Britt classical season features bold repertoire

Britt Music Director Teddy Abrams wasn't kidding when he said he wanted to throw some surprises into the mix with the standard classical repertoire. The 2014 classical season, announced by Abrams and Britt officials Tuesday, includes music by the Beatles and movie composer John Williams alongside such usual suspects as Wagner and Tchaikovsky.

Abrams was named Britt's music director and conductor last year after a national search that drew more than 100 candidates. He also was recently named music director of the Louisville Orchestra in Louisville, Ky. Britt's classical season is held each year in August — this year it runs Aug. 1-17 — at the Britt Pavilion in Jacksonville, drawing professional musicians from around the nation.

The music slated for opening night is perhaps emblematic of Abrams' approach to the season. The evening will begin with a short piece Abrams wrote.

"That might sound bold," he said, "but it's actually a celebration of the orchestra."

In line with that concept, there will be no guest artist. Instead, the orchestra will perform Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite" and Beethoven's Symphony No. 5. The 1910 "Firebird" was Stravinsky's breakout composition and marked the start of the collaboration between Diaghilev and Stravinsky that would lead to "The Rite of Spring." The Beethoven symphony is, of course, one of the best-known war horses in all of music.

"But when it's done well, it's still fresh," Abrams said.

Also on the 2014 list: a night devoted to Russian composers Aug. 2, a concert of music composed for live theater and/or movies Aug. 16 and a visit from banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck Aug. 8. The Russian-themed night will include music by Rimsky-Korsakov, Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky.

"It's three different perspectives on Russian music," Abrams said. "'Capriccio Espagnol' (by Rimsky-Korsakov) is a great show-off piece for the concertmaster and the principal clarinet. Prokofiev alternates between touching and dramatic to sardonic. And Tchaikovsky is just a universal composer. His fourth symphony has melodies that are so hauntingly beautiful, no mater how many times it's played."

Fleck, a genre bender who's better known in pop, rock and bluegrass circles, will perform "The Impostor," a concerto for banjo and orchestra.

"I cannot wait," Abrams said. "He's a legend, and I think our audience will be fascinated."

Another genre-bending act, Tf3, a young group known as the world's first classically trained garage band, will visit Aug. 16 for Britt's annual Symphony Pops night.

"They'll do a wide range of things," Abrams said. "That's their specialty."

That night's program will include Beatles and Williams tunes in addition to compositions by Bach and Vivaldi. It's a family event with special pricing ($15 reserved/$5 lawn).

Other musical guests are Storm Large of Pink Martini, who on Aug. 15 will sing Kurt Weill's "The Seven Deadly Sins" with the orchestra. That evening also will include a performance by pianist Julio Elizalde of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue."

There's an American flavor to the season too, with music by Gershwin and Copland Aug. 15 and Leonard Bernstein Aug. 17.

The final concert of the season, like the first, will have no guest soloist so as to put the spotlight squarely on the orchestra. The program juxtaposes Romantic compositions by Wagner and Weber with a short piece by Leonard Bernstein and Mahler's first symphony.

"It's an odd pairing," Abrams said, "but it's focused around Mahler, who was influenced by Wagner and rediscovered by Bernstein after World War II. The first is not one of the darker symphonies. It's full of life and curiosity with an incredibly positive ending."

Abrams hopes the season has something for everybody.

"We're trying to appeal to a broader audience," he acknowledged. "But we're not changing the model drastically."

Seats for Britt's 2014 classical season are $45 (reserved), $32 (lawn), $10 (students), $15 and $5 (Symphony Pops) plus special packages including the orchestra lovers' special (seven concerts for $270). For a complete schedule, find this story at or visit Britt's website at

Bill Varble is a freelance writer living in Medford. Reach him at

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