Lee: Tehillim World Premiere


On February 11, soprano Marquita Lister joins pianist Marvin Mills for the world premiere of James Lee III’s new song cycle Tehillim. The performance takes place in Irvine, CA, and is a highlight of the 20th anniversary of the African American Art Song Alliance Conference.

Lee shares some thoughts about Tehillim. “‘When Marquita Lister asked me to compose a new song cycle for her, I was delighted to be able to collaborate with her again after she premiered my oratorio Mother’s Lament last fall at Morgan State University. Marquita also mentioned that she wanted to premiere the cycle at the African American Art Song Alliance Conference. The work would represent the voice of a younger generation of composers. I tend to compose more works for orchestra and/or other instrumental pieces. So, I viewed this opportunity as a temporary pause in order to work on expanding my catalog of vocal music.”

Pianist Marvin Mills and soprano Marquita Lister; photo: Adnéia Alves Lee

He continues. “‘Tehillim’ is the Hebrew word for Psalms. I was inspired to set texts from Psalms 13, 30, and 146 as a musical response to various circumstances that occurred in Marquita’s life. These Psalms were originally written by King David, the ancient Hebrew ruler. Psalm 13 is an expression of humanity and cries out to God for help and comfort in difficult and trying times. Psalm 30 is musically set in a majestic manner that reflects the individual’s resolution to move forward full of confidence and faith, and then ends in a state of tranquility. The last Psalm, No. 146, is a jubilant response primarily on the words ‘Praise the Lord.’ I look forward to Marquita’s voice bringing my new song cycle life.”

More Lee news: Also happening this month is the Columbia Orchestra of Maryland’s performance of Lee’s Baltimore Symphony commissioned-work Chuphshah! Harriet’s Drive to Canaan, conducted by Jason Love.