Thursday, July 18

‘A Celebration of Lincoln’ comes to Schoenberg to honor bicentennial of president’s birth


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Christopher Robinson / Daily Bruin


On Nov. 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln gave one of the most well-known speeches in American history: the famous Gettysburg Address. On Thursday, Nov. 19, 2009, Schoenberg Hall will play host to “A Celebration of Lincoln,” a one-of-a-kind evening of music and theater that will feature the talents of the UCLA Philharmonia, UCLA Chorale and the Los Angeles InterAct Theatre Company in honor of the approaching bicentennial anniversary of Lincoln’s birthday.

“A Celebration of Lincoln” will feature three unique performances, beginning with the UCLA Philharmonia and UCLA Chorale production of the rarely performed “Canticle of Freedom” by American composer Aaron Copland. It will be followed by the newly composed “Lincoln Echoes” by David Lefkowitz, UCLA associate professor of music theory and composition. For the third and final part of the performance, the InterAct Theatre Company will premiere “I, Abraham Lincoln” by Brett Ryback, a theater piece about the writing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

“The “˜Canticle of Freedom’ piece is vintage Copland from his American period,” said conductor Neal Stulberg. “The choral writing for that piece is perfect for an advanced student ensemble, and it’s meant to have an immediate accessibility.”

“Lincoln Echoes,” the brand-new composition by Lefkowitz, will premiere that night. It touches on the same issues of freedom and democracy. Lifting lines from famous speeches and writings by presidents Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Barack Obama, the five-movement piece is a musical celebration of the ideals of these presidents, as well as highlights of their collective skills as orators.

The choice to include quotes by figures other than Lincoln was an easy one.

“Lincoln’s ideals stood out and have echoed through the ages,” Lefkowitz said. “With Obama’s historic election last November, those ideals have, to a certain extent, been fulfilled.”

Lefkowitz spent a great deal of time researching for “Lincoln Echoes,” reading through numerous speeches and picking out quotes that embodied the themes he was hoping to express through the music.

“Once I had collected them, I grouped the texts together thematically so they fit the five different movements,” Lefkowitz said.

The opening two movements of the piece, titled “Fundamental Freedoms” and “On Freedom and Democracy,” set the stage by presenting the very quintessential ideals that these presidents all stand for.

“The first two movements represent a sort of idealism about the concepts of freedom and democracy,” Lefkowitz said.

Like most ideals, however, achieving them can be rather difficult. The final three movements deal with problems that have been faced multiple times throughout history, including problems that we still encounter today. Titled “On Freedom in the Face of Danger,” “On Economic Freedom” and “On Freedom and Hope,” these movements are characterized by speeches that these presidents gave when confronted with economic disaster and times of war, something all three of them faced during their terms.

Gregory Hix, a first-year graduate student in French horn performance, will be one of many UCLA students performing the pieces on Thursday as a part of the UCLA Philharmonia.

“Something cool about being at UCLA is being able to play a world premier like “˜Lincoln Echoes,’” Hix said. “Being able to have him there at rehearsals giving us immediate feedback on our performance is really special. That collaboration is music at its core.”

Hix has also noticed these common themes threading through the texts of both the Copland piece and the different movements of “Lincoln Echoes,” as well as its relatability to issues today.

“What’s so fascinating is that so many of the quotations sound like they could have been written yesterday,” Stulberg said. “We face seemingly the very same challenges today that they faced generations ago.”

Despite these challenges, those taking part in the production are quick to highlight the distinctive nature of this rare performance. “This is the kind of event I love,” Stulberg said. “It’s a concert that is unique and will only happen once, and it has its own special trajectory and moment in history.”

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