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Louisville Orchestra, Yo-Yo Ma partner to bring once in a lifetime experience to Mammoth Cave

National Park Service

The beauty and history of Mammoth Cave National Park will be set to music this weekend.

World-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma will join the Louisville Orchestra and Louisville Chamber Choir for two historic performances on Saturday inside the cave system.

Louisville Orchestra Musical Director and Composer Teddy Abrams
Louisville Orchestra
Louisville Orchestra Musical Director and Composer Teddy Abrams

The orchestra’s Music Director and composer Teddy Abrams has created all originals pieces aimed at telling the story of Mammoth Cave.

“Every time I go in there, you immediately understand you’re in a sacred space," Abrams told WKU Public Radio. "There’s a 5,000-year human history associated with this and now we’re a part of that story. It’s the closest thing to a religious or spiritual experience you can get in nature.”

Abrams spent the last year exploring Mammoth Cave National Park and immersing himself into the cave’s geology and human history while gaining inspiration from the sights and sounds of the park. He composed his work with featured performer, Yo-Yo Ma, in mind.

Famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma
Louisville Orchestra\Yo-Yo Ma
Famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma

“To watch Yo-Yo Ma, one of the world’s great artists and humanitarians, play music that you dreamed up is one of the most surreal out of body experiences ever," Abrams said. "It’s the thing you dream of as an artist to have musicians like that play your music, and then to play it in this space.”

The performance will be the culmination of more than a year of planning, and originally an idea that Abrams called “bonkers.” Special considerations went into audio, lighting, and moving heavy instruments down 64 steps and 150 feet below ground.

"Our job, in addition to supporting all the logistical things, was to let the cave do what the cave does. We didn't want to come in an overwhelm it with technology or intrude upon that experience that most people have in the cave, which is just taking in the beauty of the cave itself," said Matthew Stone, executive producer for Blue Stone Productions. "Our design team has been focused on doing everything in a very subtle, soft-handed way to find that harmony with the cave."

Lisa Autry

The concert will be held in Mammoth Cave’s Rafinesque Hall, where the park’s annual Cave Sing is held each December. Music has been an important part of Mammoth Cave’s over 200-year modern history with artists capitalizing on the natural acoustics of the cave system. Saturday's concert, however, is the largest production to ever take place within the cave system.

"From the very beginning when this idea was brought to us, we brought in everyone on our team to see if this was possible, and not harm the cave," explained Molly Schorer, Mammoth Cave National Park Public Information Officer. "We asked our biologists, geologists if this would damage the rocks if there was too much reverberation, if the bats would become upset, and they all said no. From what they could tell, nothing was going to hurt the environment of the cave, and that was our top priority."

The park held a lottery drawing for the 500 available tickets for each performance and had 27,000 applications from as far away as Canada and Europe.

Cave tours on Saturday are suspended due to the concert.

Lisa is a Scottsville native and WKU alum. She has worked in radio as a news reporter and anchor for 18 years. Prior to joining WKU Public Radio, she most recently worked at WHAS in Louisville and WLAC in Nashville. She has received numerous awards from the Associated Press, including Best Reporter in Kentucky. Many of her stories have been heard on NPR.
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