Teddy Abrams ready to let Britt orchestra shine

Teddy Abrams won't take the baton as the Britt Festivals' classical conductor and music director until August, but he's already hammered out the season, its programs and its guest artists — and he promises some surprises.

"I'm very excited about it," he said in a phone interview from the San Francisco Airport, where his flight was delayed by the fog blanketing the Medford airport Monday. "We're going to put the orchestra front and center and give it a chance to shine."

Abrams is scheduled to announce the artists and the music slated for the upcoming season today in a program for Britt patrons in Jacksonville.

Abrams was chosen from among 130 candidates from the United States and Europe who competed last summer to become the fourth artistic leader in the half-century-old festival's history. Britt's classical season is held each year in August at the Britt Pavilion in Jacksonville, drawing professional musicians from around the nation.

Abrams was the resident conductor of the Budapest Symphony Orchestra (MAV) in Hungary and assistant conductor of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra when he got the top job at Britt last summer at age 26. Since then, he's also been named music director of the Louisville Orchestra in Louisville, Ky., succeeding Jorge Mester.

"It's a big transition year," he said.

He said he tries not to think in terms of following the popular Peter Bay, whose Britt tenure lasted 20 years, but to focus on his own plans.

"If I keep my eye on the task ahead, the music making and leading in a musical direction, I don't need to worry about that," he said. "If you start worrying about comparisons or elements beyond your control it can detract from what you're trying to accomplish."

Abrams said the first thing he'd like to achieve is to raise Britt's national and international profile.

"It deserves that," he said. "People who know about it are aware of the great quality. I want to make sure more people know."

Britt is the Northwest's oldest outdoor summer music festival. Unlike the nearby Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which draws most of its audience from outside the area, Britt draws most of its concert-goers from Southern Oregon.

For a musician still in his 20s, Abrams has been around. A pianist and clarinetist in addition to being a conductor, he studied with famed conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and was the youngest student ever accepted at the prestigious Aspen Music Festival. From 2008 to 2011 he was a conducting fellow of the New World Symphony in Miami Beach, Fla., and he's performed with the San Francisco Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Indianapolis Symphony and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music Orchestra.

"One of the things I love is to balance some of the standard repertoire with things a little more unusual," he said, " but just as high quality."

As a musical ambassador, he said, he likes to show audiences some of the connections between different types of music.

"I love the energy of jazz and rock. I hope my music reflects that."

He said there's a good chance he'll play piano and/or clarinet in chamber music programs this summer, if not with the full orchestra. He also performs with the Sixth Floor Trio (sixthfloortrio.com), a chamber performance and recording group. But he said the individual members' schedules probably won't permit any Britt performances in 2014.

"Maybe by next season," he said.

Abrams said he plans to be accessible as Britt's artistic leader.

"I want people to come and ask me why we programmed what we did," he said. "The more interested they are, the more rewarding I think they'll find it."

And those surprises?

"We can't quite say," he said. "The next few months we'll be figuring out just what that looks like."

Bill Varble is a freelance writer living in Medford. Reach him at varble.bill@gmail.com.

Share This Story