Louisville Orchestra: Teddy Abrams and The Song of the River

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

make you

Is this need, or want

Or Love?”

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.

AFLOAT On The Ohio
Morrin Review of Ray Kleinhelter's Riverscapes


Bryan Warren wrote about Martin Rollins’s 2017 “Town and Country Exhibition” at the BDeemer Gallery that “for those of us who make the city of Louisville and fields of Kentucky our home, Rollins’ images are places we know.  The artist uses this familiarity to explore them, revealing a passionate interest in what we know and how we feel socially and historically, while maintaining a strong sense of the present.  They are more than frozen moments. Instead, they are like fleeting memories playing on a loop.” Ray Kleinhelter’s subject matter is the Ohio River, rather than urban and suburban settings, but, like Rollins, Kleinhelter has an preternatural ability to make the familiar unfamiliar and the local transcendent.  Warren also extolled “the tension between image and process” in Rollins’s work, and Kleinhelter as well re-orders the immediacy of topographical notation with a rigorous painterly logic and a firm notion of color-space. Both artists provide the special pleasure of re-envisioning for their viewers the local and familiar.

Ray Kleinhelter has two shows on view through May 4th, at the Kleinhelter Gallery at 8th and Culbertson in New Albany, and at Galerie Hertz at 1253 Preston in Louisville.

Kleinhelter’s recent evolution has been from a bejazzed jigsaw depiction of landscape with thickly-brushed saturated colors to a very open, bright palette of   startling hue gradations depicting clouds, sky, hillsides, banks and water. The older work had a Stuart Davis-like density and dynamism. Kleinhelter’s 2017 show at Sotheby’s Lenihan Real Estate, (up at the same time as Rollins’s), depicted riverscapes with dissonant color chords and strong light-dark contrasts, for example in “Riverbank #20.” (oil on canvas, 48”x36”). Spare, concise pen and pencil drawings in that exhibition suggested a new direction.

In his current work, Ray Kleinhelter still employs a geometricizing and generalizing translation of visual data into a language of interlocking trapezoids and rectangles, but at a very different tempo.  Sometimes these geometries overlap, as in “Liveaboard,” (oil on canvas, 30”x40”) creating a measured illusion of recession into the distance.  A compression of forms on the left contrasts with the expansive openness on the right. Colliding passages of yellow, orange, beige and mauve occupy the lower portion of this classically paced work and suggest not only the play of light and shade, and the reflection of clouds on the water, but also, the flow of the river’s current, and sun and sky as protagonists of this restrained, languid drama.

  The watercolor study for “Mile 589” (watercolor, 10”x14”) is absorbed in describing particularities of place: the delicate inflections of the profiles of ridgelines, the drama of the sky and very intense observation of a range of hues in the landscape. The oil version is bolder and more emphatic, more open and more spacious.   (“Mile 589,” oil on canvas, 30”x40”).  Although a depiction of nature, Kleinhelter’s vocabulary is very much of the moment: the sweep of the view is punctuated with right-angle geometries that evoke a machine part generated by a 3-D printer.  Kleinhelter’s secondary and tertiary hues create a progression leading downriver in open water towards discoveries that lie beyond the next river bend

Ray Kleinhelter converted a cabin cruiser into a floating studio.  He lives riverside and so his subject has a continual presence in his peripheral vision.  There is ample art historical precedent for working from a boat: J.M.W. Turner often did views from an offshore perspective, the better to immerse the viewer in Romantic Era subject matter of storms or unusual light effects.  The pre-Impressionist Charles Francois Daubigny converted a ferry to a floating studio from which he made etchings and paintings.  Manet painted Monet and his wife in Monet’s floating studio, and Winslow Homer’s obsession with the power, cruelty and inconstancy of the Atlantic is one of the epic sustained narratives in American art.

What all of these artists’ practices have in common is an undermining of traditional perspective.  The late Don Nice, who focused on the Hudson River in his art, noted, “The old or traditional approach of the Hudson River School painter was to break down the landscape in terms of foreground, middle ground and background.  Painting from a boat eliminates the foreground, which minimizes the notion of Renaissance space.” The watery entry point at the lower edge of Kleinhelter’s compositions is both a field for abstract improvisation and a more accurate plein-airism: less explicit representation leads to a firmer and more complex concept of space, atmosphere and light.  And what extraordinary light it is! Crystalline, lucid, a perfect match for a sense of freedom adrift. Planes of color glide together in different directions, sometimes off-kilter, being and un-being, forming and un-forming, like the motion of daylight itself. W. H. Auden, in his poem “A River Profile,” refers to “water, the selfless mother of all especials.” Kleinhelter’s geometric generalizing yields, ultimately, an uncanny specificity.

Kleinhelter’s new manner evolved from his works on paper, especially his watercolors aboard his floating studio.  His painting practice was to cover every square inch of canvas, whereas his watercolor practice was exactly the opposite: to leave as much white space as possible. The delicacy of tints in the new oils and their unfinicky, elongated dashes and blocks preserves much of the spontaneity of the works on paper. 

Sense of place is a discredited notion in contemporary criticism. Late-stage capitalism seems to be much more about a cacophony of mass-market, standardized erasable nowheres than any particular place.  But Kleinhelter gives his works exact locations: “Mile 588;”  “Mile 581;” “Chute 18 Mile Island;” “12 Mile Island;” “Toward Westport.” (The mile titles are navigational references to locations on the 981-mile stretch of the Ohio River).  Like the work of Martin Rollins, one of its pleasures is its re-definition of the local - but also its carefully crafted tension between artistic methods and ends, abstraction and representation, and the inevitable, deeply freighted, universal conversation about the state of our natural resources and their future.

“Ray Kleinhelter Paintings” is on view at the Kleinhelter Gallery, 701 East 8th Street, New Albany, Indiana, through May 4th.  “Ray Kleinhelter: Views from the River” is up until May 5th at Galerie Hertz, 1253 Preston Street, Louisville. The Kleinhelter exhibitions are participants in “Afloat: An Ohio River Way of Life.”

Morrin’s review also appears in the latest issue of UnderMain - http://www.under-main.com/

AFLOAT On The Ohio
Voyageur Canoes in Louisville, KY Community Boat House River City Paddlesports

Voyageurs traveled the length and breadth of Canada and Northern United States on a network of lakes and rivers, the great highways of trade and discovery. These early travelers were the backbone of the developing economy: their canoes were the pioneer tractor trailer trucks. They used their voyageur canoes to transport trade goods into the wilderness returning each year with a bounty of furs and stories of this great land unfolding before them.

 In 1670,  René-Robert Cavelier de La Salle   made his way from the Great Lakes into the Ohio River Basin and according to his records made it down the Falls of the Ohio, and the future site of Louisville    The Voyageur Canoes explored much of the mid-west. The early trading routes and voyageur activities are actively interpreted by the Feast of the Hunters’ Moon Festival in Indiana on the Wabash River.   The Canoes were actively used by both sides in the French and Indian Wars and the War of 1812.    

Currently four of the Voyageur Canoes are operated by River City Paddlesports.  The first two Voyageur Canoes were purchased by the Jefferson County Public Schools System in 2002 with a grant provided by the late David Armstrong, then Mayor of Louisville.   Two additional voyageur canoe where purchased by Dare to Care to support the annual “World Voyageur Championships” on the last Saturday of July.    The boats are used in an urban Watershed program, including environmental education along the Ohio River and its tributaries.   The boats based out of the community boat house are also active with the Mayor’s Hike Bike and Paddle, a bi- annual celebration that brings together almost 10,000 Louisvillians.     

Come out and explore Beargrass Creek and the Ohio River with us! It is an adventure!

AFLOAT On The Ohio
Artebella on the Radio - March 14, 2019

This morning, Peter Morrin and I had the opportunity to talk with Keith Waits, host of the Louisville Visual Arts “Artebella on the Radio” on WXOX -lp, 97.1 FM, streaming at ARTxFM.com, about “AFLOAT": an Ohio River Way of Life” as well recognize Ann Stewart Anderson’s immense contribution to the Louisville visual art scene.

To listen to the program, visit https://www.louisvillevisualart.org/blog?category=PUBLIC%20Radio

JP Begley, March 14, 2019

AFLOAT On The Ohio
Exhibition Labels

My favorite museum label of all is at the start of the historical text at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York:

“In the beginning, shortly after God created heaven and earth, man and woman, there were stones to throw and sticks to swing.”

A second favorite was at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in the 1990s, in the Department of Classical Art, but long since taken down:  it accompanied a 5th Century BCE Greek kylix krater, depicting two ithyphallic satyrs greeting a voluptuous maenad:

“A maenad is greeted by two satyrs, who are obviously excited to see her.”

What a pity that there is not more often humor in museum labels!  The Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles is an outlier in doing a good job in this regard.  Some contemporary artists, like Josiah Mcelheny, have effectively borrowed the authority of museum labels to tease out profound issues of the interaction of modernist templates and their presumed dependence on platonic ideals.  

My first art museum mentor, Agnes Mongan, disliked all explanatory labels because she believed that they distracted from a deeper contemplation of the work of art, and viewers’ openness to their own discoveries and personal associations.  But current museum opinion is strongly in favor of labels, especially labels that contextualize a work of art and engage the viewer, often with questions that serve as pathways into a work. The core text on the subject is by Beverly Serrell, Museum Labels, An Interpretive Approach (Second Edition, 2015). Serrell covers everything from “making words and images work together” to “production and fabrication.”   Serrell’s  Ten Commandments” of labels are common sense guidelines that are very frequently ignored:

  1. Labels should begin with concrete, visual references to the objects they interpret to bring them to life.

  2. Labels should relate to the big idea of the exhibit, not ramble without focus or objectives, or contain sub-sub-subtopics.

  3. Labels should emphasize interpretation (offering provocation) over instruction (presenting information).

  4. Labels should know their audience and address visitors’ prior knowledge, interests and/or misconceptions.

  5. Labels that ask questions should be visitors’ questions.

  6. Label design should reflect the label’s content or context and be part of a recognizable system of label types.

  7. Labels should be written with a vocabulary that is within reach of the majority of visitors.

  8. Labels should be short and concise, more like a tweet than a tome.

Angie Reed Garner   shantyboat #7   60 x 48” oil

Angie Reed Garner

shantyboat #7

60 x 48” oil

I like very much Angie Reed Garner’s labels for her exhibition, “Shantyboating,” at the garnernarrative contemporary fine art, until March 29th.  Garner states that her work is “inspired by Harlan Hubbard’s insistence on a life of dignity and self-determination” and that her work “reflects on forces in opposition thereto.”  The forcible destruction of homeless camps in the Butchertown neighborhood in the fall of 2018 profoundly affected Garner.  She devised a set of symbols – shantyboats, imported but now invasive species of fish, plants, and mules – to represent the negotiation of forces, good and evil, as seen in the historic setting of the Ohio River, on the riverbank, “a liminal site of liberation, revelation, pollution, and opposition.”   It is germane that “The Point,” the nearest shoreline to Butchertown, was the traditional site of the shantyboats and their dwellers, often living a marginal existence, unable to afford more traditional housing or surviving on fishing, basket making, and harvesting mussel shells for pearls or button manufacture.

“Shantyboat #7” depicts a giant carp leaping over a shantyboat, as it dives into a swirling cosmic whirlpool, socks drying on one end of the shantyboat juxtaposed with a luminous cosmic background of  a ringed sun and white letters afloat above the misted green waters. The text that accompanies the oil painting states:

“We live out consequences intended or not.  I think about Asian carp, brought here for reasons in the 70s and thriving but now mostly hated. Then I think, we should support every possible effort to control and abate Ohio River pollution. We might need that water clean and those fish healthy, someday.”

By bringing us into her own ruminations, Garner in effect prompts the viewer to think about a host of issues:  the regional history of environmental missteps, the value of all forms of life, the distortions caused by a good-and-evil approach to the natural world, what the artist believes the painting is about, and how it pertains to a universalist perspective on how our fate and the carp’s fate are united:

“We might need that water clean and those fish healthy, someday.”

AFLOAT On The Ohio
Ohio River courses through 2019 art, history shows

A great write up on Insider Louisville by Mark R. Long about Afloat!

Henry Dutchin’s shantyboat, shot by Rogers Clark Ballard Thruston in 1922 | Courtesy of the Filson Historical Society

Henry Dutchin’s shantyboat, shot by Rogers Clark Ballard Thruston in 1922 | Courtesy of the Filson Historical Society

…“What we’re really able to draw out here is life on the river, with a focus on shantyboats, but also contextualizing them with the people who are working there, or having fun on the river, or patrolling the river,” said Jennie Cole, the Filson’s manager of collections access.”

Read the whole article HERE

AFLOAT On The Ohio