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Lincoln?s Words Are Reborn, Inspired by UCLA?s Lefkowitz

December 1st, 2009 · No Comments

The words of three notable U.S. Presidents ? Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and Barack Obama ? resonated at UCLA on November 19, at the world premiere of ?Lincoln Echoes,? associate professor David Lefkowitz?s musical tribute to the nation?s 16th commander-in-chief. In the days before the Schoenberg Hall debut, students in a music-journalism course (Ethnomusicology 188, Lecture 3) at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music got a behind-the-scenes look at professor Lefkowitz?s ?secular cantata.? Some also attended the premiere. One student, Christopher Robinson, published his account in The Daily Bruin. The other students? accounts follow below.


Three U.S. presidents take a musical stage at UCLA

By Jeehai Song

On November 19, the voices of Presidents Lincoln, Roosevelt and Obama were revived in the ?Lincoln Echoes? concert at Schoenberg Hall. The world premiere of the 36-minute piece by David Lefkowitz drew on quotations from the three presidents, as well as the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. Neal Stulberg, Director of Orchestral Studies at UCLA, conducted the UCLA Philharmonia.

?Lincoln’s words, echoing down through the years, have found resonance in the speeches of later prominent Americans ? few more so than Presidents Roosevelt and Obama,? said Lefkowitz, UCLA associate professor of music composition and theory. ?It seemed especially appropriate to celebrate the election of the nation’s first black president together with the Lincoln Anniversary.?

When LeRoy Villanueva of the Los Angeles Opera, in the role of Lincoln, spoke and sang the president?s words in rehearsal, I imagined that I was standing and listening to the address in front of Lincoln?s monument in Washington, D.C. The UCLA Philharmonia ? equipped with full instruments, including two harps ? were loud and magnificent.

Joining Villanueva were two other prominent vocals ? John Duykers, tenor of the San Francisco Opera, who sang the words of Roosevelt; and Michael Dean, baritone and associate professor of music at UCLA, sang Obama?s words. The UCLA Chorale sang selections from the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Professor David Lefkowitz

Professor David Lefkowitz

Rehearsal of a Musical Continuum, Inspired by Inaugural Speeches

By Joseph Buchanan

Schoenberg Hall was brightly lit and buzzing with activity when I arrived for the UCLA Philharmonia and Chorale rehearsal of faculty member David Lefkowitz?s ?Lincoln Echoes.? The composition ? a featured part of UCLA?s Lincoln Bicentennial conference ? was still being polished on the afternoon of Nov. 12.

A sound crew was busy setting levels, adjusting controls, and making mic checks, while musicians were tuning instruments and practicing last-minute phrases and scales ? creating a wall of chaotic sound and musical confusion. But when UCLA Philharmonica conductor Neal Stulberg took the podium, casually dressed in black trousers, sneakers, and a black polo shirt, the chaos turned from distorted dissonance to a cohesive consonance of musical sonority. All instrumentalists had one eye glued to the musical score and the other on the baton-waving arms of their conductor.

As professor Stulberg counted off the tempo for the first rehearsed selection, the musicians readied themselves, and for an instant the sound of silence was deafening. Yet with one wave of the conductor?s hand, Stulberg and his ensemble of student musicians transformed the hall from what was an informal rehearsal sound stage into a classical-concert auditorium.

The music that filled Schoenberg Hall was uplifting, inspiring and reflective. The lyrics, sung and narrated by baritone Michael Dean, were (as I would later learn, in an interview with composer David Lefkowitz) those of Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and President Barack Obama. These words inspired the music of ?Lincoln Echoes,? working in tandem to create a musical continuum from the past to the present, and reaffirming the tenets of patriotism and democracy. The work is an artistic and visionary concept of innovated musical historiography.

After the initial run-through, professor Stulberg isolated segments within the piece that he wanted to emphasize. Calling out letter names (?letter A or letter J?), he directed the cast of musicians to sections within the score that he felt they needed to ?smooth out.? After tweaking the trouble spots, Neal instructed them to ?replay it from the top.?

Although professor Stulberg?s demeanor was relaxed and causal, there was a deliberate thoroughness about this rehearsal that conveyed not only the meticulous efforts of a perfectionist but the importance of this world premier musical event. After he was satisfied with the rehearsal performance, professor Stulberg called for a 10-minute break.

Again, musical chatter and sonorous clatter took over the acoustics of Schoenberg Hall, with the musicians returning to individual practicing. The clashing of sound and chaos prevailed.

When I left the rehearsal, some two hours after I arrived, I felt entertained, educated, and encouraged to patriotism as the words of Lincoln, Roosevelt and Obama rang in my ears: ?A fundamental promise?a strength that has made this country great.? The music inspired by their text uplifted the spirit.

At Schoenberg Hall, a New (Musical) Side of Abraham Lincoln

By Jennifer Li

Even as the lights dimmed signaling the commencement of the concert, people continued to trickle into an already packed Schoenberg Hall. The year 2009 marks the bicentennial birth of president Abraham Lincoln. The world premiere of UCLA faculty composer David Lefkowitz?s composition ?Lincoln Echoes: A Secular Cantata for Tenor, Baritone, Narrator, Choir, and Orchestra,? features the voices of Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and Barack Obama in conversation over the history and future of American democracy.

Although the orchestration calls for a full orchestra, the music beautifully supports and highlights the importance of the text. The music breathes life into the well-known speeches. It was as if the music had been born with the words of the three presidents.

A Reiteration of America?s Highest Ideals

By Ji-Won Kim

On the evening of November 19, scores of people at UCLA?s Schoenberg Hall witnessed a celebration and commemoration of one of the United States? most prominent figures, Abraham Lincoln. The evening of patriotic and inspirational music was titled ?A Celebration of Lincoln,? and featured works from Aaron Copland, David Lefkowitz, and Brett Ryback. The highlight of the evening was the world premiere of ?Lincoln Echoes,? a cantata composed by Lefkowitz, who?s a UCLA professor of music composition and theory. The piece reflected Lincoln?s own words and also those that ?echoed? his from presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Barack Obama.

During economic crisis and war, all three leaders resonated hope, as well as the ideologies of freedom and democracy for mankind. At UCLA, these important themes were reiterated through lyrics, melodies, and harmonies.

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