Music in the Mountains’ stirring tribute to Lincoln

If Pete Nowlen’s inaugural appearance as Music in the Mountains’ artistic advisor is any indication, we’re in for some marvelous concerts in the next few seasons.

As Artistic Advisor, Nowlen will guide the artistic planning of the 2014 season, including the appointment of guest conductors for the 2014 SummerFest, and work intimately with MIM Choral Director Ryan Murray.

On this Veterans Day, Nowlen conducted a rousing and heartfelt performance in Grass Valley called “Let Freedom Ring,” marking the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address and honoring Veterans.

Sunday’s performance mixed orchestral music with a chamber choir — and even literature (“Lincoln Lyrics” by famous poet Edwin Markham, who lived in the Sierra Foothills in the 1870s). It included a patriotic “singalong,” and wrapped up with “Amazing Grace” and Taps. Our family, including our 11-year-old son, couldn’t have enjoyed it more, and others agreed. Our online tickets were only $15; and $1 for our son.

Nowlen, the VITA Chamber Orchestra and the Camerata California Chamber Choir — who joined him in the performance — received a standing ovation. Nowlen showed insight when he described the program, but he did it with sense of humor and light-hearted style — not at all stuffy.

I enjoyed the venue too: the renovated Grass Valley Veterans Memorial Building. Though not exactly an acoustical wonder, the Vets Building was booming in the ’40s (the grand opening was 1932); and that’s the same era that Lincoln Lyrics was popular. I looked around and appreciated that.

Lincoln Lyrics (George Fredrick McKay, composer, and Markham is a choral cantata depicting scenes from the life of Lincoln and contains some of the most charming “Americana” ever composed. Markham (1852-1940) was an American poet who lived in Northern California much of his life. Public grade schools are named after him (Nowlen noted that some musicians performing Sunday night had attended some of them). Composer McKay’s daughter, Annette, was present at the performance.

“Let Freedom Ring” was performed in three historic Northern California venues this past weekend: Placerville (Edwin Markham School); Yountville (The Lincoln Theater); and Grass Valley (Veterans Memorial Building).

These performances of “Lincoln Lyrics” marked the first in some 60 years.

The music and chorus was stirring as it told the story of Lincoln’s life. One example from “The Boy and the Book” movement set to the poem: “See him there, by the light; Of the log-fire burning bright; With open book, now he lies; And reads with eager eyes. There is rose light on his face; Flashing from the chimney place.” It was a real dose of Americana.

Other highlights on Sunday night included a recitation of The Gettysburg Address (from students of Lyman Gilmore Middle School); recitation of Markham’s “Lincoln, Man of the People” (read at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial); and singing of Our National Anthem, The Battle Hymn of the Republic and America the Beautiful.

Nowlen currently serves as the Artistic Director for the VITA Academy in Sacramento, and has been a member of the University of California at Davis faculty since 1988 and the CSU Sacramento faculty since 1990.

MIM Board President Sherry Bartolucci has stated: “Acknowledging the artistic excellence of the orchestra, Peter’s appointment as Artistic Advisor is a natural and exciting fit with MIM. We are thrilled to have him on board.” Nowlen’s 2-year contract begins immediately.

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