The Britt Festival Orchestra has announced its 2019 summer season, anchoring Oregon’s Britt Music and Arts Festival with three weeks of open-air programming at its Jacksonville venue.
Under the leadership of Music Director Teddy Abrams, the season features a combination of beloved staples of the repertoire and cutting-edge, 21st-century compositions. The season-opening concert is highlighted by a new Britt co-commission from Christopher Cerrone with soloists Third Coast Percussion, and features the conducting debut of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw, who will be in residence this season as the Composer/Conductor Fellow.
Three solo concertos dispersed throughout the summer showcase violinist Augustin Hadelich, cellist Oliver Herbert, and pianist George Li.
An ecology-themed concert called “The Rising Seas,” highlighted by John Luther Adams’s work “Become Ocean,” crowns a series of pieces celebrating nature during the season, punctuated by cornerstones of the orchestral literature from Beethoven, Brahms, Debussy and Sibelius.
Finally, a new score for Sergei Eisenstein’s Soviet silent film classic “Battleship Potemkin,” drawing from some of the greatest moments in classical music, brings the season to a close.
The 2019 Britt Orchestra Season runs from July 26 to Aug. 11.
“The 2019 Britt Festival Orchestra season reflects our vision of presenting unique, creative projects and showcasing our world-class orchestra in diverse repertoire,” Abrams said in a prepared statement. “This is a particularly special summer for the festival — we are adding a new series of Tuesday performances that provide a platform for experimentation and community programming.
“This brings our total number of full-orchestra concerts to nine over the three-week run of the festival, and allows us to define the Britt Hill as a venue with constant musical activities, appealing to audiences of all backgrounds and musical interests.”
Last season, Abrams created an innovative composer/conductor fellowship, a program in which a noted American composer is brought to Oregon each summer to study conducting with him and then write a commissioned work, providing the fellows not only with exposure but also a unique hands-on opportunity to work directly with the musicians for whom they will be composing.
The first fellow was Rome Prize-winner and Pulitzer Prize finalist Christopher Cerrone; his piece “Will There Be Singing” was heard last season. Cerrone’s subsequently commissioned work will be heard in the season-opening concert this summer, featuring Chicago-based percussion ensemble Third Coast Percussion — a quartet with “technical precision, palpable groove, and outstanding sound” (Time Out New York) — as soloists.
That concert opens with the overture from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” which will be conducted by this season’s recipient of the composer/conductor fellowship, Pulitzer Prize-winner Caroline Shaw. Shaw’s work “The Mountain That Loved a Bird” will be performed this summer on a soon-to-be-announced Tuesday concert series. She, in turn, will be commissioned to compose a new piece to be performed by the orchestra in 2020.
This season’s guest artists include violinist Augustin Hadelich, 34, who has established himself as one of the most in-demand violinists in the world. Named “2018 Instrumentalist of the Year” by Musical America, he has performed with every major orchestra in the U.S., many on numerous occasions, as well as an ever-growing number of orchestras in the UK, Europe, and Asia. He uses his phenomenal technique, soulful approach, and beauty of tone in the service of an adventurous repertoire from Mozart to Ligeti and beyond. He’ll perform Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with the Britt Festival Orchestra on Aug. 9.
On July 28, fast-rising young star cellist Oliver Herbert joins the Britt Festival Orchestra for a performance of Elgar’s “Cello Concerto.” An iconic recording by Jacqueline du Pré in the 1960s restored the contemplative concerto to its rightful place as a staple of the repertoire. Herbert, who at the age of 17 won first prize and the Pablo Casals Prize at the prestigious Irving M. Klein International String Competition, as well as a top prize and special prize at the 2018 Witold Lutosawski International Cello Competition, also recently made debuts with the San Francisco Symphony, Chicago Symphony, and Warsaw Philharmonic.
Praised by the Washington Post for combining “staggering technical prowess, a sense of command and depth of expression,” Chinese-American pianist George Li is another young musician of exceptional virtuosity and refinement who joins the orchestra on Aug. 2 for Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto. Since winning the Silver Medal at the 2015 International Tchaikovsky Competition, Li has rapidly established a major international reputation and performs regularly with some of the world’s leading orchestras and conductors.
“There is something really remarkable about hearing music in this hillside venue that accommodates around 2,200 people,” Abrams said. “Immediately, listeners discover there is no barrier with the orchestra. You really feel like you are submerged in nature, with the audience looking down in a natural amphitheater. Everyone feels like they are right up close to the orchestra, and no one feels like they are at the back of a big lawn.”
Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony shares the bill with the Elgar concerto (July 28), and the Tchaikovsky concerto is accompanied by Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun,” Lili Boulanger’s “D’un matin de printemps (One Spring Morning)” and Anna Clyne’s “Abstractions” (Aug. 9).
Even Sibelius’s “Second Symphony” (Aug. 2) and Brahms’s “Third Symphony” (July 26), with their lush, expansive melodies and horn calls, might have been tailored to the outdoor setting. On Aug. 4, the outdoor motif becomes a call to action, with an ecology-themed concert called “The Rising Seas,” featuring Debussy’s “La Mer” and the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Become Ocean” by John Luther Adams.
Finally, for the season finale concert, the orchestra performs a new score for Sergei Eisenstein’s Soviet silent film classic “Battleship Potemkin,” drawing from some of the greatest moments in classical music from composers including Bach, Beethoven, Berlioz, Debussy, Janacek, Mahler, Holst, and more. Named the greatest film in history at the Brussels World’s Fair in 1958, “Battleship Potemkin” is still universally acclaimed, and has influenced generations of filmmakers since its 1925 release.
Teddy Abrams has been Music Director of the Britt Orchestra since 2014, and recently extended his contract with the ensemble through 2023. Abrams is also in the midst of his fifth season at the helm of the Louisville Orchestra.
Founded in 1963, the Britt Orchestra brings together 90 professional musicians from across the United States for three weeks of open-air performances each summer.