Lee: Innovative, Grounded, & Rewarding

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On November 19, James Lee III’s new chamber work Passeios Harmônicos (Harmonic Trips/Tours) receives its world premiere at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte in Natal, Brazil. Currently on sabbatical from his post at Morgan State University (Baltimore, MD), Lee is spending the 2014 fall semester as a Fulbright Scholar traveling through Brazil researching traditional Brazilian music. In addition, he is also hosting masterclasses and seminars at the State University of Campinas, located in São Paulo State in southeastern Brazil.

Durval Cesetti, pianist and professor at Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte, shares some insight into Lee’s new chamber work. “A few months ago, James contacted me and asked if he could come to Northeastern Brazil to hear some of this region’s traditional music, as part of the Fulbright scholarship research he’s conducLee Passeios score graphic 2 redting this fall. After listening to some of his pieces, I became very eager for him to come to our university. We have a Master’s degree specifically for 20th- and 21st-century music, so I thought it would be a great idea if he could write something new for our students to perform. However, our currently enrolled students in the program make up a very unusual group: clarinet, tuba, percussion, guitar, violin, viols, 4 cellos and double-bass.

Passeios Harmônicos means ‘Harmonic Tours/Trips’ in English. The piece is a sort of kaleidoscopic chamber concerto for the various instruments of the ensemble. It explores different emotional journeys until all that is left are some gestures in the clarinet and fading pizzicato articulations in the contrabass that end in a still quietness.”

— James Lee III

“James immediately took up the challenge, and told me Passeios Harmônicos would be ready in a few weeks. When we received the music, we were all quite impressed with what he achieved in such short time. The work seems quite representative of his style: very innovative and yet grounded in tradition, challenging to perform but immediately rewarding to listen to. James was also able to make such an unusual combination of instruments sound very well [together], using a great variety of colors and interesting combinations. Our students have been working hard, and we [are looking forward to] the premiere…”

More news from Brazil: On December 2, Lee’s new choral piece Uma Mensagem para Laodicéia will be premiered by conductor Jetro Meira de Oliveira and the madrigal choir Officina Madrigal at the Universidade Adventista de São Paulo in Engenheiro Coelho.