On October 11, celebrated clarinetist Anthony McGill premieres James Lee III’s Principal Brothers No. 3 with pianist Gloria Chien in a live-streamed concert. The performance will be presented by the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. Written for McGill (principal clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic), the five-and-a-half-minute piece is the third in Lee’s new group of four solo works for principal orchestral players. The three remaining volumes feature flute, oboe and bassoon.
Lee shares his thoughts about Principal Brothers. “The year 2020 has definitely been a very challenging year with many upheavals. During this time of the COVID-19 health crisis, wearing masks, and high racial tensions, I decided to compose four short solo woodwind works for flute, oboe, clarinet, and bassoon, which represent the core woodwind section in an orchestra. I was inspired to compose these short pieces after I first heard Igor Stravinsky’s three short pieces for clarinet, which total a little more than four minutes in duration.
I thought that it would be nice to highlight and honor my African-American male colleagues in the orchestral music world. I wanted to celebrate the fact that they are the principal player in the section of their respective orchestras. The short pieces are as follows: Principal Brother No. 1 for flute solo for Demarre McGill, Principal Flute of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra; Principal Brother No. 2 for oboe solo for Titus Underwood, Principal Oboe of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra; Principal Brother No. 3 for clarinet solo for Anthony McGill, Principal Clarinet of the New York Philharmonic, and Principal Brother No. 4 for bassoon solo for Bryan Young, Principal Bassoon of the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra. These works all begin with notes that are representative of their name: D for Demarre; B for Titus (ti in solfège starting on C); A for Anthony, and Bb for Bryan. There is also a rhythmic figure in the opening measures of each piece, which represent the utterance of their names. All four of these works are rhapsodic in nature with elements of improvisation.”