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Mammoth Cave with Special Guest Yo-Yo Ma

Saturday, April 29, 2023 11:00am

Event Description

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Teddy Abrams and Members of the Louisville Orchestra to Perform in Mammoth Cave with Special Guest Yo-Yo Ma (April 29) featuring a new piece of music written by Teddy Abrams for Yo-Yo Ma, orchestra, choir, solo voice and narrators.  It is going to be a musical experience unlike anything you have ever imagined, so be prepared for your senses to be awakened with music, light, story and movement.  The aim is to have you embraced by the power, mystery and history of the Caves themselves, in a theatrical creation that will remain with you forever.


One of the world’s most awe-inspiring natural wonders will serve as the setting for a once-in-a-lifetime performance as Music Director and Musical America 2022 Conductor of the Year Teddy Abrams, members of the Louisville Orchestra bass-baritone Davóne Tines, the Louisville Chamber Choir, and solo percussionists Gabriel Globus-Hoenich, Pedro Fernandez, Terry Longshore, and Fernando Valencia join forces with cellist Yo-Yo Ma at Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park, directed by Zack Winokur.

Two immersive concerts to be held inside the cave on April 29 will feature a site-specific composition by Abrams inspired by the environment in which it will be performed.

Over the past year, Abrams explored Mammoth Cave National Park—the longest-known cave system in the world—and immersed himself in the cave’s geology and history, specifically focusing on the origins of the cave, the people who have lived and worked in it, and the stories they have told. Abrams explains:

“These performances are an homage to and celebration of this remarkable place, its history, and its people. Visitors have always been drawn to Mammoth Cave to experience its ancient stillness and expansiveness. It’s no surprise that this otherworldly treasure has inspired art in all forms, some of which can still be seen in the cave. Performing music in a cave where untold generations of people before us have created their own music connects us in a vital way to our past.

The genesis of this project came about during a conversation between Abrams and Yo-Yo Ma in preparation for a podcast interview that Abrams conducted with Yo-Yo in 2020.  Yo-Yo mentioned his admiration of the documentary featuring a concert at Crater Lake National Park, which Abrams had conducted.  Yo-Yo then shared the idea behind his national parks project – Our Common Nature. That conversation led hatched the idea for a concert in Mammoth Cave.  Abrams composed his work with Yo-Yo Ma in mind—to be performed in the environment of a large open passageway inside the cave known as Rafinesque Hall. He explains:

“My work will position Yo-Yo Ma in the role of spiritual guide, twinned with the voice of Davóne and using a complement of vocalists and musicians from the Orchestra to bring the interdependent natural, human, and mythological stories of Mammoth Cave to life. The inspiration for this work is the interlinking of nature and humanity—the role caves play in our collective imagination and storytelling. From ancient mythology to modern fiction, caves have represented archetypical wonder and terror, symbolized the unknown, and served as the setting for our contemplation of the borders of life, death, and the great beyond.”

Louisville Orchestra Chief Executive Graham Parker adds:

“This once-in-a-lifetime performance represents more than a collaboration between Teddy Abrams the Louisville Orchestra, and the great Yo-Yo Ma; equally important to the collaboration is the mystical splendor of one of the world’s most astounding natural wonders. We are also bringing attention to Mammoth Cave as part of the broader mission of the Louisville Orchestra to serve the entire Commonwealth of Kentucky, from its vibrant cities and small towns to its glorious natural resources.”

Mammoth Cave National Park Superintendent Barclay Trimble says:

“We are thrilled to offer this amazing opportunity to experience the sounds of Yo-Yo Ma and the Louisville Orchestra inside Mammoth Cave. Music is universally loved and recognized as a way to connect and bring people together. Mammoth Cave has been a source of artistic inspiration for thousands of years—and now through a composition created by Teddy Abrams and a historic performance by Yo-Yo Ma, we can add another fantastic musical moment to the cave’s history.”

Zack Winokur will serve as director for the performances. With his work recently being described as “pure poetry” (The Boston Globe) and “my favorite theatrical experience of the last decade” (The New York Times), Winokur is recognized as one of the most innovative and exciting talents working in opera today. He co-founded the American Modern Opera Company, an ensemble of singers, musicians, and dancers committed to creating a body of new, discipline-colliding music-theater works. Winokur explains:

“In the process of creating this piece I have gotten to know people with deep history in these caves and surrounding lands, connecting with their generational stories of curiosity and discovery. I have been inspired by the work of the park guides and am excited to work with the properties of the cave—the pure blackout where you’re left with only your heartbeat, the cacophonous echoes of sound, the sensitivity of a pin dropping, the one light in the dark that can form a glow for us all to gather around—as we transform the stories of the cave into theater.”

Rafinesque Hall, the area of the cave where the performances will take place, is a natural environment, with low lighting and a temperature of around 54ºF (12ºC). There is no seating in the hall, and the performances will last approximately one hour. The performers will be utilizing different zones in the cave and audience members will be encouraged to move around the performance space to experience the aural and visual contrasts as the elements of the composition evolve. Audience members must walk 0.75 miles (1.2 km) round trip to reach the performance area. The access trail includes a steep outdoor hillside to and from the cave’s natural entrance with a total of 130 stairs. Inside the cave, the trail will travel along broad walkways in some of the largest rooms inside Mammoth Cave. The trail is mostly level, but some hilly and uneven areas exist.

About Yo-Yo Ma

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s life and career are testaments to his enduring belief in culture’s power to generate trust and understanding. Whether performing new or familiar works from the cello repertoire, collaborating with communities and institutions to explore culture’s role in society, or engaging unexpected musical forms, Yo-Yo strives to foster connections that stimulate the imagination and reinforce our humanity.

Yo-Yo Ma was born in 1955 to Chinese parents living in Paris, where he began studying the cello with his father at age four. When he was seven, he moved with his family to New York City, where he continued his cello studies at the Juilliard School before pursuing a liberal arts education at Harvard.

Yo-Yo has recorded more than 100 albums, is the winner of 19 Grammy Awards, and has performed for nine American presidents, most recently on the occasion of President Biden’s inauguration. He has received numerous awards, including the National Medal of the Arts, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Birgit Nilsson Prize. He has been a UN Messenger of Peace since 2006 and was recognized as one of TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020.

Yo-Yo’s latest album is “Beethoven for Three: Symphony No. 6 ‘Pastorale’ and Op. 1, No. 3,” recorded with pianist Emanual Ax and violinist Leonidas Kavakos.

About Mammoth Cave

Mammoth Cave National Park is a park on two levels—52,830 acres of reclaimed hardwood forest and winding riverways, and below it, the longest-known cave system in the world, surveyed at 428 miles to date. The park preserves evidence of prehistoric indigenous people at Mammoth Cave from between 4,000 and 5,000 years ago and evidence of modern humans who rediscovered the cave around 1800. These modern settlers left behind more than 200 years of artifacts from the early days of saltpeter mining operations, science/health experiments, cave tour activities, and historic structures that were built in the development of the park as a tourist destination and national park. Music has been an important part of Mammoth Cave’s over 200-year modern history with classical musicians, choirs and contemporary artists composing and often performing their music inside the cave. Located within a day’s drive of several major population centers, Mammoth Cave National Park offers camping, hiking, horseback riding, bicycling, canoeing, picnicking, and cave tours. The park was established as a national park in 1941, designated a World Heritage Site in 1981, an International Biosphere Reserve in 1990, and certified as a Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association in 2021.




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Event Venue

Mammoth Cave, Rafinesque Hall
1 Mammoth Cave Pkwy
Mammoth Cave, KY 42259 United States

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