The Unfettered Critic – August 2017

By the time you read this, the migration will have begun.

Dozens of classically trained, world-class musicians will be returning to the stage on Britt Hill, where Conductor Teddy Abrams will greet them, ready to chase the summer doldrums from all of our brains.

To some, the summer seems a sleepy time. The weather is hot, the air thick with thoughts of leisure. We smile as we recall previous classical festivals. We daydream of melodies easy to sway to as we recline on the grassy hill. We anticipate the conductor’s upcoming playlist. We imagine calming sonatas, punctuated by the chirps of our resident crickets. We foresee comfortable favorites: Beethoven! Mozart! Bach!

It won’t all be like that, of course. We’ve gotten to know this maestro, who delights in sharing his passion for all musical styles and genres, from the tried and true to the avant-garde!

For example, he’s titled his program for August 5 “Eastern Inspiration.” The orchestra will perform Shanghai Overture by Chinese-American composer Bright Sheng. This work leans heavily on winds, brass, and percussion, while the bowed strings wait several minutes before entering the soundscape. Next will be The Song of the Nightingale, which Igor Stravinsky adopted from a Hans Christian Anderson-inspired opera—as told from the point of view of a Chinese fisherman. The evening continues with The Song of the Earth, Austrian composer Gustav Mahler’s “song-symphony” based on a book of ancient Chinese poetry. The Britt audience may be familiar with the works of Stravinsky and Mahler, but this particular evening will feel uniquely “Abrams-esque”

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The Orchestra’s opening night, July 28, will start the surprises. Last year the Britt sent us to Crater Lake National Park to hear the world premiere of Natural History, from composer Michael Gordon. This year, they’ve commissioned another piece—and we’ll get to enjoy its premiere right here at home. Portland-born violist Kenji Bunch’s piece (we don’t yet know its name) will be one component of this night’s celebration of West Coast Composers.

At the other end of our three weeks of musical ecstasy awaits yet another recently composed piece—this one by the maestro himself! Abrams calls it Unified Field, and although he says he’s been told it is “the hardest piece in the repertoire,” he quickly assures us, “The Britt Orchestra is up to it.” He’s boldly positioned his composition between Gershwin’s celebrated An American in Paris and Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5 on the final night of performances, August 13.

Lest we’ve led you to assume that everything is going to be new and unknown, fear not. You’ll hear some beautiful Beethoven (Piano Concerto No. 4), marvelous Mozart (Symphony No. 35—perhaps better known as “Haffner”), and brilliant Bach (Brandenburg Concerto No. 3)—all on August 4. And you’re certain to savor works by Brahms, Sibelius, Schubert, and Tchaikovsky, dusted throughout our too short orchestral season.

If that’s not enough, Abrams promises that we’ll be one of the first audiences to hear a new piece by his mentor, the esteemed Michael Tilson Thomas, titled Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind on August 12.

But wait! There’s more! Pops Night, August 6, will be devoted to one of the most popular composers of all time: the great John Williams. Abrams has picked a sampling of Williams’ major motion picture works: the rousing scores of films like Star Wars, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Superman, Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. We can’t think of a more perfect evening. And remember, on Pops Night, tickets are only $5!