Lee: A Terrific Piece


James Lee III’s Sukkot Through Orion’s Nebula is a terrific piece and a wonderful way to open our concert.”

Phonix Symphony Portraits by Jared Platt

Conductor Joseph Young; photo: Jared Platt

On the eve of the Atlanta Symphony’s October 20 and 22 events, Evans Mirageas, (Vice President of Artistic Planning and Operations) shares his enthusiasm for the composer’s work as it is featured during the orchestra’s Modern Masters mini-festival of American music. Associate conductor Joseph Young leads. Lee’s ten-minute work was originally commissioned by the Sphinx Organization and premiered in October 2011 at the New World Symphony, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas.

Mirageas continues. “This mini-festival focuses on American music and music inspired by America, such as Dvorak’s Symphony from The New World. When we began planning the concerts, I asked Joseph what lee-sukkot-scoremusic he wanted to present, and he suggested Sukkot Through Orion’s Nebula because he previously conducted another Lee work and really enjoyed the music. We very much look forward to presenting it to our audience.”

“James Lee has such a spiritual imagination that emerges from his music,” conductor Joseph Young shares. “His beautiful orchestration can be ominous at times and serene at others. However, this is all backed with exciting rhythmical drive that makes ‘Sukkot’ such an amazing concert opener. It’s perfect for our Atlanta Symphony Orchestra program that features new exciting American Composers.”


More Lee news: Last month, on September 17, Lee’s new oratorio — Mother’s Lament: So Many Names Unknown, So Many Lost Sons — premiered at Morgan State University (Baltimore, MD), conducted by Julien Benichou. The three-movement work is scored for soprano, boy choir, men’s chorus, and orchestra; and the premiere featured soprano Marquita Lister, the Morgan State University Choir, and the Mid-Atlantic Sylee-motherslament-scoremphonic Orchestra. Written in response to recent incidents of civil unrest in numerous US African-American communities, Lee’s oratorio features Biblically inspired texts written by bass-baritone Vincent Stringer.

Lee comments. “In 2014, I was in Brazil as a Fulbright Scholar and was watching CNN when they started showing what happened in Ferguson (MO) with Michael Brown…Earlier that same summer, I had heard of the death of Eric Garner in New York City…I subsequently heard and read about the untimely deaths of other men of color because of gun violence, some at the hands of police, and others as a result of interactions with individuals from [within] the community… Later, I saw a comment by a Facebook friend asking ‘when would one of our African-American composers write a requiem about what was happening to our young men?’

“I pondered this for quite a while, and it prompted me to reach out to Vincent Stringer — my colleague at Morgan State University. I asked him to write a set of lamentations inspired by the Biblical Lamentations of Jeremiah. This idea immediately resonated with Vincent, and he began to read and study Jeremiah’s book, and then wrote what would become the text for Mother’s Lament…” The opening movement, “Sleepless Night,” musically depicts the anxiety of a mother who cannot sleep because she is worried about her son. In “Mother’s Fear” — the second movement — the boy choir and men’s chorus join the soprano to express a wide range of deep emotions. The final movement, “Mother’s Prayer” is moderately set in the style of a Negro Spiritual, which gradually changes from a feeling of sadness into a sense of hope and comfort.