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Marketing around its maestro

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Britt Orchestra conductor Teddy Abrams exudes youth, energy and passion. And his name and visage are at the center of efforts by Britt to rebrand the summertime classical season as an independent entity, not as an extension or afterthought of the Britt Festival.

2019 will be Abrams’ fifth Britt season, and he recently signed a five-year continuation contract. The extension provides an opportunity to capitalize on Abrams’ celebrity, and he has become a prominent part of Britt’s marketing.

The BFO’s new logo incorporates Abrams and the musical symbol for “forte,” a word the director uses frequently during rehearsals.

Abrams’ unruly hair, lithe body and expressive face bring excitement and anticipation to his teaching, rehearsals and performances. As music director, Abrams has a major influence on the musical selections chosen for the orchestra’s season.

“Abrams brings a very exploratory approach to orchestral music,” says Britt Marketing Manager Mike Gantenbein. “We like to bring in new music, newer works with a focus on American composers. Every year we’ve had a new piece composed, either commissioned or co-commissioned.”

Unlike place-based orchestras, most of the musicians who play with the summer classical season are drawn from orchestras around the country. Rehearsals, many of which are open to the public at no charge, and performances are tightly scheduled within a three-week period.

BFO’s principal trumpet player, Conrad Jones, who also performs with the Indianapolis Symphony, says Britt is the highlight of his year.

“(Abrams) is an amazing mix of passion and enthusiasm and has a complete mastery of any score we’re performing,” Jones says. “He juices everybody up during rehearsal to full throttle, mentally and emotionally. You have this super unique mix of someone who gets fun and joy out of music. Rehearsals are as fun as the concerts.”

Abrams was briefly in Ashland last week to meet with the Britt board and teach classes at area high schools. He says he is firmly committed to raising the next generation of musicians.

“You guys have to be the best,” Abrams calls out to the Ashland High School class. “You are the future.”

Abrams conducts the class rehearsal with oddball, off-the-wall comments, occasional profanity and frequent pop-culture references. Abrams’ vitality is barely contained as he moves between piano and podium.

Abrams vocalizes the notes and waves that magic wand, insistent that the students focus, that they breathe deeply before an extended note.

The students laugh and listen, and their performance improves as they follow Abrams, a man who is part coach, part comic and entirely maestro.

The Britt Festival began its summer classical season in 1963 under the baton of John Trudeau, followed by James DePreist and Peter Bay. Abrams became Britt’s fourth classical conductor in 2014. That same year, he was named music director for the Louisville, Kentucky, orchestra, a position he continues to hold. Abrams’ name brands the Louisville Orchestra logo similarly to the new BFO logo.

The 2019 Britt Festival Orchestra season is scheduled from July 22 to Aug. 11, and the season’s lineup will be announced Jan. 24. Applications for the 2019 fellowship program, open to undergraduate and conservancy music students, will be available in December.

For more information about the Britt Festival Orchestra, see BrittFest.org or call the box office at 541-773-6077.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at mbattistellaor@gmail.com.

photo By Maureen Flanagan Battistella Julia Ferguson plays French horn at Ashland High School.
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