‘Our Lincoln’ Goes to Washington

by February 6, 2009

With his own musical tastes ranging from sentimental ballads and nonsense songs to opera, President Abraham Lincoln likely would be pleased with the legacy of music influenced by him and his service to the country. And as the 200th bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth commences, audiences in the nation’s capitol will hear music from his time.
“Our Lincoln” and its cast of more than 375 performers and technicians will tell the story of our 16th president on a national stage, as it travels Feb. 2 to the prestigious John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Among the cast of talented professional artists from Kentucky and beyond, will be some of the Commonwealth’s most successful student musicians and vocalists from the University of Kentucky School of Music.

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“The Kennedy Center is the perfect venue for the level of talent and virtuosity that embody the ‘Our Lincoln’ program,” remarked Everett McCorvey, director and executive producer of the UK Opera Theatre and founder of the American Spiritual Ensemble. “In keeping with all that the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has come to mean in the arena of arts and humanities, ‘Our Lincoln’ will be an exciting celebration of the heart, soul and legacy of Abraham Lincoln.”

Presented for the first time last February before a sold out Bluegrass audience at the UK Singletary Center for the Arts, the Kentucky Humanities Council and UK Opera Theatre joined forces to honor the state’s beloved son in performance. Nearly all of the performances from the original program staged in Kentucky will be presented on the national stage, as well as some exciting new additions.

Soloists from UK Opera Theatre return to the program featured alongside the Lexington Singers and UK Chorale performing selections from “River of Time,” an original new folk opera about Lincoln as a young man set to premiere in its entirety in the fall of 2009. The new opera, commissioned by UK Opera Theatre, features a score and libretto from Joseph Baber, composer-in-residence and professor of composition, and James W. Rodgers, professor emeritus at UK Department of Theatre.

The successful UK Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of John Nardolillo, also will be showcased at this celebrated event in a performance of composer Aaron Copland’s “A Lincoln Portrait” with nationally recognized classical and multi-genre violinist and composer Mark O’Connor and narrated by radio and television personality Nick Clooney.

In addition the UK Chorale, consisting of 40 select singers at UK, will join the Lexington Singers to create an impressive, multi-generational chorus for the “Our Lincoln” program. The Chorale, under the direction of Jefferson Johnson, will lend vocal talents to the premiere of two new pieces, “Songs of Freedom,” which will be presented in conjunction with the Lexington Singers, the Lexington Singers Children’s Choir and UK Symphony Orchestra, and “Gettysburg Address: An Anthem,” during which they will accompany Chorale and Opera Theatre alumnus tenor Gregory Turay. In addition, the group will accompany the American Spiritual Ensemble on new arrangements of “My Country Tis of Thee” and “My Old Kentucky Home” by School of Music adjunct professor Johnie Dean. The Lexington Singers Children’s Choir under the direction of Lori Hetzel, associate director of choral activities at UK, will also accompany the UK Chorale on the state song, as well as a rendition of “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

“This is an incredible experience for the students in the UK Chorale,” observes Johnson, director of choral activities and UK music professor. “Some of them have performed at Carnegie Hall and in other prestigious venues around the country with the UK Choirs, but the scope of this concert presents a rare musical and educational opportunity that they will never forget. As an educator I am excited to be able to foster this learning experience for my students.”

Johnson adds, “I have been fortunate in my career to have had the opportunity to conduct in Carnegie Hall and at some of the world’s great choral venues including the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris and St. Mark’s in Venice. It will be a real honor to conduct at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., especially one week after the inauguration of President Obama. I expect this to be a career highlight.”

Joining UK’s talented vocalists and musicians in “Our Lincoln” will be the internationally recognized American Spiritual Ensemble with conductor Everett McCorvey; Metropolitan Opera soprano Angela Brown; former National Public Radio host Bob Edwards; Kentucky’s poet laureate Jane Gentry Vance; the Kentucky Repertory Theatre; the Lexington Vintage Dance Society; and the Kentucky Chautauqua actors.

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