Voice of OC Features Guest Conductor Teddy Abrams  

Maestro Teddy Abrams. April 2016. Photo Credit: O’Neil Arnold.  

This weekend, Pacific Symphony will be led by Guest Conductor Teddy Abrams during our Mendelssohn’s Violin Concertos between Nov. 11 – 13, 2021. He was recently featured in an article written by Paul Hodgins from Voice of OC. To see the full piece, please click here.  

Abrams fell in love with music at a young age. Not only was he a member of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra for several seasons and graduated from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, he has also studied under renowned conductors like Michael Tilson Thomas. His professional journey began when he was 21-years-old, to give you a brief background.  

In addition to conducting, he plays the piano and clarinet and even composes. When he’s not on tour, Maestro Abrams is the Music Director for the Louisville Orchestra and Britt Festival Orchestra in Oregon. Earlier this year, Musical America named him “Conductor of the Year.” We’re excited to welcome him in his debut appearance with us.  

Don’t forget to catch him in action at the concert hall tonight, tomorrow and Saturday! Tickets are still available. To learn more about the show, please click here.  

Thank you for the mention, Voice of OC! To read more of their Arts & Culture section, please click here.  

Meet Rachel Barton Pine 

Image Description: Conductor Teddy Abrams (left) with Violinist Rachel Barton Pine (right).
Photo Credit: Sally Jubb Photography.

In both art and life, violinist Rachel Barton Pine has an extraordinary ability to connect with people. Celebrated as a leading interpreter of great classic and contemporary works, her performances combine her innate gift for emotional communication and her scholarly fascination with historical research. She plays with passion and conviction, thrilling audiences worldwide with her dazzling technique, lustrous tone and infectious joy in music-making.  

She makes her Pacific Symphony debut (Nov. 11-13) performing Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto under the baton of Teddy Abrams, who was recently named “Conductor of the Year” by Musical America. “Mendelssohn is one of the most enduringly popular violin concertos. We think of the Mendelssohn as one of the ‘easier’ concertos, because it doesn’t demand as much stamina or technical virtuosity as Tchaikovsky or other ‘more difficult’ works,” commented Rachel Barton Pine in her Mendelssohn Master Class article for The Strad. “But for a professional, it is extremely challenging: as with any popular piece, you have to make it feel fresh to an audience that has heard it a million times. Not only that, but you can spend a lifetime trying to capture the character, the sound, the phrases and exactly what you are trying to say in the moment.”  

Rachel explains further in the article, “I first played this concerto when I was nine with a Romantic interpretation, but in my teens I became aware of more specific Classical styles and started to think of Mendelssohn coming from Mozart rather than going towards Bruch. Finally in my twenties, I played it with flowing Classical tempos and free, Romantic rubato, and that’s how I’ve done it ever since.” She also talks about the perfect opening, recalling once spending her hour-long lesson with Almita Vamos on the bow distribution, emphasis and articulation in just the first three B-naturals that open the piece.  
The Mendelssohn Violin Concerto was one of 24 violin concertos Rachel covered during her popular 24 in 24: Concertos from the Inside with RBP, an Olympic-like streaming series available on-demand in which she performed the entire solo part of 24 different violin concertos, live and unaccompanied, over 24 weeks. You may watch or share the free, 20-minute public version of the Mendelssohn episode here
Rachel has been described by The Washington Post as a “boundary-defying performer” and has been featured on programs including PBS Newshour, NPR’s Tiny Desk, The Today Show, NBC Network News’ “Making a Difference,” and CBS Sunday Morning. Pine began violin studies at age three and made her professional debut at age seven. Today, she performs with major orchestras around the world under the baton of conductors including John Nelson, Zubin Mehta, Erich Leinsdorf, Neeme Järvi and Marin Alsop. 
This past July, with just 3 1/2 hours notice, Rachel stepped in for Midori at Ravinia, to perform Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with Marin Alsop conducting, when Midori pulled out at the last-minute citing illness.  
She was able to pull this off due to her good practice habits and because she had recently completed the concerto in her aforementioned 24 in 24: Concertos from the Inside series. 
Rachel began her Herculean #24in24 task during the pandemic because she missed performing these works, which she calls “my life-long companions and best friends.” She had a wonderful time sharing them with audiences in a new way and format. 

Rachel’s unique interpretations continue to distinguish her from her peers. She does a staggering amount of research to prepare any piece and says that this baseline of knowledge frees her up to connect to and communicate the emotional truth of what she is performing. She examines the work within its larger context: studying the composer’s life, the historical and music context of the composition, as well as works by that composer outside of the violin repertoire. She jokes that her bedtime reading is often doctoral dissertations. 
“I’m always working to find an effective balance between intellectual validity and instinct — good ideas won’t be effective if you don’t feel them inside, but what you feel needs to be backed up by something more meaningful than ‘I like it that way.’ Basically, every performance needs to be a true collaboration between the performer and the composer, even if the composer has long passed away,” she says. 

You won’t want to miss Rachel Barton Pine’s exciting first appearance with Pacific Symphony. To learn more about Rachel, please visit RachelBartonPine.com. To purchase tickets for her upcoming debut with us, please click here

Review: Louisville Orchestra, Teddy Abrams: ‘All In’


Teddy Abrams is the 30-year-old music director of the venerable Louisville Orchestra and he’s at least a quadruple threat: Conductor, composer, clarinetist and pianist. The young man, a protege of Michael Tilson Thomas, is stirring things up with the orchestra and their first album together, dubbed “All In” and released on Decca Gold on Sept. 22, reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Traditional Classical Chart in its first week. (Obiter dictum: These days, that doesn’t necessarily mean huge sales.) “All In” is the orchestra’s first album in nearly 30 years. Abrams appears as conductor, composer and clarinetist on it.

At one time, some will remember, the Louisville Orchestra was one of the most recorded in the world. In the late 1940s the ensemble launched the Louisville Orchestra Commissioning Project, funded by both local arts money and Rockefeller Foundation grants. The Project eventually yielded hundreds of new works for orchestra as well some 150 recordings of them (on the orchestra’s own label, First Edition Records). Abrams and the orchestra hope “to pick up and expand this legacy,” the liner notes say. Good luck to them.

The disc opens with Abrams’ own “Unified Field,” a shortish four movement work in an accessible, popular and diverse style. In the liner notes, Abrams offers this: “My own music reflects my favorite musical experiences and memories, ranging from an obsession with ‘classical’ contrapuntal technique to the unmatched energy of playing a rock show and the joy of jamming with great Bluegrass artists. Usually these worlds do not find much common ground, but ‘Unified Field’ is an attempt to join everything I love into a single expression across multiple genres.”

The result is pleasant enough, light, too, but bordering on hackneyed. The first movement is pretty, oceanic movie music; its main theme returns in the other movements. The second movement romps in a percussive groove, complete with electric bass and electric guitar. A drum set and Hammond-style organ are added to the processional third movement (a kissing cousin to the “Pilgrims’ March” in Berlioz’s “Harold in Italy”), and the finale is a comedic jamboree on a country fiddling tune.

Surprisingly perhaps, the piece is played none too well here, rather sloppily most of the way, the strings sounding overtaxed and the musicians just not moving as one.

Perhaps it won’t matter to many listeners that the next three numbers aren’t remotely classical, but they do seem out of place here. The vocalist Storm Large, of Pink Martini fame, joins the orchestra for three songs in jazzy style, a pair of ballads, “A Woman’s Heart” by Large and “The Long Goodbye” by Abrams, and an uptempo “It’s Alright with Me” by Cole Porter. A gifted stylist, Large rather overdoes it in this case, pressing and preening. The arrangement of the Porter tune, credited partly to Large, is poor — it never quite gels. (Compare Ella Fitzgerald’s version.)

Which leaves the finale, Copland’s Clarinet Concerto, with Abrams as soloist. (Someone named Jason Seber conducts it, but we are never told who he is.) Written in 1948 for Benny Goodman, the concerto mixes the composer’s familiar American style with Stravinskian neoclassicism and jazz. Abrams negotiates the high-flying solo part sensitively and athletically but the intonation is not always perfectly centered. Seber and the orchestra give him nimble enough support. But it’s too little, too late.