March 13, 2007
Director of Media Relations

AMHERST, Mass.—Amherst College will present the premiere concert performance of the new opera Our American Cousin at 8 p.m. on Saturday, March 31, in Buckley Recital Hall of the Arms Music Building at Amherst College. The composer of Our American Cousin is Eric Sawyer, an assistant professor of music at Amherst; the librettist is John Shoptaw. The performance is free, but reservations are recommended. Tickets may be reserved by e-mail to, or by phone at 413/542-2195.

Performed with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, the opera will be presented as a semi-staged, concert performance with stage direction by Linda McInerney and lights by Cathy Couch. The cast is led by local talents Janna Baty and Alan Schneider, and the orchestra is conducted by Gil Rose. The Amherst College Concert Choir, directed by Mallorie Chernin, will provide choral support.

Sawyer’s new opera takes place in Ford’s Theatre on the night of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, and tells the story of that historic night from the perspective both of the actors performing the Broadway comedy and the President who watches it. The opera explores the convergence of theater and history, and juxtaposes the plot of this period comedy with the tumultuous aftermath of the Civil War. It manifests the age-old theme of art imitating nature, for just as the play Lincoln was watching never reached its dramatic climax, the legacy of our nation’s history remains unfinished as well.

A member of the Amherst College faculty since 2002, Eric Sawyer is an accomplished chamber pianist. He has performed in New York’s Weill and Merkin concert halls and at Tanglewood, as well as in England, France, Germany and recently in Romania and Bulgaria. Sawyer has received the Joseph Bearns Prize, a First Music commission from the New York Youth Symphony, and awards from the Tanglewood Music Center and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He has held fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and Harvard University and has taught at some of the nation’s top universities. Sawyer received his B.A. degree from Harvard University and finished his graduate studies at Columbia University and the University of California, Davis.