Maestro Teddy Abrams, Musical America’s 2022 Conductor of the Year, leads the Sarasota Orchestra for American Voices December 10–12.

Image: O'Neil Arnold

Human beings love to categorize things. Putting labels on things or people or art helps us feel like we understand them. Food can be “traditional” or “ethnic,” a politician can be conservative or liberal, music can be “classical” or “popular.” But the 21st century has seen an advent of artists and art that defy categorization. You need look no further than Sarasota Orchestra’s second Masterworks program, American Voices, to hear music written and performed by people who cannot be put neatly into one category, and who are fearlessly charting their own paths.

Maestro Teddy Abrams, Musical America’s 2022 Conductor of the Year, has been stirring things up in a big way since taking the helm of the Louisville Orchestra in 2015. The focus of a CBS Sunday Morning story in 2019, Abrams has revitalized the Louisville Orchestra and garnered national attention for sharing the stage with musicians from all corners of the music world. He is known for taking his music to the streets quite literally, often setting up an electric piano on street corners and improvising jazz to the delight of passersby. His high-energy conducting and genre-bending music will be on display at the Van Wezel from December 10 to 12, as the 34-year-old leads Sarasota Orchestra in three performances. The concerts open with Abrams’s own Overture in Sonata Form and include music by Ludwig van Beethoven, Aaron Copland, and Ellen Reid.

Clarinetist and bass clarinetist Calvin Falwell of Sarasota Orchestra

Copland’s beloved ballet music for Appalachian Spring was revolutionary in its own right when it premiered in 1944. The extraordinary score won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1945. Opening with what could be heard as a musical depiction of the morning mists over the mountains and concluding with the joyous hymn “Simple Gifts,” Copland’s music never fails to stir something very personal in American audiences.

The program also includes music by another Pulitzer Prize–winning American, Los Angeles–based Ellen Reid, whose 2019 opera p r i s m about sexual assault took the opera world by storm. Sarasota Orchestra will perform her orchestral work Petrichor, which was written to be an immersive sound experience for the audience. With certain musicians positioned throughout the auditorium rather than all on stage, Reid is able to create the sensation of being deep in a rain forest—an experience that the Los Angeles Times’ music critic said seemed to “mysteriously erase the physical barriers of the hall.”

Pianist Conrad Tao makes his debut with Sarasota Orchestra for Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1, part of American Voices.

American pianist Conrad Tao, also an accomplished composer, will join the Orchestra as soloist in the Piano Concerto No. 1 by the original rule-breaking bad boy, Beethoven. Beethoven was only 25 when he wrote the piece, yet it already shows the early signs of his revolutionary personality. Tao, whose “ability to get around a keyboard … is something to marvel over (San Francisco Chronicle), will be making his Sarasota Orchestra debut in this program.

December 10–12 promises to be a fascinating weekend at the Van Wezel, full of dynamic young artists with unique musical voices that resonate “outside the box.” Visit Sarasota Orchestra’s website to learn more and purchase tickets to Masterworks: American Voices.

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