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In His Own Words: James Lee III on Piano Trio No. 2, "Temple Visions"

Oct 13, 2015

The Montrose Trio's program on Sunday, October 25 brings the first of three works newly co-commissioned by Shriver Hall Concert Series: the Piano Trio No. 2, "Temple Visions," by James Lee III, a highly regarded young composer who is also Associate Professor of Composition and Theory at Morgan State University. Previously commissioned by the Baltimore Symphony - his Chupshah! Harriet's Drive to Canaan was heard there in 2011 and his Thurgood's Rhapsody is scheduled for this season - Lee has also written works for the Baltimore Choral Arts Society and the Hopkins Symphony Orchestra (Alas! Babylon's Final Sunset premiered in March 2014). However, Lee's music has also been performed by chamber and symphonic ensembles throughout America, including the Detroit, National, and Cincinnati symphonies and The Philadelphia Orchestra.

Raised in Benton Harbor, MI, Lee began composing at age 16 and, after studying piano at Andrews University, went on to earn three degrees in music at the University of Michigan. Two highly eclectic composers directed his graduate studies there: William Bolcom for his Master's and Michael Daugherty for his Doctorate. Lee also studied at the Boston Symphony's Tanglewood Institute under Osvaldo Golijov and Kaaija Saariaho and in 2003 received the Charles Ives prize for music composition from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He has also been a Fulbright scholar in Brazil.

Lee explains his new trio with these words:

"Piano Trio No. 2, 'Temple Visions' is a four-movement work that serves as musical commentary on various scenes depicted in the biblical book of Revelation. The scenes portrayed are quite vivid and involve both locations in the heavens and the earth. The temple referred to is the heavenly sanctuary in the third heaven where God dwells.

"The first movement, Internal Conflict, begins with a vigorous upward ascent in all three instruments. This title has a double meaning. First, the twelfth chapter of Revelation mentions a war in heaven between the archangel Michael, the dragon, and their respective angels. The second refers to the individual's internal conflict with himself/herself as to whether to choose the side of Michael or the dragon. Loosely organized with hints of sonata form, this movement's initial theme is played by all three instruments. After an energetic exchange that is quite agitated, a secondary theme is introduced by violin and piano over the cello's ostinato-like figure. The development section utilizes primarily the first-theme material.

"Galactic Districts serves as the scherzo of the trio. This movement is lighter and more playful in nature. The title suggests various communities of intelligent beings in other worlds or galaxies. As one imagines traveling to distant galaxies, various images capture the attention, and the music of different districts produces harmonies that fly by in a whimsical manner.

"The third movement, A City Mourned, is a musical commentary on the lament of those grieving the eventual fall and destruction of the city of Babylon (actually spiritual Babylon) as mentioned in Revelation Chapter 18. The cello opens in the Phrygian mode, but the melody is gradually modified until it is not distinguishable as being in any particular key. The violin enters with a countermelody that serves as another lament until the piano presents delicate comfort. Aggressive chords depict spiritual Babylon's demise. The movement ends with an open fifth that expresses the void resulting from the destruction.

"Final Resolutions has musical material that refers back to the ascending gestures of the first movement, representing the individual's need to decide to whose side he/she will give allegiance. The rest of the movement has elements that almost appear to be in rondo form. Throughout, there are various references back to the first movement until the work ends in a more recognizable major tonality."

Notes by James Lee III and Janet Bedell © 2015

Click Here for Tickets to The Montrose Trio Performance on October 25!