The Song of the River
Saturday, May 11, 2019 8:00 PM to 11:00 PM
On May 11th at 8Pm, at Whitney Hall in the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, the conductor of the Louisville Orchestra, Teddy Abrams, will present the world premiere of his song cycle, “The Song of the River.” It will be paired with Beethoven’s “Symphony No.9.”
Beethoven’s 9th charts the passage from anguish to joy and from doubt to hope and is plea for the unity of all mankind. Abrams’ s composition is no less broad in its scope. Abrams is very eclectic in his musical tastes, and takes his inspiration from a wide variety of composers and artistic modes. In concept, “The Song of the River” pays homage to Wagner’s “Ring” cycle. Wagner’s epic musical drama charts the heroic struggles and ultimate death of the Norse gods: the Rhine ring holds the power of life and death. Abrams imagines the Ohio River cataclysmically flooding and covering the whole earth – not as a disaster but as a release. The river rises, falls, cleanses and overflows. Abrams has described the composition as “a celebration of the human species –the totality of our story – quasi-biblical and quasi-Dr. Seuss-not a requiem, but a celebration of humanity.”
Abrams stated “I imagined a final, futuristic day when our beautiful Ohio River has risen to such an extent that the totality of human creation and expression is reflected in its waters, and just before the last day ends the River itself offers a song that honors the legacy of humanity.”
The 35 minute composition for soprano and full orchestra consists of an introduction, 12 cantos and an epilogue. Abrams wrote the composition in December. The words came first. The genesis of the piece came in response to the anxiety and overload generated by the massive onslaught of the information age: “in an age of incessant digital iconography and truncated discourse, I found myself (and most of my generation) in an exhausted anxious loop from bearing the heaviness of our daily dose of information, much of it negative and a great deal of it inconsequential. The creation of my work was both a cathartic self-therapy and an exploration, zoomed out as far as possible, of the confusion and awe that I continue to feel in equal measure at the state of our species.”
“The Song of the River,” then is a retrospective look at human achievement, musically ranging across the capabilities of a full symphony orchestra, but including cantos that adopt the styles of folk music and rock n’ roll, oboe, cello and celeste solos, and Wagner-like E-flat sonorities. Each canto treats its grand theme with a questioning of eternal verities. The singer adopts a variety of roles.
In some of the settings, she is a witness to the end time, in others a commentator, celebrator, or questioner. In Canto III, entitled “Consumption,” she begins as a violent demonic force and becomes gentle and romantic:
“I will consume you
I will consume the air around you
I will consume the very body that holds you
I will consume the unknowable forces that
Is this need, or want
Other Cantos celebrate pleasure, power, the unity of mankind as seen from airplanes, the affirmation that comes from stargazing, nostalgia, building, balance, and the Golden Age. “The Song of the River” is heroic in its scope and daring. Kentucky is fortunate to have a conductor/composer willing to undertake such a bold endeavor.