James Lee III Gets Ready for Two Orchestral Premieres!

Subito Composer James Lee III Kicks-off his 2011-12 Concert Season with Two New Orchestral Works!

James Lee IIIChuphshah! Harriet’s Drive to Canaan premieres on September 23rd at the Baltimore Symphony. Conducted by Marin Alsop, the 12-minute commission is based on the life of Maryland-native Harriet Tubman, the American “Moses” of the Underground Railroad. “The word Chuphshah,” Lee shares, “is the biblical Hebrew word for freedom. Specifically, it is freedom from slavery. Canaan refers to the northern free states of America or even as far north as Canada that would have been the ‘promised land’ for the slaves.”

Throughout the work, Lee depicts Tubman’s life and struggles. “I tried to capture some of the emotions that she may have felt after she first escaped from slavery in Maryland’s eastern shore. The sadness and longing that she felt for her family prompted her to return several times back into dangerous slave territory in Maryland and the deep South in pursuit of family members and other slaves.” Chuphshah! also quotes from well-known spirituals and songs of the era like “Follow the drinkin’ gourd,” “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and particularly “Go Down Moses” which Lee notes “Tubman would sing to announce her presence among the other slaves.” Performances continue on September 24th and 25th.

On October 15th and 16th, the New World Symphony – led by Michael Tilson Thomas – presents Lee’s Sukkot Through Orion’s Nebula, a Sphinx Organization co-commission. Founder and President Aaron P. Dworkin comments, “We are thrilled to have had the opportunity to work with James. He is an amazing talent, and a truly inspirational figure on the composing arena of tomorrow. His work has garnered attention from great luminaries in the field, and he was chosen by the Sphinx Commissioning Consortium from a pool of highly qualified composers. Sphinx is proud to have played a role in increasing the awareness of James’s work within the field.”

Lee briefly describes the work. “Sukkot Through Orion’s Nebula is a festive work for orchestra. The word Sukkot is a Hebrew word for the ‘Feast of Tabernacles.’ In the biblical days, this holiday was celebrated on the 15th day of the month of Tishrei (late September to late October). It was the most joyous month of the fall festivals that God mandated to [be] observed. It was also a thanksgiving celebration for the blessings of the fall harvest.” Subsequent performances will follow in January and February 2012 at the Cincinnatti and Grand Rapids Symphonies.

Somehow, among all this orchestral music, Lee also found time to write Songs of Prophetic Expectations, a new song cycle for soprano Brandie Sutton. Based on Lee’s own texts, the three-movement, 15-minute piece premieres on October 1st in New York at Merkin Concert Hall.