The second season of Teddy Abrams’ music directorship was announced Friday night at the Kentucky Center.
Where last season was programmed, roughly, half by Abrams and half by Music Director Emeritus Jorge Mester, 2015-2016 is mostly Abrams, with two concerts led by Mester.
There is nothing restrained or timid next season—this is not an orchestra playing it safe. In fact, one could argue that this season is full of risks, artistically and financially. Producing works that require a large orchestra—and most on next season do—can add up. But this doesn’t feel like opulence. Rather, what we see here is an orchestra trying to earn back a reputation for being adventurous and innovative.
What has typically been a glitz and glamour, concerto-focused Fanfara, complete with high-price soloist, is now called “Opening Night” and looks to be the most ambitious season opener ever by the Louisville Orchestra, and possibly among any American orchestra of similar budget or market size. If you thought “Carmina Burana” was extravagant, Abrams will unleash Leonard Bernstein’s eclectic “Mass” to open the season on Sept. 26 . Jubilant Sykes will sing the Celebrant, a role that garnered him a Grammy nomination in 2009. Bernstein’s musical theater work calls for two orchestras (one in the pit and one on stage), two soloists, two choirs, a rock band, and “street musicians,” which includes 45 singers and percussion. Composed for the opening of the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., “Mass” juxtaposes traditional Latin Mass texts with new lyrics by with Bernstein himself, Stephen Schwartz (“Godspell,” “Wicked”) and Paul Simon.
Now the tone is set for one of the most unique seasons this city has ever seen, replete with premieres and collaborations. Abrams, the composer, has scheduled himself for two new works: a fanfare in March and a work for “Community Collaborators.” In late January the orchestra will feature a commission from students at Abrams’ alma mater, the Curtis Institute of Music. A young American composer named Chase Morrin will write and perform a new piano concerto as part of a “Festival of American Music.”
Cast in two parts in March and April, the festival includes Mason Bates’ “Mothership,” for orchestra and electronica (a laptop), premiered in 2011 by the YouTube Symphony and viewed live by two million people on YouTube. Bates is paired with his fellow Californian John Adams’ “Harmonielehre” (German for “study of harmony”), a 40-minute work for large orchestra. Abrams will be the soloist in Copland’s Clarinet Concerto, and the latter’s post-war Symphony No. 3 concludes the festival.
Another collaboration takes the orchestra and Louisville Ballet relationship beyond “The Nutcracker” for two works in March: a choreographed Philip Glass Violin Concerto and Stravinsky’s dark burlesque “Petrouchka.”
Among this season’s soloists are pianist William Wolfram playing Rachmaninoff’s second concerto with Jorge Mester, violinist Augustin Hadelich tackling the monumental violin concerto of Brahms and Bela Fleck closing the season with his banjo concerto “The Imposter,” a work commissioned by the Nashville Symphony.
Bob Bernhardt’s Pops Series brings a few notable soloists, too, opening with Family Guy creator and crooner Seth MacFarlane singing American Songbook standards. MacFarlane released an album in 2011 of songs from the ’40s and ’50s. Viewers of “Family Guy” know him as the voice of Stewie. Randy Jackson (of the band Zebra, not American Idol) will perform as Robert Plant with Brent Havens conducting, Ann Hampton Callaway will sing the Streisand Songbook, and Pink Martini, a group that includes vocalist Storm Large, joins the Louisville Orchestra on March 19.
Returning for more to-be-announced concerts are the Family Concert Series, Music Without Borders, WOW! Series events, Magic of Music and Holiday concerts. The orchestra also unveiled new logos at Friday’s post-concert announcement.
Daniel Gilliam is the program director for WFPL’s sister station WUOL Classical 90.5.