“I am so grateful to James Lee III for entrusting me with such an important and outstanding piece of music.” – Alexandra Dariescu
On November 9, 2023, pianist Alexandra Dariescu premieres the composer’s new piano concerto Shades of Unbroken Dreams with the Detroit Symphony, led by Fabien Gabel. The three-movement, 34-minute work was commissioned by the Detroit Symphony, after Dariescu was introduced to Lee in 2021, when she performed on the same program as the ensemble’s world premiere of Lee’s orchestral work Amer’ican. The concerto is inspired by the 60th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s historic “I Have a Dream Speech,” and is part of the orchestra’s “French Passions and Enduring Dreams” program. Shades of Unbroken Dreams was also commissioned by the BBC Philharmonic, who will present the UK premiere on November 25 in Manchester, conducted by John Storgårds.
Dariescu continues. “I am truly honored to have Shades of Unbroken Dreams dedicated to me…Having met in Detroit, James and I bonded over our shared values on equality and our ongoing efforts to promote diversity within the world of classical music. Shades of Unbroken Dreams serves as a poignant reminder of how much progress has been made over the past six decades. I’m looking forward to giving the world premiere of this meaningful piano concerto, to performing it around the world and to continue fostering meaningful conversations. I have faith that through James’ music, we can make a difference and contribute to the broader cultural shift towards equality, diversity and inclusion in classical music.”
Lee talks about his work. “My piano concerto, Shades of Unbroken Dreams, is partially inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech, ‘I Have a Dream.’ I chose the title to reflect a continual and unbroken move towards achieving the dream of which Dr. King spoke. The ‘shades’ represent the various people of color who aspire to be a part of that great dream. As I reflected on this speech, I thought about how this concerto is also inspired by the idea of social justice and equality for all men and women. It’s a concerto that seeks to inspire conversations about how equal opportunities can be achieved in the classical music industry, especially for people of color and women…[The work is] in three movements; and I entitled each movement using the rhetorical lenses of voice merging (first movement), prophetic voice (second movement), and dynamic spectacle (third movement). ‘Voice merging’ is a technique often used by African-American preachers. It combines the voices of previous preachers, excerpts from scriptures, and the speaker’s own thoughts to create a unique voice. The first movement begins evoking the concept of a dream and the strings play a motivic figure [as the] first theme material is based on the words, ‘Have a Dream.’…[and] moves toward a mysteriously dissonant end signifying that we are still waiting for a resolution and true equality. The second movement, ‘Prophetic Voice’ seeks to display Dr. King’s speech in which he spoke with urgency and crisis…The brass and then strings portray this sense of urgency and anguish…[The] last movement, ‘Dynamic Spectacle,’ incorporates the texts ‘Let freedom ring’ and ‘Free at last’ as rhythmic motives and melodic themes. [These motives and themes are] loosely related to Rondo form with an emphatic coda of crashing chords in the piano and orchestral hits near the latter stages of the concerto, which bring the work to its exhilarating conclusion.” The Detroit Symphony’s subsequent performances of Shades of Unbroken Dreams follow on November 10 and 11.
To watch a behind-the-scenes preview of Lee’s Shades of Unbroken Dreams, visit the Detroit Symphony’s website here.
More James Lee III news: on November 24th, the composer’s Concerto for Clarinet and Symphonic Band receives its UK premiere performed by soloist Gabor Varga and the Royal Northern College of Music Wind Orchestra in Manchester, England.