If we're relying on the younger generation to help boost interest in classical music, look no further than Teddy Abrams. The 28-year-old pianist, clarinetist, conductor and composer has just begun his second season as music director of the Louisville Orchestra and he's brimming with ideas on what to do with Bach, Beethoven and music made today.
For his first week on the job in Louisville, Abrams played jazz piano in the streets and took his orchestra players into nightclubs and African-American churches. PBS made a web series on his first season. Earlier this year, he put two first symphonies on the same program — Brahms' First and a debut symphony by Sebastian Chang, a composer still in his 20s — just to gauge audience reaction. Abrams filled the hall by giving out free tickets to first-time symphonygoers. He was happy to hear that many of them liked the new piece best, saying they appreciated hearing the composer introduce it onstage.
Abrams doesn't treat composers like museum exhibits to be handled with white gloves. For this Tiny Desk performance, Adams decided to begin the opening movement of Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 30 with a short improvisation, noting that the great composer was known for riffing at the piano for hours on end.
The set opens and closes with tunes by Abrams himself. The first, "Big Band," swirls with jazz history. Hints of Thelonious Monk fly by, along with tips of the hat to the stride style from the early 20th century. Abrams ends with a bluesy number, "The Long Goodbye," describing it as a slow ballad halfway between "My Funny Valentine" and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." How fascinating it will be to watch him as he continues to delight and challenge audiences.
- Abrams: "Big Band"
- Abrams: Improvisation/Beethoven: Sonata No. 30 in E, Op. 109, I. Vivace, ma non troppo
- Abrams: "The Long Goodbye"
Producers: Tom Huizenga, Morgan Walker; Audio Engineer: Suraya Mohamed; Videographers: Morgan Walker, Julia Reihs; Production Assistant: Kate Drozynski; Photo by Jun Tsuboike/NPR
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