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Teddy Abrams and Britt Orchestra juxtapose newer works with the classics

The 2018 Britt Orchestra Season, led by music director Teddy Abrams, draws inspiration from the Bernstein Centennial this year — a worldwide celebration of the 100th birthday of composer Leonard Bernstein — and juxtaposes music written by the 20th-century master with the works he championed, such as Mahler’s Sixth Symphony and the suite from Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring.

Additional highlights of the open-air, classical concert season are a new commission from New York City composer Gabriel Kahane, one that addresses the crises of housing insecurity and homelessness, along with compositions by Mason Bates, Christopher Cerron and Edgar Meyer.

These newer works will rub shoulders with cornerstones of orchestral literature by Beethoven, Brahms, Strauss, Shostakovich, and a family-friendly celebration of music from movies.

Britt Orchestra’s 56th season kicks off Wednesday, July 25, and runs through Aug. 11, at the Britt Pavilion, 350 S. First St., Jacksonville.

Tickets for the opening night performance are $20 for reserved seating, or $10 for lawn seating.

Tickets for all other performances are $45 for premium reserved seating, $25 for general reserved seating, $20 for lawn seating, $10 for children and students, and can be purchased at brittfest.org, at the box office, 216 W. Main St., Medford, or by calling 800-882-7488.

All concerts are at 7:30 p.m. Thirty-minute Q-and-A sessions with guest artists or orchestra musicians will be offered at 6:30 p.m. before each show. Gates open at 6 p.m.

Abrams stepped to Britt Orchestra’s podium in 2014 and recently extended his contract with the ensemble for another six seasons, according to a press release. He led the orchestra two years ago in the world premiere of Michael Gordon’s Natural History. The once-in-a-lifetime event was recorded by Cantaloupe Music and chronicled in the Emmy-nominated documentary “Symphony for Nature: The Britt Orchestra at Crater Lake,” seen on PBS stations nationwide.

Abrams recently made his debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and concluded a fourth season at the helm of the Louisville Orchestra. It is the 31-year-old music director’s creative vision that sets Britt’s programming apart.

“This is one of the only festivals where concerts that give audiences the entire package are engineered,” Abrams says. “This is not just a beautiful venue in a gorgeous natural setting in a great town. We offer spiritually rich, well-thought-out programs designed to engage audiences.”

The opening night show, “Pops: Classic in the Movies,” will be a festive night of music from television and film by composers ranging from Mozart, Rossini and Wagner to five-time Academy Award-winner John Williams.

Kahane’s “emergency shelter intake form” premiers Friday, July 27. Co-commissioned by Britt and the Oregon Symphony, its composer says the banality of going through a crushing bureaucracy as well as experiencing extreme poverty is what led to “intake form” as a jumping-off point for its libretto, in a press release. Much of the libretto is in the form of a questionnaire. The piece places audience members as the imagined person trying to gain entry into a shelter.

Britt’s performances include collaborations with vocal and instrumental soloists from around the globe.

Soprano Measha Brueggergosman will join the orchestra for “emergency shelter intake form,” along with vocalists Kristen Toedtman and Holcombe Waller. Also look for Bernstein’s Divertimento for Orchestra as part of the program.

An open-forum discussion about Kahane’s piece and housing insecurity in Southern Oregon will be available after the show in Britt’s Performance Garden. Representatives from Rogue Retreat and the Maslow Project will be on hand.

On Saturday, July 28, Abrams leads a performance of Bernstein’s First Symphony, “Jeremiah,” with mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, along with Brahms’ Fourth Symphony and Mason Bates’ Passage.

Pianist Jonathan Biss joins the orchestra to perform Beethoven’s First Concerto on Friday, Aug. 3. Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, Christopher Cerrone’s Will There Be Singing, and Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony also will be showcased.

Double bassist Edgar Meyer is unable to perform the Aug. 4 concert as scheduled. The program is changed to include Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 in E minor. Also look for Copland’s Appalachian Spring.

British violinist Anthony Marwood undertakes Bernstein’s Serenade (After Plato’s “Symposium”) alongside the overture to his operetta Candide on Friday, Aug. 10. Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra will close this concert.

Mahler’s Sixth Symphony concludes the Britt Orchestra’s season on Saturday, Aug. 11.

“Mahler’s symphony continues to resonate with audiences today because it is not afraid to face the harsh and sometimes unknown realities of our existence,” Abrams says. “Yet it also explores hope, the indomitable will of our species and so much more.”

Founded in 1963, the Britt Orchestra brings together 90 professional musicians from across the U.S. for three weeks of open-air performances each summer.

Born out of a small chamber orchestra on a makeshift stage, the event has grown to a multi-disciplinary concert series with education and engagement programs. See brittfest.org/brittorchestra.

New York City composer Gabriel Kahane's "emergency shelter intake form" is the centerpiece of the 2018 Britt Orchestra Season. Photo by Josh Goleman