Teddy Abrams has been named music director and conductor of Britt's Classical Festival. Abrams, 26, is the assistant music director of the Detroit Symphony and assistant conductor of the Sun Valley Summer Symphony. He will take over the artistic leadership of the Northwest's oldest outdoor music festival for the 2014 season.
"We believe that Teddy will bring his extraordinary ability to lead powerfully moving and insightful performances to the next chapter in the Britt Orchestra's history," Britt CEO Donna Briggs said in a statement.
Abrams was chosen from among 130 candidates from the United States and Europe. As one of three finalists for the job, he led the orchestra in August in Jacksonville in two concerts featuring music of his choosing, including compositions by Glinka, Shostakovitch, Gershwin, Bartok, Stravinsky and the American composer John Adams.
Abrams becomes just the fourth artistic head of Britt, after founder John Trudeau, James DePreist and Peter Bay, who left after the 2012 season.
He says Britt is one of the nation's premier classical music festivals.
"It blew me away," he said in a phone interview. "The orchestra sounds fantastic. They are all-star players, an attitude that is a spirit of hard work and dedication. My thinking is to grow that."
Briggs said that in addition to leading the orchestra, Abrams will be responsible for building an artistic vision, selecting guest artists, choosing repertoire and working with festival executives as a partner for educational, outreach and development programs.
Abrams grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and was drawn to music the first time he heard the San Francisco Symphony perform. He studied with famed conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and with David Zinman at the Aspen Music Festival, where he was the youngest conducting student ever accepted.
He is a former resident conductor of the Budapest Symphony Orchestra (MAV) in Hungary. In addition to his conducting career, he is an accomplished pianist, clarinetist and composer and co-founded the Sixth Floor Trio, a chamber group that tours widely.
He said he looks forward to playing chamber music with members of the Britt Orchestra and possibly even bringing the Sixth Floor Trio to Southern Oregon.He doesn't seem intimidated that some members of the Britt Orchestra, who come to Southern Oregon each August from orchestras around the nation, have been playing in the orchestra almost as long as he's been alive.
"My job is not about dictatorial leadership," he said. "My job is to bring people together to do their best. It doesn't matter where you come from or how old you are. We focus on the music."
He was impressed with the Britt audience and the local classical community.
"They care deeply," he said. "They're excited to know what's going on musically. Connecting is not going to be difficult."
He said he expects to give audiences a mix of old favorites and music by more contemporary composers.
"You have to respect that people have different tastes," he said. "You have to hit all the important points people are looking for, and things they might not be looking for yet. You have to be sure you're balancing different kinds of music.
"If people are hearing something for the first time, you have to find a way of presenting it (involving) pre-concert talks, previews and other things."
In August, Abrams concluded his second Britt concert with Shostakovitch's Symphony No. 5, which got the composer back in the good graces of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. There is a theory that a brisk treatment of the final movement would be one that Stalin favored, but a slower performance would undercut the Stalinist interpretation and signal the music was to be taken ironically. Abrams' interpretation was down the middle.
"I try to respect the audience's ability to understand what's going on," Abrams said. "If I force an interpretation on people it's almost as if I'm saying the audience is incapable of understanding this. The whole idea was to give audiences the ability to choose."
Abrams is bullish on the next 25 years of classical music, with an important reservation.
"There is no predetermined future," he says. "Only the future we choose to make. I'm tremendously optimistic, but I realize if I want that I have to help make it that way."
Abrams said he will be in the Rogue Valley several times before next summer. Britt's 2014 classical season will be announced Jan. 21.
Bill Varble is a freelance writer living in Medford. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.