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'Spring Collaboration' Brings Together Louisville Arts Titans

Sam English

Louisville is sometimes referred to as a large small town, and that certainly holds true within the arts community.

Two of the city's arts leaders, Louisville Orchestra Music Director Teddy Abrams and Louisville Ballet Artistic Director Robert Curran, have developed a friendship since they both came to town in recent years. One result of that friendship is the "Spring Collaboration" program, taking place at the Kentucky Center's Whitney Hall on March 4 and 5.

Instead of the orchestra simply accompanying the ballet, both directors see this program as a true collaborative effort, originating with Abrams' suggestion of performing Igor Stravinsky's 1911 ballet, "Petrouchka."

Abrams and Curran recently discussed how the collaboration came about with WFPL News. (Listen to the interview in the audio player above.)

"I've always wanted to do 'Petrouchka,'" Abrams said. "That's been a dream of mine, ever since I saw the Bolshoi Ballet version. Stravinsky's most famous works were ballets, yet they're very rarely performed as ballets -- they're almost always performed just as orchestral suites."

Curran said he was surprised at Abrams' suggestion, because "Petrouchka" is a large-scale, challenging work, but then he got excited about the possibility of pooling the organizations' resources to make it happen.

In addition to "Petrouchka," the program includes two pieces set to contemporary music: "Cold Virtues," with music by Philip Glass, and "Unified Field," with an original composition by Teddy Abrams.

"We were both really keen on making sure that the program included something that was an original commission from Teddy," Curran said. "But originally, we were like, how is it going to be possible with [his] schedule?"

Abrams composed the piece in the wee hours of the morning, in between his other many activities, and he said with a laugh that the piece is "probably not really playable" because of its difficulty.

He was delighted, however, to read choreographer Adam Hougland's program notes on the piece, in which Hougland called Abrams' music "sexy."

"And I was thinking to myself, I think that's the only time anybody's ever said that about me or my music," Abrams said, laughing. "I was so excited. My sexy piece!"

The music for "Cold Virtues," also choreographed by Hougland, puts Glass' Violin Concerto in an arrangement for solo saxophone and orchestra. The solo part will be performed by Grammy-nominated saxophonist Amy Dickson.

Both Curran and Abrams said they hope this is the first of many collaborations between their organizations.

"This really is on a bigger scale than pretty much anything either of us have taken on dramatically," said Abrams. "And I think it's an important collaboration as much as it is an exciting one."

"Spring Collaboration" will be performed at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts on Friday, March 4 at 8 p.m., and on Saturday, March 5 at 2 and 8 p.m. More information and tickets can be found here.