The Unfettered Critic – July 2016

It’s official: Teddy Abrams loves a challenge. Now entering his third season as the Britt Orchestra’s music director, Abrams is challenging himself, the musicians from whom he will coax each precious note, and the audience that we’re sure will fall under his spell. If you anticipate a snoozy little symphony season under this summer’s stars, you haven’t been paying attention.

Yup, the Britt’s classical season is upon us! All across this and several other countries, world-class musicians are rosining bows, polishing brass, and practicing etudes in preparation for their annual pilgrimage to Jacksonville. Because, as the song says, it’s “summertime, and the living is”… Hmmm… “Easy” might not be the right word. “Exciting,” maybe, or “exhilarating.” But, like Tina Turner, Maestro Abrams doesn’t do much in the key of “nice and easy.”

Instead, look forward to complex, rousing musical events. Like this year’s Crater Lake Project.

What’s that, you ask? Thanks for the cue!

The weekend before the classical season settles onto Britt Hill, forty Britt musicians, along with outstanding brass and percussion students from SOU, a 50-voice choir, and members of the Klamath Tribes’ Steiger Butte drum group, will gather at the rim of Crater Lake. Under Abram’s direction, they’ll perform the world premiere (written just for us) of Michael Gordon’s Crater Lake-inspired Natural History. Nothing like this has ever happened at an American National Park. Abrams promises that it will be the musical experience of a lifetime. We believe him. (July 29-30)

And then comes Opening Night on our own Britt Hill. The full ninety-member orchestra will perform compositions by Zhurbin, Shostakovich (featuring violin soloist Ray Chen), Stravinsky, plus Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Several years ago, you’ll recall, Peter Bay conducted 1812 in the traditional manner—punctuated by cannon fire. The audience loved it, but startled neighbors called 911, thinking World War III had broken out. This year, Abrams promises “human cannon sounds.” We’re not sure what he has planned, but we’re looking forward to finding out! (August 5)

For the second night, the orchestra will perform Hindesmith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Klaus Maria von Weber, Brahms’ complex Piano Concerto No. 1 (featuring pianist Jeremy Denk), and a personal favorite, Mozart’s rousing Symphony No. 25. We must confess: we’ve encouraged (“bugged,” actually) the maestro to add a bit of Mozart to his programming, so we’ll take this opportunity to say “Danke, sir.” (August 6)

A special Monday night performance represents another first, as members of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival will arrive at Britt to share songs from recent OSF musicals, while the orchestra performs some Shakespeare-inspired melodies by Berlioz, Tchaikovsky, and more. (August 8)

If a challenge can rank with last year’s unforgettable performance of Carmina Burana, it must be the second weekend’s ambitious staging of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2. Once again, the Britt stage will be crowded to capacity (and then some) as the Rogue Valley Chorale, and the Southern Oregon Repertory Singers will join the orchestra, enhanced by soloists Celena Shafer and Lauren Eberwein. (August 13)

But wait—there’s more: the ever-popular Britt Symphony Pops night (featuring singer/songwriter Halie Loren) (August 14); an evening of Prokofiev (performed by renowned pianist Yefim Bronfman) and Copland (August 19); and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, plus a reprise of Gordon’s Natural History, transplanted to our possibly less jaw-dropping, but equally beautiful setting on Britt Hill. (August 20)

In a recent televised interview, Teddy Abrams issued a personal challenge to viewers: “If you’ve never been to see an orchestra, come see the Britt Orchestra. It will blow your mind.”

Well, what are you waiting for? You heard the man!

Photo of Teddy Abrams by ONeil Arnold.