Britt Festival Orchestra talks music in a new era

Teddy Abrams, Music Director and Conductor of the Britt Festival Orchestra is also Music Director of the Louisville Orchestra in Kentucky. Abrams, members of the Louisville Orchestra, and other prominent musicians have been performing at the Britt Festival for the past eight years.

This year, we can stream live videos of past performances preceded by a discussion with Abrams, orchestra members, and guest artists at 3 p.m. every Friday through August on Facebook’s Britt Music and Arts page. Abrams chatted with me from Louisville over Zoom. This is part one of a two-part column. The second will be published on Aug. 17.

EH: What are your current activities?

TA: We are planning the season for next year, which is taking a very complex form of what we call: “The Season of Innovation and of Public Service.”

It’s either online, or involving individual musicians who are working in the health care or education areas. They are actually using their music making in an individualized format.

They could be providing lessons to kids who have never been able to afford it, or they could be offering music therapy to people who are on the front lines.

It’s a big giant turnaround from where orchestras were. We are trying to be progressive and innovative with it.

That is what the world needs right now. It doesn’t need us to find ways for people to buy our product. It needs us to serve the city and look at it honestly.

We’ve identified health, education, and access to music as the three big areas. Obviously, we’re in a health crisis. Education is becoming a crisis with all the challenges around getting people back to school and the inequality that comes up from that. And then access, because we’re in a financial situation affecting so many people.

This is the year to give and share our music as widely as possible. We think that’s the way to be an orchestra in this new era. You’ve got to think differently. It’s a crazy world, but if you embrace some of the challenges, you can find some great solutions, or at least we’ll try. That will be a fun adventure on its own.

It’s very complex because of the amount of fundraising that’s required to do these things, and the number of new relationships. We’re partnering with corporations and healthcare providers. We’ve had back-to-back meetings every day.

At Britt for the next season, we’re being really proactive in thinking about creative ways of presenting orchestral music. The ideas are so exciting, that I can’t wait for that.

EH: Can you tell me about Mason Bates’ “Passage” for voice and orchestra featured Aug. 7?

TA: “Passage” is a piece that combines the poetry of Walt Whitman with the moonshot speech of JFK. The Kennedy Center commissioned it as a memorial to John Kennedy.

What Mason does so brilliantly is that he weaves in the poetry of Whitman with prerecorded elements of JFK’s speech: because they’re both talking about this idea of a passage, of a journey. In Whitman’s case, a great ship journey, and in JFK’s case, the space journey to the moon.

There are even words that they used that overlap, so you hear it in the vocal part intersecting with the speech. It’s a very hopeful piece, and it’s a very American piece because these are two great American figures.

It’s performed by Sasha Cooke: Her voice is rich and clear and beautiful.

It’s one of these pieces of music that affects people very deeply when they hear it. I think it’s a great reminder of the notability of speech and of how important eloquence and the beauty of language can be.

To access the Britt streaming performances, go to Facebook; search for the Britt Music and Arts page; scroll down to Videos.

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