Submitted by Caroline J. Hanna

August 19, 2008         
Contact: Caroline J. Hanna
Director of Media Relations

AMHERST, Mass. — Eric Sawyer, associate professor of music at Amherst College, has been named one of three winners of an Abraham Lincoln-themed composition competition sponsored by the Ravinia Festival, the oldest music festival in North America. The Highland Park, Ill.-based organization, which is hosting a series of events next year celebrating the bicentennial of the birth of America’s 16th president, recognized Sawyer’s original work for piano trio titled Lincoln’s Two Americas.

Eric Sawyer, Associate Professor of Music
Associate Professor of Music Eric Sawyer

“In Abraham Lincoln, we have a charismatic subject who has already inspired great admiration, great controversy and great art,” said Welz Kauffman, president and CEO of Ravinia. “He is at once timely and timeless, and we wanted to celebrate his birthday by building on that timeline and by letting today’s composers comment on our fluid understanding of this legendary man.”

Sawyer and the competition’s other winners will receive $5,000 awards for their works and, more importantly, have the pieces performed several times next spring by the Lincoln Trio, a Music Institute of Chicago ensemble. The Lincoln Trio will play the compositions in a series of free shows as part of a whistle-stop tour throughout the late president’s home state of Illinois. Scheduled venues include nursing homes, schools, concert halls, historic sites, town squares and many other locations.

 “This is a terrific opportunity and honor for me,” said Sawyer of winning the contest. “The subject of Lincoln has been a big part of my musical life recently, and it feels great to be part of the upcoming Illinois celebration, particularly in association with as wonderful and historic an institution as Ravinia.”

Sawyer referred to Our American Cousin, an opera about the president’s assassination with music Sawyer composed, which premiered at the Academy of Music in Northampton, Mass., this past June. The opus tells the story of the killing from the point of view of audience members watching and actors staging the now-infamous comedy (a Broadway play also titled Our American Cousin) in progress at Ford’s Theater when the assassination occurred. (The creative team of Our American Cousin is currently making plans to stage the opera in a metropolitan venue during 2009 as well.)

The Ravinia Festival presents world-class music—including the annual summer residency of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra—in an inviting, natural environment. Attracting over 600,000 listeners to some 120 to 150 events that span all genres every summer, the festival enables gifted young performers to study under great teachers and perform in concert settings through the Steans Institute for Young Artists. In addition, the not-for-profit festival brings music to thousands of families around Chicago through multi-tiered education and community partnership initiatives. These range from running a community music conservatory to teaming working musicians with teachers to create music integration in the public schools. For more information, visit

Founded in 1821, Amherst is a highly selective, coeducational liberal arts college with approximately 1,600 students from most of the 50 states and more than 30 other countries. Considered one of the nation’s best educational institutions, Amherst awards the B.A. degree in 34 fields of study.