Classical Uprising wins national prize for excellence in American Music

  • November 30, 2022

Classical Uprising wins national prize for excellence in American Music

Portland, ME (November 29, 2022) - Classical Uprising has won first place in the nation’s most comprehensive contest in the performing arts, The American Prize. Celebrating the best performances by ensembles and individual artists worldwide, The American Prize presents awards in a variety of categories. Classical Uprising won the Ernst Bacon Memorial Award for the Performance of American Music for the organization’s 2021 production Amazing Grace: The American Spiritual.

Amazing Grace: The American Spiritual was conceived in 2016 by Classical Uprising’s artistic director, Emily Isaacson; countertenor Reginald Mobley; and Professor of Africana Studies at Bowdoin College, Judith Casselberry. A multimedia production, Amazing Grace traces the history of Black spirituals from Pre-Emancipation folk singing to 20th-century gospel using visual art, music, prose, and poetry. The original production was staged in May 2017 in collaboration with Portland’s Abyssinian Meeting House and received rave reviews: “there isn’t an ensemble in Portland—or anywhere, really—that couldn’t re-energize itself, and its audience, by periodically jettisoning the supposed rules of classical concert presenting, and offering programs as inventive, enlightening and moving as this one” (Allan Kozinn, Portland Press Herald). 

Fast-forward to spring of 2020, when racial justice protests erupted across the country. While Isaacson was wondering if revisiting the program could add to the civic dialogue, Mobley was gathering with other artists to ask how choral music has furthered racial oppression and how arts organizations can be better allies in the fight against racism. The result was Black Voices Matter, a pledge that outlines how organizations and ensembles of every size and kind can promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

“I called Reggie,” explains Isaacson. “We both felt that Amazing Grace modeled how the action items from the Black Voices Matter pledge could be transformed into art, and that it was time to update and restage the program.” 

The award-winning 2021 production expanded upon the original by adding music and poetry from the Black Lives Matter movement and a website of companion resources curated to inspire understanding and action. In addition to Mobley, the updated production included activist-musicians Jonathan Woody, JanaeSound, and Nathaniel Menifield, visual art by Daniel Minter, civic leader Jill Duson, and collaborations with Sanford Performing Arts Center, the Handel and Haydn Society, and Indigo Arts Alliance.

The performance can be watched on YouTube, and the companion resources are available on the Classical Uprising website at

“I am so proud of this project,” Isaacson shares. “Amazing Grace addresses painful moments in our nation’s history, and my aim was to create a shared experience that was educational, inclusive, and celebratory of the human spirit. This award, and the nearly 7,000 views of our performance on YouTube, give me hope that we as a society are still capable of reflection and dialogue.”  

Amazing Grace was also awarded second place in The American Prize’s category of Virtual Performance (Artists Performing Together), and Emily Isaacson received third place in the Conductors (Chorus) category for her work with the Portland Bach Experience

For the full release from The American Prize, visit 


About Emily Isaacson - Conductor and Artistic Director

Dr. Emily Isaacson is fiercely committed to reimagining classical music for today’s audiences. She is founder and artistic director of Classical Uprising, serving over 6,000 musicians and music-lovers through its programs: Oratorio Chorale, Portland Bach Experience, and Horizon Voices. Isaacson was named 2018 Maine Artist of the Year by the Maine Arts Commission, one of 50 Mainers Leading the State by Maine Magazine, and the 2018 face of Maine’s Women’s Work. Isaacson helped to launch Roomful of Teeth, a GRAMMY-winning new vocal music ensemble. In 2015 and 2018 (2021 pending), she won the American Prize in Choral Conducting. She has taught at Clark University and the University of Illinois, and is currently teaching at Bowdoin College. A St. Andrews Society Scholar, Isaacson holds advanced degrees from the University of Edinburgh, the University of Oregon, and the University of Illinois. She lives in Portland, ME with her husband, daughter, and son. 

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About Classical Uprising

Classical Uprising offers a bold rethinking of the classical music experience through immersive events, performances, and educational programs. Formed in 2020 as a merger between Oratorio Chorale and Portland Bach Experience, we are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit committed to community development, creative expression, inclusivity, lifelong learning, and artistic excellence. Our mission is to enliven, strengthen, and connect communities by creating world-class, immersive classical music experiences for everyone. Through our programs—Oratorio Chorale, Portland Bach Experience, and Horizon Voices—we serve over 120 adult amateur singers, 70 young musicians, 60 professional artists, and more than 6,000 audience members.

For more information or to schedule an interview, contact:

Emily Southard – Managing Director, Classical Uprising


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Emily Southard

PO Box 7259,
Portland  ME  04112