“I want to compose music to reach to the inner soul of the listener that elevates them irregardless of race and religious affiliation.” – James Lee III
Called a “gifted composer” (Cincinnati Enquirer) whose “bright, pure music” (Washington Post) is “vibrant [and] richly layered” (Baltimore Sun), Michigan-native James Lee III composes in every medium ranging from orchestral and chamber works, to choral music, chamber music, vocal and instrumental works, and works for solo piano. Born in St. Joseph, Michigan, Lee is a “son” of the Great Lakes State having received Doctor of Musical Arts in composition from the University of Michigan. He cites as his major composition teachers to be Michael Daugherty, William Bolcom, Bright Sheng, Betsy Jolas, Susan Botti, Erik Santos and James Aikman. As a composition fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center, he added Osvaldo Golijov, Michael Gandolfi, Steven Mackey and Kaija Saariaho to his roster of teachers, and studied conducting with Stefan Asbury.
As a child, Lee had a passing interest in music; but, having been raised in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, he was regularly exposed to it. His faith provided an early window into his creativity, so biblical teachings—especially from the books of Daniel and Revelation—are an important inspiration for his musical compositions. His catalog is wide-ranging from orchestral and chamber works, to choral music, chamber music, vocal and instrumental works, and works for solo piano. He is the winner of a Charles Ives Scholarship and the Wladimir Lakond Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Fulbright Scholar, and a Visiting Professor to the State University of Campinas in Campinas, São Paulo, Brazil. Lee currently serves as Professor of Composition and Theory at Morgan State University (Baltimore, MD).
Many ensembles and performers have premiered and performed Lee’s works including: the National Symphony, (Beyond Rivers of Vision premiere led by Leonard Slatkin at The Kennedy Center); the Detroit Symphony with Slatkin again conducting the premiere of A Different Soldier’s Tale; Chuphshah! Harriet’s Drive to Canaan—a 12-minute Baltimore Symphony-commission led by Marin Alsop; the New World Symphony’s premiere of Lee’s Sukkot Through Orion’s Nebula—a Sphinx Organization co-commission—conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas; Atlanta Symphony; Boston Symphony, Cincinnati Symphony, and Chicago Symphony, Cincinnati Symphony; Philadelphia Orchestra, and Louisiana Philharmonic among others. Other performers of his music include: The Ritz Chamber Players; soprano Karen Slack and the Pacifica String Quartet; Calyx Piano Trio; Harlem Chamber Players; Baltimore Choral Arts Society; Morgan State University Band; mezzo soprano Denyce Graves; and pianists Terrence Wilson and Rochelle Sennet.
Lee’s most recent activities include the 2023 Cincinatti May Festival Chorus world premiere of his large-scale choral work Breaths of Universal Longings, a which was commissioned by the festival in celebration of its 150th anniversary. Juanjo Mena conducted the four-movement, 28-minute work scored for soloists, SATB chorus, SATB youth chorus and orchestra. Lee’s String Quartet No. 3, “Untranslatable” premiered at the 2023 Ravinia Festival, performed by Steans Music Institute Fellows. In January, the St. Louis Symphony premiered James Lee orchestral work Visions of Cahokia. Prior to that, last fall, the Orlando Philharmonic premiered the composer’s Beyond Sensorial Portals.
Lee’s upcoming 2023-2024 season includes Alexandra Dariescu’s November world premiere of the composer’s new Shades of Unbroken Dreams (Piano Concerto) with the Detroit Symphony, for three performances led by Fabien Gabel. Subsequently, Dariescu takes the work overseas for its UK premiere at the BBC Philharmonic in Manchester, England, conducted by John Storgårds.
For more information, visit James Lee III’s website here.