James Lee III, Composer
James Lee III, born 1975 in St. Joseph, Michigan cites as his major composition teachers Michael Daugherty, William Bolcom, Bright Sheng, Betsy Jolas, Susan Botti, Erik Santos and James Aikman. He graduated with a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Michigan in 2005. As a composition fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center in the summer of 2002, he added Osvaldo Golijov, Michael Gandolfi, Steven Mackey and Kaija Saariaho to his roster of teachers, and studied conducting with Stefan Asbury.
In 2006 he premiered Beyond Rivers of Vision in Washington D.C. at the Kennedy Center with the National Symphony Orchestra. During his inaugural concerts as the new music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Mr. Slatkin premiered A Different Soldier’s Tale with the orchestra in Detroit on December 11 – 14, 2008. The National Symphony, Baltimore Symphony, Soulful Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, Detroit Symphony, Memphis Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony, and the Southwest Michigan Symphony Orchestra have performed James Lee III’s works. Leonard Slatkin and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra performed Beyond Rivers of Vision on January 29 – 30, 2010.
The 2009-2010 season also included the world premieres of 12 Preludes of the New Earth for piano by Daniel Lau (November), A Clean Heart for mixed chorus by the Baltimore Choral Arts Society (December), Scenes Upon Eternity’s Edge for flute, violin, cello, and piano by the Monument Piano Trio and flute (February), and a Morgan Fanfare by the Morgan State University Band with Melvin Miles directing (April). During the 2009 – 2010 season Dr. Lee won the Wladimir and Rhoda Lakond Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York City. He was also the composer-in-residence for the Ritz Chamber Players, an African-American chamber music society based in Jacksonville, Florida. Performances with that organization included the Florida premiere of The Appointed Time for string quartet. Pianist Terrence Wilson also performed Dr. Lee’s sonata for piano in Seattle, Washington on April 29, 2010.
In May 2010, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra performed a movement from Beyond Rivers of Vision. James Lee III was also commissioned by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra to compose a work about the life of Harriet Tubman. The work is called Chuphshah! Harriet’s Drive to Canaan and it was premiered on September 23-25, 2011. He was also named the winner of the Sphinx Commissioning Consortium for the 2011-2012 season. Mr. Lee composed a new work called Sukkot Through Orion’s Nebula that was premiered by Michael Tilson Thomas and the New World Symphony Orchestra on October 15-16, 2011 in Miami Beach, FL.
Other performances of Dr. James Lee III’s work include performances of Sukkot Through Orion’s Nebula with the Cincinnati Symphony (January 2012) and the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra (February 2012). February 1, 2012 included another performance of James Lee III’s string quartet The Appointed Time. On this particular occasion, the Harlem Symphony Orchestra Chamber Players presented it at the Forbes Center for the Performing Arts at James Madison University. On February 15, 2012 the Ritz Chamber Players gave the world premiere of Mr. Lee’s Night Visions of Kippur (piano quintet) at the University of Washington Meany Hall in Seattle.
On January 13, 2013 Gye Nyame for chamber orchestra was premiered by Janise White and the Afro-American Chamber Music Society Orchestra in Los Angeles, CA. Also during the 2012-2013 season Sukkot Through Orion’s Nebula was performed by the Akron Symphony Orchestra in November 2012. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra also played this same work in March 2013. Later in the month of March, Mr. Lee’s newest work for band, Ancient Words, Current Realities! was premiered by the St. Olaf Band at the College Band Directors National Association Conference in Greensboro, NC.
During the month of April, James Lee III also saw the premiere of his Piano Sonata No. 2 “The Remnant” premiered at the University of Illinois by pianist, Dr. Rochelle Sennet. Recently, James Lee III has been invited to be a composer among a list of internationally recognized composers to participate in the Psalms Project of the organization Soli Deo Gloria. His setting of Psalm 111 was premiered at the Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis on October 19, 2013. Other works and premieres of music by James Lee III during the 2013-2014 season include Fantasy on the Star-Spangled Banner by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra on September 20 – 22, 2013, A Revelação Através do Santuário premiered by Jetro Oliveira and the choir of the Adventist University of São Paulo in Engenheiro Coelho and Americana, São Paulo, Brazil on September 22 & 24, 2013. On October 1, 2013, mezzo soprano Denyce Graves and the Sphinx Virtuosi premiered James Lee III’s arrangement of “Ev’ry Time I Feel the Spirit.” On February 23, 2014, the Harlem Chamber Players will perform Dr. Lee’s string quartet The Appointed Time at the Brooklyn Public Library in Brooklyn, NY. On March 1, the Hopkins Symphony Orchestra will premiere Alas! Babylon’s Final Sunset in Shriver Hall on the campus of Johns Hopkins University. From August to December 2014, James Lee III was a Fulbright Scholar and Visiting Professor to the State University of Campinas in Campinas, São Paulo, Brazil. He taught composition, composed, and researched the music of 20th and 21st century Brazilian composers.
Highlights of the 2015-2016 for James Lee III include the premiere performances of Piano Trio No. 2 “Temple Visions” by the Montrose Trio in Portland, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Detroit, and the world premiere of Thurgood’s Rhapsody commissioned by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for their centennial season celebration. Other works that will be premiered include Hallelu Yah! for the Baltimore Choral Arts Society in March 2016, Concerto for Piano and Winds for pianist, Dr. Rochelle Sennet in April 2016, and Mother’s Lament for soprano, boys choir, men’s chorus, and orchestra on September 17, 2016 in Baltimore at Morgan State University. Dr. Lee is also an associate professor at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland. His Sukkot Through Orion’s Nebula was performed by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra on October 20 & 22, 2016 in Atlanta, GA and his Night Visions of Kippur was performed at a contemporary music festival in Havana, Cuba on November 15, 2016.
Since Dr. Lee’s graduation with a D.M.A. in composition from the University of Michigan in 2005, his orchestral works have been commissioned and premiered by the National Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, New World Symphony Orchestra, and the orchestras of Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Omaha, Pasadena, Memphis, Grand Rapids, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Akron, and have been conducted by such artists as Leonard Slatkin, Marin Alsop, Michael Tilson Thomas, Juanjo Mena, David Lockington, Thomas Wilkins, and others. During the 2019-2020 season, Sukkot Through Orion’s Nebula is scheduled to be performed by the Louisiana Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra has also commissioned James Lee III to compose Amer’ican, which will be premiered in April 2020. James Lee III’s Concert for Piano and Symphonic Band was premiered by Dr. Rochelle Sennet and the Morgan State University Symphonic Band in April 2016 . His Concerto for Clarinet and Symphonic Band was premiered in Córdoba, Argentina by Nicolás Panatteri and the Symphonic Band of the Province of Córdoba in September 2016.
Dr. Lee is also a winner of a Charles Ives Scholarship and the Wladimir Lakond Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Chamber organizations such as the Montrose Trio, Ritz Chamber Players, and the Harlem Chamber Players have performed and premiered music by James Lee III. Pianist Dr. Rochelle Sennet recorded his piano music on the Albany Label in 2014. Dr. Sennet and her husband Igor Kalnin premiered his second violin sonata on March 16, 2019 at Luther College in Decorah, IA. Dr. Lee’s works have been premiered and performed internationally in Brazil, Argentina, Russia, and Cuba. Soprano Alison Buchanan also premiered a new song cycle composed especially for her in Jacksonville, FL and London, England in January and February 2019. In May 2019, Dr. Lee will see the premiere of his Sinfonia de Esperanza in Lima, Peru as part of the University of the Peruvian Adventist Union’s centennial celebrations. During the 2019-20 season the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed Dr. Lee’s Sukkot Through Orion’s Nebula in September, October, and November. During the 2021-2022 or 2022-2023 season, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will premiere his newly commissioned work Amer’ican that was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As concerts are able to resume, other upcoming premieres of Dr. Lee’s work include his Violin Concerto No. 2 “Teshuah” to be premiered by violinist Carla Trynchuk and the Andrews University Symphony Orchestra, Concerto for Piano and Orchestra to be premiered by Daniel Lau and the New England Youth Ensemble, “Wakayoha” Concerto for Bayan, Percussion, and Strings to be premiered by Franko Bozac and the Oregon Music Festival Orchestra. Many other works for orchestra, narrator and orchestra, symphonic band, and chamber music will also be premiered during the upcoming seasons. James Lee III is a Professor of Music at Morgan State University in Baltimore, MD.