arts & entertainment
DSO Assistant Conductor Teddy
Abrams: "Young musicians are
in a wonderful position because
we have the opportunity and
responsibility to make music an
important part of people's lives."
Teddy Abrams, 24, is the newly hired assistant conductor
of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
areer advancements are bring-
ing Teddy Abrams back to family
As resident conductor of the MAV
Symphony Orchestra in Budapest,
Hungary, Abrams, 24, spends part of the
year in the country his grandparents left
in the early part of the 20th century.
Just named assistant conductor of the
Detroit Symphony Orchestra, he now will
be spending time in the city where his
mother, the former Marilyn Diamond, was
This week marks Abrams' second DSO
program, Instruments of the Orchestra,
presented on the mornings of March 7-8
and combining music and narrative.
"My role with the DSO involves a variety
of conducting responsibilities:' explains
Abrams, in a one-year contract and get-
ting used to his surroundings at Orchestra
Hall. "This includes all of the educational
and kids concerts both for families and
schools and a few of the neighborhood
concerts with full orchestra:'
This week's concerts "are for school
"Being an instrumentalist myself helps
groups and with a theme I really enjoy as
keep me grounded and focused on the
I break down the major components of
realities of what I'm doing as a conductor.
the language of music:'
adds Abrams. "Different
my mind work in a totally
pieces show the facets
different way. Having the
of musical art — every-
skills of being able to cre-
thing from melody to
ate music gives insight into
harmony to counter-
what other composers are
point — to get people
trying to accomplish as I
to understand these
prepare for conducting:'
The piano initiated
Abrams, who grew up in
Northern California, into
include a composition
musical interests when he
he wrote, enjoys a third
was 3 years old.
element to his career
"We had a piano in our
beyond conducting and
house, and I would impro-
composing. He performs Triple threat: In addition to
vise," Abrams recalls. "I
conducting, Teddy Abrams
on piano and clarinet.
pursued it along with other
is a performer (he's part of a
"All three inform
kid stuff, like sports. When
klezmer trio) and composer.
one another, and I love
I was 8, my elementary
the diversity:' he says.
school was starting a band,
"Conducting, asking musicians to try
and I seemed to connect with clarinet and
something, is always a physical thing.
progress very quickly.
No matter how intellectual and lofty the
"A year later, I saw an orchestral per-
request, it always has to translate into
formance for the first time. I had an over-
what musicians do to produce sound.
whelming response to the San Francisco
Symphony playing Gershwin and decided
I wanted to be a conductor. I sent a letter
to Michael Tilson Thomas and asked for
The letter clicked, and Thomas became
a mentor who introduced Abrams to the
New World Symphony in Miami Beach,
where young musicians transition from
school to professional placement.
Abrams became a conducting fellow in
Florida after attending the San Francisco
Conservatory of Music as a piano major
and going to the Curtis Institute of Music
in Philadelphia as a conducting major.
Budapest came after Miami.
"I play klezmer clarinet with the Sixth
Floor Trio, which performs music from
around the world:' explains Abrams,
whose diverse talents have given him work
with the St. Louis Symphony, Kansas City
Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic and
the Sun Valley Summer Symphony.
"The trio met at Curtis, and we're very
active. We also play bluegrass, rock, folk
and actually anything we like'
Abrams' composing history also has an
"When I was 9, I was obsessed with
writing a clarinet concerto, and it turned
out to be more than 100 pages:' he recalls.
"I was writing tons of music then and
took a step back. I wanted to develop some
actual skills as a composer — not just
writing whatever came into my ear.
"There was a period when I was 11,
12 and 13 when I was trying to make my
writing more concise and the music more
cohesive. I took a little break from com-
position and came back a few years later. I
started to find more of a voice in figuring
what I wanted to say musically"
Abrams likes composing at the piano
because it allows him to improvise. When
hedoesn't have the time to write down
whatever comes to mind, he records with
an electronic keyboard.
As concerts take him to increasing
numbers of distant halls, Abrams, who is
single, enjoys exploring the cities where he
"I have been to the Jewish synagogue in
Budapest, the second biggest synagogue in
the world:' he says. "It's incredible to think
that my family may have gone there at one
Although Abrams will be spending a
large part of his time in Michigan for the
upcoming DSO season, he will be able
to accept other commitments. His trio is
working on a film about folk music and
collaborating on a project that involves
"Our world of music is changing, and
the way people interact with orchestras
is changing;' he says. "Young musicians
are in a wonderful position because we
have the opportunity and responsibility to
make music an important part of people's
lives and national and international cul-
March 8 • 2012