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  • Teddy Abrams believes in matching the music with the audience

    Abrams, 26, is a finalist for the Britt musical director job
  • From Teddy Abrams' resume, it's hard to believe he's just 26. One of the finalists for the job of music director of the Britt Classical Festival, Abrams is resident conductor of the Budapest Symphony Orchestra (MAV) in Hungary and assistant conductor of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. When he isn't conducting, he performs on ...
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  • From Teddy Abrams' resume, it's hard to believe he's just 26. One of the finalists for the job of music director of the Britt Classical Festival, Abrams is resident conductor of the Budapest Symphony Orchestra (MAV) in Hungary and assistant conductor of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. When he isn't conducting, he performs on clarinet and piano with his Sixth Floor Trio. One of three finalists for the artistic leadership of the summer festival, Abrams is spending the week in residence in Southern Oregon with Britt and will lead the Britt Orchestra in Jacksonville Friday and Saturday nights.
    He thinks a lot about matching music with its audience.
    "One of the most important things you can do as a conductor is provide musical leadership," he says. "You have to think of ways of connecting with the community. I won't do in Britt what I do in Detroit. You have to know your area."
    He says there are differences between programming a nearly yearlong season and a three-week summer festival.
    "You're thinking of it like a menu, like a chef," he says. "During a year you can program a season's journey, very comprehensive.
    "But I think you can present almost anything as long as you balance it with the audience's aesthetic. It's all about finding the right balance. If you do that, you can go any direction, but it has to make sense and allow people to experience new things."
    The program Abrams chose for Friday night is Gershwin's Concerto in F, American minimalist composer John Adams' "Lollapalooza" and Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra.
    "It's great masterpieces with Russian and American themes," he says of his debut Britt concert. "It's also a way of celebrating work I've done in Hungary."
    His Saturday program is Glinka's "Ruslan and Ludmila Overture," Stravinsky's Violin Concerto and Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5. Guests are the young violinist Augustin Hadelich Friday and the young Chinese pianist Yuja Wang Saturday.
    Abrams knew he wanted a life in music when he was in second grade and heard a live band. He started clarinet lessons and a year later saw a free, outdoor concert of the San Francisco Symphony, and the effect it had on him was beyond logic.
    "I had an emotional reaction," he says. "There are many reasons people want to conduct. It was important to me to bring people together in the orchestra, then bring that together with your audience."
    He later 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 studied piano with Paul Hersh at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and clarinet with the San Francisco Symphony's David Breeden.
    From 2008 to 2011, Abrams held the position of conducting fellow of the New World Symphony in Miami Beach, Fla., conducting subscription concerts, children's concerts and chamber orchestra events. Recent and coming engagements include performances with the San Francisco Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Indianapolis Symphony and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music Orchestra.
    As a pianist and clarinetist, he has soloed with and performed chamber music with the St. Petersburg String Quartet, Menahem Pressler and Gilbert Kalish, in addition to appearances at the Olympic Music Festival.
    Abrams says he co-founded the Sixth Floor Trio to explore engaging ways of communicating with diverse audiences. The trio has performed in New York and Philadelphia, in addition to founding and directing GardenMusic, the music festival of the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens in Miami. The trio is developing a film series about folk music from around the world.
    Abrams says education is a key mission for classical music. In Detroit, in addition to conducting classical programs for the orchestra's New Neighborhood series, he leads educational programs and pops performances. His 2009 Education Concerts with the New World Symphony, which featured a world premiere of an orchestral works he composed, were webcast to hundreds of schools in Florida.
    "It has to be at the core of what you do," he says of music education. "It's equal priority with performances. It's what's going to sustain us."
    He says Britt's audience is a tight-knit community.
    "That's a source of strength," he says. "If the orchestra is doing what it's supposed to do, it's serving the community. That means understanding their needs, not just what they want.
    "The more involved they are the easier it is to be close to them. If you have a real connection, you're more invested. There's something very human about watching somebody make music."
    He says there is no magic pill to fix the financial and demographic challenges facing classical music organizations.
    "What we can do is do our musical work at the highest level and find new ways of communicating with people," he says. "As a director, your job is to be a musical leader for the orchestra and the community. Get to know the people, stay in touch with today's styles.
    "We have a responsibility to find great composers who are writing music people care about. Give people experiences they can't have when Britt isn't going on. Then you have a foundation to build on."
    Nobody said it was easy.
    "It's a life mission."
    Bill Varble is a freelance writer living in Medford. Reach him at varble.bill@gmail.com.
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