Since being named music director of the Louisville Orchestra in October 2014, Teddy Abrams has made a powerful impact not only on Louisville’s music community but Louisville as a whole. His ongoing effort to connect the orchestra with the community has earned Abrams the distinction of being named Conductor of the Year for 2022 by Musical America, a leader in news and information for the performing arts industry since 1960.
From his earliest days in Louisville, the young conductor—who was only 27 when he joined the LO, making him the youngest conductor ever named to that position for a major orchestra—has been lauded for his efforts to involve the orchestra with the community at large.
His involvement with the community was most recently exemplified by his response to the global pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement as well as creative initiatives like his rap-opera “The Greatest,” honoring heavyweight champion and Louisville native Muhammad Ali.
Early in the pandemic, Abrams began focusing on bringing comfort through music to the people of Louisville. He and the orchestra participated in “Lift Up Lou,” collaborating with Mayor Greg Fisher to offer live and shareable content as well as ideas to stay connected, all made available on social media.
As part of the same initiative, Abrams brought together numerous Louisville-based musicians to record a collaborative song, “Lift Up Louisville,” with proceeds benefiting the One Louisville COVID-19 Response Fund. Lift Up Lou’s “Music on the Move” program also took music directly to Louisville residents, with the multi-faceted conductor and musician playing a series of one-man pop-up shows on his electronic keyboard in neighborhoods around the city.
Abrams’ enthusiastic community engagement has received significant attention from national media, including a feature in Vogue that detailed the orchestra’s virtual season-opening concert honoring Breonna Taylor, and profiles by PBS, NPR and The Wall Street Journal.
Abrams has also diversified the orchestra’s performance repertoire. Highlights of the 2021-22 season include six world premieres; works by composers of color and women composers; and a three-part festival of Latin American music. On April 30, the orchestra will launch a four-year programming initiative to explore the music of Jewish and Black composers.
A major highlight of the season has been the Jan. 7 world premiere of Abrams’ Piano Concerto, written for and featuring acclaimed pianist Yuja Wang. Another highlight has been the recent performance and world premiere of a work by rising young Louisville composer KiMani Bridges.
As a recipient of the 2022 Conductor of the Year award, Abrams joins a long list of conducting luminaries that includes his own mentor, Michael Tilson Thomas.
Abrams became a protégé of Thomas at the young age of 12. His talent as both a pianist and clarinetist led him to earn a bachelor’s degree from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music at only 18 before being accepted by the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia as its youngest-ever conducting student. He continues to be a passionate advocate for music education and personally conducts master classes in Louisville middle and high schools.
Regarding the honor bestowed by Musical America, Abrams said, “I am very proud of the work we’ve accomplished so far in Louisville and I believe that we are beginning an era of further transformation and growth in a city that deserves it and in an industry that needs bold redefinition. After a particularly challenging period in Louisville’s history, I am thrilled that Musical America has offered this recognition for our orchestra and this spotlight for our beautiful city and state.”
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