Lee: Freedom’s Genuine Dawn

On January 20, 2022, the Baltimore Symphony premieres James Lee III’s Freedom’s Genuine Dawn with spoken word artist Wordsmith. Robert Trevino conducts the concert in Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. Co-commissioned by the Baltimore Symphony, Boston Symphony and the Rochester Philharmonic, the one-movement, 18-minute work is scored for narrator and orchestra, and features texts by African-American author, orator, and abolitionist Frederick Douglass along with poetry by Wordsmith. The concert repeats on January 23 at the Strathmore Music Center in Bethesda, MA.

Roberto Trevino. Photo: © Musacchio & Ianniello

Lee shares some insight into his newest orchestral work. “Freedom’s Genuine Dawn is inspired by the words of Frederick Douglass’ speech, ‘What to the Slave is the 4th of July.’ In his speech, it becomes apparent that Douglass did not feel that he, or his people, were included in the celebrations of independence. I used the pitches F-G-D in an ascending figure to represent ‘Freedom’s Genuine Dawn.’ One of Douglass’ chief questions was, ‘Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us?’ In my title, I believe that it was Douglass’ desire that America would offer genuine freedom from all forms of slavery and that that day would not delay in becoming a reality. Using both Wordsmith’s and Frederick Douglass’ texts, I sought to lead the listener on a journey that evokes sentiments of the narrative. The work begins with a brief informative introduction by the narrator. This is then followed by a grandiose accent in the strings and other parts of the orchestra. As the work continues, the music comments on aspects of Frederick Douglass’ childhood, and then musical suggestions of celebratory, playful, and patriotic natures ensue as Mr. Douglass praised the founding fathers. This praise abruptly ends with a harmony that suggests he begins to enumerate the sins of the nation. The following musical episodes of fluctuating emotions finally arrive at a sense of hope and longing with the same pitches of F-G-D, but on a grander scale as the music ends and also hints at a prominent rhythm used by Aaron Copland in his work Lincoln Portrait.”

More January news: On the 23rd, two concerts feature Lee’s music: the New York Flute club presents Julietta Curenton’s New York premiere of two movement’s from Niiji Memories (version for flute and piano), and clarinetist Anthony McGill joins the Pacific Quartet in Palm Beach (FL) for a performance of the composer’s Quintet for clarinet and String Quartet.