Britt Orchestra Delivers An EPIC Start to Maestro Abrams Sophomore Season

Teddy Abrams
Jacksonville Review

The Britt Orchestra opened the 2015 Classical Season Friday evening, July 31, delivering a concert that was epic in all the senses of the word listed above: The performing ensemble on stage was the largest ever to perform at the Britt Pavilion and it not only included the largest group of orchestra musicians, but also over 140 singers from three combined choirs, AND three fine vocal soloists. The orchestra played pieces never before heard on the Britt Hill: Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy, which hadn’t been performed here before because it requires such a large orchestra, and Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, which requires not only the large orchestra, but massive choral support as well. Also never before heard was the first piece that launched the new season with a bang, or more precisely, with a fanfare: Music Director Teddy Abrams’ own composition, Kentucky Royal Fanfare.

The result was a concert that was indeed spectacular, very impressive, and awesome. The feat was made even more so by the conditions which the performers needed to overcome in delivering their memorable epic performance of the concerts’ three pieces: 107 degree heat and forest fire-generated smoke as thick as pea soup. Despite the conditions, a packed crowd of classical music lovers filled the Britt seats and lawn and the show went on. The orchestra musicians had to have been roasting on the stage – open air and hence not really air-condition coolable. At one calm point, Maestro Teddy Abrams, who presided and directed the pieces with great energy, enthusiasm, and physicality, had to pick up his score and shake to drain the pool of sweat from it. The musicians similarly had to play in sauna-like conditions. But to their credit, the performers overcame all those obstacles and the concert performances were an unqualified triumph.

This is Maestro Abrams sophomore season as music director for the Britt Festivals Classical Season and he made it clear to everyone that he has taken full command of the orchestra, its programs, the music, and the quality of the product – all at the very best they have been in its 53 year history. So it was fitting that the season not only began with a fanfare, but that it was his original composition, Kentucky Royal Fanfare. Mr. Abrams composed the 5 minute piece for the occasion of Prince Charles’ March 2015 visit to Louisville, Kentucky, where Mr. Abrams is Music Director of the Louisville Orchestra during the regular concert season. Mr. Abrams has said “I wanted to create a piece that celebrated this [the Prince’s] spirit of caring for our earth and fellow man, and composing a work for the nobility and royalty in all of us seemed like the perfect present . . . .” The piece uses a complex rhythmic scheme which presents a challenge for the musicians, but with Mr. Abrams himself at the helm, the orchestra delivered an inspiring, uplifting, rousing performance of the piece that got the 2015 season off to a very auspicious start.

Carmina Burana is a truly grand piece of music, which everyone should experience a live performance of at least once in their lifetimes. The scope of it is, well, epic. The orchestral music is sublime, making good use of ALL sections, giving ALL at least one prominent highlight, employing the percussion section more and better than most composers. Top that with the awe-inspiring chorale singing, and then the remarkable solos, and it is an incomparable musical feast. I am really almost never at a loss for words, but I truly cannot find words to do justice to this piece and the extraordinary performance delivered at the Britt Pavilion on Opening Night of the 2015 Classical Season. So I offer you instead a one minute excerpt from the opening movement, O Fortuna:

The entire piece is over 60 minutes long, and THAT wasn’t even the highlight. As wonderful as that excerpt is, it can’t even come close to fully capturing just how good this performance was. The vocal solos were sung stunningly, and acted wonderfully to boot, including entertaining embodiments of drunkenness, etc. by Mr. Russell, very expressive gestures and expressions by Ms. Shafer, and a hilarious scamper away from the stage by Mr. Abreu. The interplay between the choirs and the orchestra, the choirs and the soloists, and the orchestra and the soloists was superb. This may well have been the top performance of ANY piece at ANY concert in the 53 year history of the Britt Festivals. Well done ALL, but especially Mr. Abrams, for conceiving it, bringing it together, pulling it off, and doing it all so successfully.

Read the rest of the review here