In the early years of World War II, conductor André Kostelanetz commissioned Aaron Copland to write a musical portrait of an eminent American, “to express the magnificent spirit of our country.” Copland originally selected Walt Whitman, but Kostelanetz believed a political figure or great American statesman would be better suited for the patriotic purpose of the piece.

Copland considered George Washington, but decided that our first president was too stiff and formal an individual. He finally settled on Lincoln because Copland saw him as epitomizing American ideals of simplicity, democracy, and individual responsibility.

In order to truly build a musical portrait of Lincoln, Copland chose to layer grand orchestral textures with narration comprised of excerpts from Lincoln’s own words interspersed with short biographical details. In his autobiography, Copland wrote, “My purpose was to draw a simple but impressive [musical] frame around the words of Lincoln himself.”

Lincoln Portrait premiered in Cincinnati in May 1942, six months after Pearl Harbor. It was an instant success and has remained popular, with innumerable narrators including Carl Sandburg, Eleanor Roosevelt, William Warfield, Katharine Hepburn, James Earl Jones and many others.

“Hamilton” star Bryan Terrell Clark will join the Asheville Symphony as narrator for both performances of “Lincoln Portrait” on Saturday, November 18.

Clark is is an accomplished actor and singer/songwriter who has performed in hugely successful Broadway shows and a wide range of popular television programming. (And even joined your Asheville Symphony in June 2023 for a performance as part of UNC Asheville’s Ideas Fest!)

In addition to his role of George Washington in “Hamilton,” Clark played the iconic role of Marvin Gaye in “Motown: The Musical” and starred opposite Laurence Fishburne and Angela Basset in the acclaimed drama “Fences.”

As a singer, songwriter and producer, he was co-writer on Mary J. Blige’s “Irreversible” on the album “My Life II” and has performed with such artists as Maxwell, Brandy, Ne-Yo, Anita Baker, Michael Bublé and many others.

Clark is the co-founder of inDEFINED, an initiative that inspires and teaches young people to use their voices to erase constrictive labels in our society.  He is also the recipient of the 2018 Voice for Social Justice Award from Rutgers University, the 2019 Gallery of Success Award from Temple University, Help USA 2019 “Help Hero Award” for Volunteerism for his ongoing commitment to social change and activism.

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