Who was Benjamin Lees ...
Benjamin Lees was born January 8, 1924 and spent his early years in San Francisco, moving to Los Angeles with his family in 1939. He began piano studies at the age of five with K. I. Rodetsky, continuing with Marguerite Bitter in Los Angeles. He attended the University of Southern California after military service in World War II and later began four years of intensive private study with George Antheil. Following a Fromm Foundation Award in 1953 and his first Guggenheim Fellowship in 1954 the composer and his wife left for Europe. He remained there for seven years, creating new works in a village near Paris. During this period, his compositions were performed on RTF, Paris and the BBC, London.
He taught at the Peabody Conservatory, Baltimore, holding the W. Alton Jones Chair of Composition, and was also on the faculties of the Juilliard School, the Manhattan School of Music, and Queens College, New York. His works have been performed by major orchestras such as the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Pittsburg Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, London, Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo; Major soloists have included pianists Ian Hobson, Emanuel Ax, and Gary Graffman; violinists Henryk Szeryng, Ruggiero Ricci and Elmar Oliveira; contralto Maureen Forrester; the Tokyo, Juilliard, Paganini, Budapest, Aurora and Cypress String Quartets, the Williams Trio, Pacific Serenades, the American Chamber Ensemble and the Pacific Arts Trio.
Lees's scores often make intensive use of particular intervals and their inversions; this technique combines with the presence of contrapuntal devices such as canons, fugues, and stretti to create a sense of expanded tonality. In his orchestral works, he often constructs monumental sonorities, with shifting meters shaping an underlying pulse. The British critic Bret Johnson has written, "The Lees style is instantly recognizable and every work is possessed of lofty grandeur."
Among his later works, Symphony No. 4 (Memorial Candles) commissioned and premiered by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in 1985, is of major significance. Since its premiere it has been performed by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, the Philharmonia (London), Houston Symphony Orchestra, Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. A recording of Symphony No. 4 was issued on the Naxos label; reviewing the disc, Stephen Pettitt of The Sunday Times (U.K.) called Symphony No.4 a work of “immense power and ambition, evoking all the fear, desolation and darkness of that terrible episode.”
Lees’s first orchestral work of the 1990’s was his Concerto for French Horn and Orchestra(1992), commissioned by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Lorin Maazel conducted the premiere with William Caballero as soloist, following which Maazel and company performed the concerto on tour in England and Germany to admiring notices. His next major opus was Echoes of Normandy, commissioned by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra to commemorate the 50th anniversary of D-Day. Scored for solo tenor, organ, pre-recorded tape, and orchestra, Echoes of Normandy(1994) had its premiere in Dallas under the direction of Andrew Litton. Other orchestral works of the 1990’s include Borealis (1993), commissioned by the Wichita Symphony; Celebration (1996) for the Lancaster Symphony Orchestra; and Constellations, premiered by the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo in July 1997 under the baton of James DePreist. Another late, major work, Piano Concerto No.3, was premiered in April 2007 by the Florida Orchestra, with soloist Ian Hobson, to great critical acclaim.
Pierre-Petite of Le Figaro noted the “remarkable transparency and invention” of Constellations, praising the piece’s “subtle magic, that which one formerly called the harmony of the spheres.” Spurred by the success of Constellations, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo commissioned Lees to compose the Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra, which premiered in December 1999. The Nice-Matin critic in Monte Carlo praised the concerto as “the quintessence of percussion.”
A complete list of his published works is available from Boosey & Hawkes at http://www.boosey.com/pages/cr/composer/composer_main.asp?composerid=2803.
His recorded works on CD include the Concerto for French Horn and Orchestra, with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra under Lorin Maazel (New World 80503-2); Passacaglia for Orchestra with the Oregon Symphony under James DePreist (Delos DE 3291; theViolin Sonatas 1, 2 & 3 with soloist Ellen Orner (Albany Troy 138); Piano Sonata No.4, Mirrors, and Fantasy Variations, featuring pianist Ian Hobson (Albany Troy 227); the Piano Concerto No.1 Piano Concerto No.2 with pianist Ian Hobson and the Albany Symphony Orchestra under Alan David Miller (Albany Troy 441); the two-CD album containing Symphonies 2, 3 & 5 with the Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz led by Stephen Gunzenhauser (Albany Troy 564/65); the Symphony No. 4 "Memorial Candles” is on the Naxos label with the Orchestra of the Ukraine and mezzo Kimball Wheeler (CD 8.559002) while the Violin Concerto has been recorded by Elmar Oliveira and the Orchestra of the Ukraine on the Artek label (AR 0042-2). His Piano Trio No. 2, “Silent Voices,” was recorded by the trio from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum for Albany (Troy 518) and pianist Mirian Conti recorded a retrospective of the composer’s piano works from 1947 – 2005, including the Six Ornamental Etudes, Toccata, Three Preludes, Sonata Breve, and Odyssey 1, 2 & 3 (Toccata Classics TOCC 0069). Odyssey No. 1 was also recorded by Eugene Barban for Americus (AMR 19971005). His String Quartets 1, 5 & 6 have been recorded by the Cypress Quartet, also for Naxos (CD 8.559628).
His honors include two Guggenheim Fellowships, Sir Arnold Bax Medal,(London), Fulbright Fellowship,(Finland) Copley Foundation Award, the UNESCO Award (Paris) for String Quartet No. 2 and the Composer’s Award from the Lancaster (PA) Symphony. He was the first recipient of the Fromm Foundation Award in 1952, and was invited as a guest of the Union of Soviet Composers in 1967. He received two Grammy Nominations - in 2004 for his Symphony No.5 in the category Best Classical Composition and in 2009, his Violin Concerto was nominated in the Best Instrumental Soloist Performance with Orchestra category. Major articles on his works have been written for Tempo magazine by Deryck Cooke, Nicolas Slonimsky, Niall O'Loughlin and Bret Johnson.
Yale University has recently acquired the complete music archive of Benjamin Lees. Manuscripts, sketches, published scores, letters, photographs, articles, commercial and performance CD recordings, and posters and will reside in the Yale Music Library.
Benjamin Lees died on May 31, 2010.
For photos, bio or more information about Benjamin Lees, please contact: Jeffrey James Arts Consulting at 516-586-3433 or email@example.com.