Founded in 1937 through the efforts of Dann C. Byck, Sr., and Mary Helen Byck, and other leaders of the business community, the Louisville Orchestra has long been recognized as the cornerstone of the Louisville performing arts community. Robert Whitney was invited to conduct the newly established orchestra, known as the Louisville Philharmonic, and arrived from Chicago that same year.

Only ten years after its formation, Maestro Whitney and Charles Farnsley, Mayor of Louisville (1948-1953), conceived an adventurous plan to make the commissioning, performance, and recording of new works for orchestra a centerpiece of the Orchestra’s global mission. Internationally recognized composers where approached to create new works to be premiered by the Louisville Orchestra and an exciting series of new works was launched. The classical music world took notice. Wide critical acclaim and a resulting invitation to perform at Carnegie Hall followed on the premiere of a new commission from American composer William Schuman, and the joint commission for choreography. His dance concerto, Judith, was premiered by international dance superstar and choreographer Martha Graham on January 4, 1950. As a result of the success of the commissioning project, the Louisville Orchestra became the first orchestra to create its own record label – First Edition Records;  and with support from the Rockefeller Foundation, Louisville annually commissioned and recorded up to 52 new compositions from established and student composers worldwide, ultimately creating nearly 150 vinyl recordings (LPs) of more than 450 works by living 20th Century composers that were released worldwide by subscription in more than 48 countries. It was during this time (1949) that the Philharmonic Society officially changed its name to the Louisville Orchestra.

A full-length feature documentary film titled, Music Makes A City, was released in 2010 documenting this extraordinary achievement.  Details about the film can be found at www.MusicMakesACity.com.

The attention garnered by the early releases brought international attention to the Louisville Orchestra and other acclaimed performances followed: “A Festival of the Arts” at the White House, the Inter-American Music Festival at the Kennedy Center, “Great Orchestras of the World” at Carnegie Hall in 2001, and a tour to Mexico City. In 1981, the ensemble officially augmented to full-time status and in 2001, the Louisville Orchestra received the Leonard Bernstein Award for Excellence in Educational Programming. Reflective of the Orchestra’s commitment to the music of the time, the Louisville Orchestra has earned 19 awards from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) for adventurous programming of contemporary music. Changes in the business community and the recession of the early 2000s brought challenges to the Louisville Orchestra resulting in an administrative reorganization. In 2013, for the first time in decades, the LO balanced its annual budget — emblematic of its current stable footing, community support, and strong leadership.

In 2014, the LO welcomed a new music director, Teddy Abrams, who is reviving and re-engaging the Orchestra’s commitment to contemporary composers. Teddy has dedicated himself to providing a platform for young orchestral composers to launch their art in addition to keeping the classics thriving. He views music as the weft of a community’s fabric, as the great equalizer among people, and so considers community-based performances and collaborations as an integral component of the 21st-century orchestra.

To accomplish this mission, the ensemble offers a wide variety of concert series to the community, including classical programs featuring world-renowned guest artists, lighter classical and pops performances, concerts with engaging themes in neighborhood locations throughout the city, and education and family offerings. The LO is also the resident performing group for Louisville Ballet and Kentucky Opera.

In addition, the Louisville Orchestra performs concerts and provides educational programming throughout both Kentucky and Southern Indiana.


Robert Whitney (1937 – 1967)

Jorge Mester (1967 – 1979)

Akira Endo (1980 – 1982)

Lawrence Leighton Smith (1983 – 1994)

Max Bragado-Darman (1995 – 1997)

Uriel Segal (1998 –  2005)

Jorge Mester (2006 – 2013) * Music Director Emeritus (2013 – 2015)

Teddy Abrams (2014 – present)