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'We belong to Louisville': Conductor Teddy Abrams says orchestras should try harder to represent their community

When Teddy Abrams was named conductor of the Louisville Orchestra in 2014, he was the youngest to lead a major orchestra in the nation.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — When Teddy Abrams was named conductor of the Louisville Orchestra in 2014, he was the youngest to lead a major orchestra in the United States. 

While that is a ground-breaking accomplishment, it didn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows him.

“I’ve wanted to be a conductor since I was nine years old,” Abrams said. 

Abrams grew up in California. He said his parents took him to see his firt orchestra concert when he was nine years old.

“It was a free outdoor concert played by the San Francisco symphony, and I fell in love with it from the first moment and said 'I want to be a conductor, it’s what I want to do.' I’ve been chasing that my whole life and it’s incredible that i get to do the thing that I want to do as a little kid. It was my dream.”

Since Abrams arrived in 2014, he says he's been intentional about making the orchestra more accessible to everyone.

“The orchestra sadly has developed a stereotype and a reputation around the world not just here, obviously orchestras as a construct, this reputation of only being for certain people. People who can afford it, people who look a certain way, people who grew up with that kind of music,” he said. 

Abrams said he believes orchestras should be more representative of the people who live in the cities they reside in.

"We are the Louisville orchestra. We belong to Louisville. That means a whole lot of people with a lot of different perspectives on life, a whole lot of different backgrounds, and a whole lot of different stories," he said.

"Our music belongs to them, and if we’re not serving them and we’re not creating a place that they feel that they actually own, we are failing the city," Abrams said. "Everything I’ve tried to do revolves around that belief."

Abrams' attention to the importance of access isn’t the result of a newly discovered awareness. It’s part of what makes him operate. And, at a time when public discourse is often polarizing, Abrams says, it’s the orchestra that offers a roadmap to understanding. 

Louisville Orchestra is made up of 80 people who have different backgrounds and different ideas somehow working together nonverbally.

That is one of the great examples of human collaboration affecting the community in a positive way.

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