Now in his eighth season as music director of the Louisville Orchestra, Teddy Abrams, 34, has emerged as one of the most exciting young conductors in America, and one of the most forward-thinking in classical music. He’s composed a rap opera about one of the city’s most famous residents (The Greatest: Muhammad Ali, with a cast including Rhiannon Giddens); collaborated with My Morning Jacket’s Jim James on the song cycle The Order of Nature; and recruited hundreds of Louisville community members to perform in Leonard Bernstein’s epic Mass.
Today, Abrams and the orchestra announced their latest innovative undertaking: the Louisville Orchestra Creators Corps. In a departure from traditional orchestral composer-in-residence programs and commissioning protocol, the orchestra will select three creators to truly embed within both the orchestra and the community in which it’s based. All three will move to Louisville and live in the city’s Shelby Park neighborhood for at least 30 weeks, serving as official staff members while being provided with housing, custom-built studio space, health insurance and an annual salary of $40,000. The orchestra is encouraging applicants from outside the Western classical tradition, and also those who might form a lasting bond with it as an organization by reapplying for or renewing their residences for up to two additional years (the finalists will be announced in mid-June and begin their residencies on September 1).
Funded by a three-year, $750,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and individual donors, the initiative is “the most ambitious large-scale project” the orchestra has undertaken since Abrams arrived in Louisville, he said in a statement, and the first of its kind among American orchestras. He likened the project to the Peace Corps, “deploying artists for a real purpose, getting involved in [the community] in a way that involves a deeper collective vision.”
The Louisville Orchestra has a long legacy of innovation within the U.S. classical music scene, on par with and often surpassing those of symphonies in much larger cities. In 1955, the orchestra launched First Edition Recordings, making it the first American orchestra to own a record label thanks to a $500,000 Rockefeller grant allowing the commissioning, recording and premiering of music by living composers. Since then, the orchestra has become a pioneering force in new music, commissioning over 150 works from composers ranging from Aaron Copland to Heitor Villa-Lobos.
The Creator Corps, initially conceived as a successor project to First Edition, will require its participants to do much more than compose new work, asking them to engage meaningfully with the neighborhood in which they live — with residents themselves, via education initiatives and community-based projects — and collaborate with performers of diverse genres and backgrounds.
“The Louisville Orchestra has always led the national conversation about the role of composers in the shaping of artistic and civic impace,” said Graham Parker, the orchestra’s interim executive director, who was formerly president of Decca Records US at Universal Music Group. “The new Creators Corps program is the next bold chapter of that story, providing our community and audiences with consistent relationships with leading creative voices of the day, as well as provides a stable and deep opportunity for a composer to hone their voice and understand how their music can bring community together. This is the only way forward.”