“Even if you didn’t know that James Lee III was quoting melodies to create a dialectic, you would know he was trying to convey something important because his music is powerful and portentous.” And so, David Lockington — music director of the Pasadena Symphony — introduces us to Lee’s new orchestral work Ichabod! The Protest is Over!. Lockington leads the premiere on October 14 at the Ambassador Auditorium.
Ichabod! The Protest is Over! is inspired by three events: 1) the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation; 2) the 2014 declaration by South African Bishop Tony Palmer who ecumenically proclaimed that “The Protest is Over…” between Catholics and Evangelical Protestants, and 3) contemporary concerns regarding political intersections between church and state accompanied by questions of democracy, suppression and patriotism. Because Lee’s music is informed by his faith, the work highlights the well-known Lutheran chorale “A Mighty Fortress is our God,” along with Samuel Smith’s American anthem “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”
“The name ‘Ichabod,’” Lee notes, “comes from the Hebrew language meaning ‘inglorious’ or ‘the glory is departed.’ Without taking political sides, my orchestral piece is a musical commentary on various [historical and political] concerns…While it is set as a double binary [with] A and B themes, at times, phrases of these well-known tunes provide a counterpoint to each other. Unity is also expressed as a densely textured orchestration transforms into unison pitches in the strings….”
Lockington continues. “James creates tension through unpredictable yet inevitable-sounding speed, texture and harmony, and balances that with moments of mysterious calm which seem to pose a question. When ‘My Country ‘Tis of Thee’ is juxtaposed with the Lutheran hymn, ‘A Mighty Fortress Is Our God’ — the plot thickens and the questions grow stronger. Through this web of drama and color, James is leading us to the core of his faith. The gift he has given us opens our heart, mind and soul.”