“I always wanted to write my own etudes and my own sonatas.”
Composer James Lee III shares some career insight with executive editor Molly Sheridan in a featured profile on NewMusicBox.org — the trailblazing online magazine for contemporary American music. The up-close chat offers Lee’s thoughts about his compositions, his early childhood piano lessons and undergraduate piano studies, changing his focus to composition in graduate school, his faith, and recent musical projects.
“I always liked the creative aspect a little bit more than the idea of playing the same program the whole year round, [so I wrote] on the side,” Lee observes, reflecting on his studies of standard piano repertoire like Chopin and Beethoven. In addition to his piano music, his continually growing catalog includes numerous chamber pieces, choral music and orchestral works. Sheridan observes, “Lee’s writing for orchestra tends to open with percussive announcements and pack in a number of colorful flourishes and dense textures.” Lee explains, “I have a big interest in the rhythmic aspects of the music, but I’m also really interested in having evocative colors in the orchestra like Takemitsu or Adams…But I also have a very strong interest in the Biblical books of Daniel and Revelation, and my first piece which was ever programmed publicly, Beyond Rivers of Vision, was something that was inspired by those prophetic books. So where I was interested in the rhythmic aspects, I was also interested in giving a musical commentary on the events spoken about in those texts.”
Lee and Sheridan also briefly touch on the topic of diversity in concert music. “[The orchestral field] has a long way to go…I think there should be a little bit more openness and acceptance of really trying to promote good music by all composers, whether they’re women, African American, Latino, or Asian…It seems to me that there are certain roles that [administrators] see certain people fulfilling…[But] you just have to move on and do your best and get other opportunities. Usually I don’t miss a chance. If there’s a person at an orchestra or a pianist I want to meet…I don’t waste any time.” To read the complete interview, visit NewMusicBox where readers can also view a short video and listen to audio excerpts.
This fall, Lee will be on sabbatical from his post at Morgan State University, as he travels to Brazil as a Fulbright Scholar where he’ll work on new pieces for chorus, wind ensemble and orchestra.