Lee: “Tones of Clay”

On November 14, the Calyx Piano Trio premieres James Lee III’s new 18-minute chamber piece Piano Trio No. 3, “Tones of Clay,” at the Linde Center at the Tanglewood Music Center.

Calyx Piano Trio

Lee comments on his new work. “Piano Trio No. 3 ‘Tones of Clay’ uses the words ‘tones’ and ‘clay’ for two reasons. In my use of the word ‘tones,’ I was thinking about musical tones/vocal sounds and various shades of color in the human family. According to Genesis 2:7, man (humanity) was created from the dust of the ground and became a living being. The Hebrew word aphar, which is translated as dust, can also mean clay…[and] this piano trio is about the relationships between these clay beings [found in Genesis]. Movement one, ‘From One Blood,’ begins with an open fifth interval on the notes A and E, which are symbolic for the first parents on earth, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden…The music has a decidedly simple and humble beginning suggesting the loving harmony and relationships in the early human family.”

Lee continues. “However, as the music continues to progress, there are moments of tension and a continued increase in textural density of sound in the violin, cello, and piano. The music suggests discontent [as] members of humanity start to negatively notice the various differences in tone colors of one another. This then leads to ‘Fiery Clay,’ the second movement, which is partially inspired by the following words: ‘If clay is heated too quickly, the water will turn to steam right inside the clay body, expanding with an explosive effect on the pot.’ This movement has a highly aggressive nature and [represents what] the enemy of souls has taught and perpetrated against humanity with all kinds of prejudices, biases, and acts of violence because of skin color. The role of the piano, violin, and cello, is quite percussive, and juxtaposed with the melodic utterances of anguish that are played by the cello and, at times, the violin…Movement three, ‘Molded Clay,’ seeks to express an atmosphere of music that comments on the formation of a change in character to one of love, civility, and respect. A duo between the cello and violin prepares the way for the beautiful and warm entrance of the piano…[with] episodes of various maneuverings intending to resist change. However, pizzicato passages in the cello, calmly sustained chords in the piano, and a melody in the violin lead to a foreshadowed return to paradise.

“Finally, the last movement — ‘Ransomed Blood’ — is inspired by a desire of humanity to be liberated from unjust biases based on variations of the ‘Tones of Clay’ and to be finally delivered from such destructive behavior against one another in the human family…[with] a final return to a place of paradise.”

More Lee news: also happening this month is the November 21, 2021 world premiere of the composer’s Sonata for Solo Cello. The three-movement work was commissioned by and written for Dariusz Skoraczewski, the principal cellist of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Skoraczewski will premiere the work at Community Concerts at Second, in Baltimore, MD.