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    Saturday, August 19, 2006

    New This Season: Inspired By America

    Supported by funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, Inspired by America is a ground-breaking interdisciplinary program that fuses live chamber music performed by the critically acclaimed Cypress String Quartet with an original film based on Dr. Jacob Needleman’s best-selling book, The American Soul. The film, directed by Emmy and Peabody Award winner Michael Schwarz , features American masterpieces of art, landscapes, narration, news footage, readings, other images and forms of music reflecting the depth and diversity of the American story.

    The overall theme and subject of Inspired by America could not be more relevant to our country today. In the aftermath of 9/11 and with growing cultural divisions among us, Inspired by America invites audiences to reflect on the central question – What does it mean to be an American? By tracing our common ideals from the inception of our nation through the events that have shaped and impacted our nation’s history, our goal is to reacquaint our country’s citizens with our cultural diversity, but also with our community as Americans.

    Dr. Needleman’s book sets the tone for the journey, beginning with the ideals of the Founding Fathers. The unique spirit of America is examined in light of other culturally formative influences, including the poetry of Walt Whitman, the words of Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King. The impacts of the destruction of Native American culture, slavery, our experience in Vietnam, and other transformational events are also explored in the context of the promise America has represented for waves of immigrants and the world. Reknowned documentary producer Ken Burns comments, "Needleman takes us on an amazing spiritual journey to the very heart of those who like to call themselves American."

    Augmented by professional sound and lighting, the Cypress provides the unifying force for the performance with some of the finest chamber music composed in the United States, with movements from pieces such as Barber’s Adagio for Strings, Dvorak’s American Quartet, Griffes’ Two Sketches on Native American Themes and Gershwin’s Lullaby. Selections from recent Cypress original commissions from noted contemporary American composers are also featured, including 2005 Grawemeyer Award winner George Tsontakis and Grammy-nominated composers Benjamin Lees and Jennifer Higdon.

    Educational activities springing from the performance will give people of all ages and backgrounds multiple opportunities to deepen and extend the impact of Inspired by America.

    An educational website is being developed with funding and assistance from the Lied Center of Kansas, using the Internet to disemminate an Inspired by America lesson plan to educators across the country. A similar web-based system was conceived and produced by the Cypress Quartet and the Lied Centers of Kansas and Nebraska as part of a very successful four-week Cypress String Quartet performance and outreach tour of both states in the fall of 2004.

    Interdisciplinary residency and community outreach programs will be created in conjunction with various presenting organizations around the country, featuring university level coursework as well as visits to K-12 schools. These activities will explore the rich interrelationship of great American chamber music to other disciplines, including history, political science, and literature.

    The Cypress Performing Arts Association has put together a very talented and seasoned team of Bay Area professionals to produce and promote Inspired by America, including:

    - Michael Schwarz: Emmy and Peabody Award winning film director/producer

    - Dr. Jacob Needleman: best-selling author/philosopher

    - Cypress String Quartet: critically acclaimed national touring ensemble

    - Jack Carpenter: award winning stage lighting and set designer

    - Mark Willsher: sound engineer, Associate Music producer for The Lord of the Rings, Two Towers and The Lord of the Rings, Return of the King

    - Jeff Black and Ellen Beveridge: Project Directors, University of Michigan MBA’s, experienced business managers in project development, finance and marketing

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