Carnegie Hall surprised Louisville residents on Tuesday morning with the announcement that the Louisville Orchestra would return to perform there in February of 2021. The news came during a press conference announcing the 2020/2021 season of concerts presented under the “Carnegie Hall Presents” marquee, an invitation and honor that’s not often bestowed on orchestras of Louisville’s size. Just consider these other names unveiled in the same season: Gustavo Dudamel, Vienna Philharmonic, Rhiannon Giddens and John Williams. It’s an elite mix.
The first time the orchestra played at Carnegie Hall was 1950, just after the First Edition recording and commissioning series launched with the commission and premiere of William Schuman and Martha Graham’s “Judith.” It returned in 1989 with Lawrence Leighton Smith, continuing to highlight its commissioning and premiering work. During the 50s, but less-so in the 80s, Louisville was one of the few American orchestras devoting substantial time and resources to work with living composers on new works. Playing new music and commissioning is more common today, where almost every orchestra, regardless of size, devotes some (or a lot) of its repertoire to artists still breathing.
The Louisville Orchestra’s program will be a sampler platter of how Teddy Abrams has shaped the artistic direction of the ensemble, outside the “standard” repertoire, since he became music director in 2014: a little new music, a little collaboration with other artistic disciplines, a lot of cross-genre experimentation.
Abrams is opening the concert with the cinematic bursts of “Sacred Geometry,” Andrew Norman’s expansive study of European Gothic cathedrals. It includes all of Norman’s hallmarks: boisterous musical gestures, virtuosic string writing, and caffeinated expressiveness. Norman is also the 2020/2021 Richard and Barbara Debs Composer’s Chair at Carnegie Hall.
Next they pay homage to their inaugural Carnegie Hall performance with Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring,” a ballet score written for Martha Graham, with new choreography by the Louisville Ballet’s resident choreographer Andrea Schermoly. The new dance was premiered during the 2019/2020 season of the Louisville Orchestra as part of its Festival of American Music.
That same festival in 2018 premiered the final work on the upcoming Carnegie Hall program, “The Order of Nature:” a set of songs written and sung by My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James with orchestrations by Teddy Abrams. This collaboration has generated some of the highest-profile appearances and name recognition for the orchestra in recent years, with a sold-out performance at (Le) Poisson Rouge, a public talk with Jon Batiste (Stephen Colbert’s bandleader), an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, and mentions in the Washington Post, Pitchfork, and NPR’s All Songs Considered.
New York City had a chance to hear the Louisville Orchestra in a live broadcast partnership with WUOL and WQXR last September, and now they’ll have a chance to hear them in person.
Daniel Gilliam is weekday afternoon host (1-3 p.m.) and program director at 90.5 WUOL, and director of radio for Louisville Public Media.