused exclusively on supporting our city as we confront the many challenges of this era. We have committed to three core values this year: improving the health of our community through music, providing exceptional music education to those that cannot afford it, and offering equal access to our music-making for everyone in Louisville. Our upcoming performances reflect these values, and they provide us with a chance to use our voice to heal and inspire our city when it needs us most.”