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Grammy-winning Louisville Orchestra brings Kentucky-wide tour to Frankfort, Danville

How does a full-time professional orchestra forge and maintain a level of community outreach vital to its very existence?

The answers invariably come down to ideas steeped in creative thinking but executed by plain old hard work. How results from that blend of innovation and artful elbow grease are measured, though, can vary greatly. Sometimes, the rewards are strategically planned. Other accolades can blindside.

The Louisville Orchestra is experiencing both this winter. The organization is about to conclude its most extensive outreach program since conductor Teddy Abrams took the reins over a decade ago. Specifically, we’re speaking of a two-year adventure called the In Harmony Tour, which has taken the orchestra to outposts through the commonwealth for a mini-residency of performances and educational programs. It concludes over the next two weeks with six state-wide destinations, including a Feb. 28 stop at Western Hills High School in Frankfort and a March 8 visit to the Norton Center for the Arts in Danville.

How this tour is different

In Harmony is the project Abrams and the orchestra always hoped would expand visibility and validity for their organization outside their home city. But at the other extreme sits a spotlight blast that hit a few weeks ago, one that definitely wasn’t part of anyone’s plan. That’s when Abrams, pianist Yuja Wang and the Louisville Orchestra took home a Grammy Award for Best Classical Instrumental Solo for their album “The American Project.”

Louisville Orchestra conductor Teddy Abrams at a performance in Somerset. The orchestra has been on a two-year tour of Kentucky cities. Stevens Media Services
Louisville Orchestra conductor Teddy Abrams at a performance in Somerset. The orchestra has been on a two-year tour of Kentucky cities. Stevens Media Services

“Just to be nominated was humbling enough,” Abrams said. “But then to actually hear the Louisville Orchestra’s name on that stage at the Grammys was surreal.”

This week, though, is all about In Harmony — a touring program where Abrams and his musicians engage with audiences and students in each city before capping the visits with a full orchestra performance. In addition to the featured concert at the Norton Center, the Danville stop will include programs for students from the Kentucky School for the Deaf, Danville schools, Boyle County schools, the Heritage Area String Program and Centre College.

The Louisville Orchestra, shown here in Somerset, will continue a two-year tour of Kentucky with performances in Frankfort and Danville. Stevens Media Services
The Louisville Orchestra, shown here in Somerset, will continue a two-year tour of Kentucky with performances in Frankfort and Danville. Stevens Media Services

“From the ground up, we wanted this to be a tour that wasn’t only about performance,” Abrams said. “It was about relationship building. I’ve had the theory, and everybody seemed to feel like there was merit to this, that if we show up in a community and we have already invested our time, our resources and our talents in that community before the concert actually happens, the concert is going to be a lot more meaningful and valuable to everybody. It’s going to be something that celebrates these relationships that have just been built, rather than serving as an event unto itself.”

“But also, we’re talking about doing something that brings folks together from the larger cities and the beautiful rural communities in Kentucky. If we want it to have lasting impact, then it needs to serve families and kids and grandparents — all generations. We’re talking about something that is going to have a continuing impact.

“I think a lot of smaller communities in Kentucky have seen people show up once or they see them come just when they want something or need something from them. We wanted to turn that completely around and say, ‘This is the opposite. We’re not coming to you and asking you for anything. We’re only coming to offer you something. We’re wanting to help make music in your community.’ I think that was a very important part of why we designed the tour with the educational offerings that we have. That’s what everybody wants, no matter where you live. You want great education and art and culture for your families and your kids.”

Including special guest soloists

In achieving that, the repertoire for performances in each city of the In Harmony Tour incorporates regional inspirations as well as a guest soloist who serves as an ambassador of sorts for those influences. For its final run of In Harmony concerts, the orchestra will be joined by Grammy-winning bluegrass fiddler Michael Cleveland and his band Flamekeeper.

“There are multiple reasons for emphasizing this on our tours,” Abrams said. “One is them is as simple as bluegrass and old-time music basically coming from Kentucky — certainly, bluegrass with its history going back to Bill Monroe, but even just the Americana and old-time styles within American history that have a tremendous intersection with Kentucky history. It’s important to remind ourselves that this is the cultural heritage we are living right now. So anytime we can put that style of music on the stage and celebrate it so the orchestra can participate in it equally is something that is really special. It changes, perhaps, somebody’s idea of what an orchestra is.

Louisville Orchestra and conductor Teddy Abrams, who recently won a Grammy, performed with Chris Thile in Madisonville. The orchestra has performed with a wide variety of musicians on the two-year tour of Kentucky. Provided
Louisville Orchestra and conductor Teddy Abrams, who recently won a Grammy, performed with Chris Thile in Madisonville. The orchestra has performed with a wide variety of musicians on the two-year tour of Kentucky. Provided

“When we play these tour concerts, you’re going to hear music from 200 years ago and you’re going to hear music from 100 years ago, but you’re also going to hear world premieres by living composers. You’re going to hear styles of music that you might not think of as classical. This is our chance to show that the orchestra is so much more dynamic than a lot of the stereotypes that are associated with it.

“There is also the fact that Mike Cleveland is one of the greatest fiddle players who’s ever lived and one of the most genuinely kind people that I know, so this is very special.”

There will be a designation that this final run of In Harmony dates will enjoy, as well. Each one can add “Grammy winning” to the orchestra’s moniker.

“I was joking before we got the Grammy about these people who would give their speeches and say, ‘Oh, my God! I’m so shocked!’ But I was shocked. I think you sort of psych yourself out. I knew we put out a very special and meaningful album and I’m really proud of it, but I didn’t want to let my imagination go too far.

“This orchestra, they deserve it. They deserve it for this album because to have pulled off that project with one of the greatest pianists alive, Yuja Wang, was crazy enough. It’s not like a lifetime achievement award or anything like that, but this orchestra has put out so many incredible records over the years that are groundbreaking and deserve that attention. To finally have that spotlight shone on our state and our city ... I mean, I’m just really, really proud of everyone.”

The Louisville Orchestra performed in Glasgow as part of its two-year tour of Kentucky. Provided
The Louisville Orchestra performed in Glasgow as part of its two-year tour of Kentucky. Provided

The Louisville Orchestra In Harmony Spring Tour

When/Where: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 28 at Western Hills High School, 100 Doctors Dr. in Frankfort and 7:30 p.m. March 8 at Newlin Hall of the Norton Center for the Arts in Danville, 600 W. Walnut. in Danville.

Tickets: Both performances are sold out. General admission tickets were free and have been distributed, although $150 tickets for the Danville concert benefiting the Norton Center’s Arts for the Classroom Ticket Subsidy Program still remain. For information, go to nortoncenter.com/event/louisville-orchestra.