The Kennedy Center

Beyond Rivers of Vision

About the Work

James Lee III Composer: James Lee III
© Richard Freed

This three-movement work, composed last year, is receiving its world premiere performances in the present concerts.

The score, dedicated to the composer's parents, calls for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, tom toms, tambourine, crash cymbals, suspended cymbal, 3 triangles, large and small tam-tams, chimes, 4 wood blocks, glass wind chimes, xylophone, vibraphone, marimba, glockenspiel, celesta, piano, and strings. Duration, 14 minutes.

James Lee III studied both piano and composition at the University of Michigan School of Music, where the took his bachelor's degree in piano performance in 1999, his master's in composition in 2001, and his doctorate in composition last year. He cites as his major composition teachers Michael Daugherty, William Bolcom, Bright Sheng, Betsy Jolas, Susan Botti, Erik Santos and James Alkman. 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. He now holds a pedagogical position himself, as assistant professor of composition and theory at Morgan State University in Baltimore.

Commissions began coming Mr. Lee's way during his graduate student years, and his music has been performed as far from home as Tokyo, where he himself introduced his piano work …of Love and Peace in 2003, and Cape Town, South Africa, where his reflecting setting of My Lord, What a Morning was given its premiere last year by the Our Own Thing Chorale under Willis Patterson, who had commissioned that work. Among other premieres in the last five years may be noted a reading of his orchestral Papa Lapa by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Thomas Wilkins conducting, in 2001; the premiere of Sympathy, for flute, percussion, harp and chorus, given by the Leigh Morris Chorale in St. Paul in 2002; two premieres at Tanglewood in that year: The Appointed Time, for string quartet, and a choral setting of Psalm 61; the Piano Sonata, performed by the composer at Ann Arbor in 2003; and Through the Eyes of Time, commissioned by the Alabama All-State Festival Orchestra and introduced in Mobile under Anthony Elliott in 2004. Lee's Piano Trio and Saxophone Quartet are both scheduled for their premieres at Morgan State University this fall.

The work receiving its premiere in the present concerts, Beyond Rivers of Vision, was actually Mr. Lee's doctoral dissertation, composed under the supervision of Michael Daugherty. Its three movements are headed (1) HIDDEKEL: THIRD FROM LIFE; (2) THE 24TH DAY OF ABIB; (3) . . . AND ON EITHER SIDE OF THE RIVER. Hiddekel was the Hebrew name for the Tigris, the third of the great antediluvian rivers in the Biblical order of their creation (the fourth being the Euphrates). Abib was the original name for the first month of the year beginning in spring, the month now called Nisan in the Hebrew calendar. The term is also used to describe a stage in the development of the barley crop, as in several passages in the Book of Exodus relating to the origins of the Passover (and symbolic of spring). As to the music itself, the composer has kindly provided the following note of his own.

Beyond Rivers of Vision is a three-movement work for orchestra focusing on various rivers in the Bible, on men based near those rivers, and on visions connected with those men. It is interesting to note that visions are opened especially to Daniel and John as each is near a body of water while living in exile. Daniel was in Babylon (modern day Iraq), while John was on the island of Patmos, off the western coast of Turkey. It is, however, the deep and sincere importance of the vision received that takes precedence over the location of a particular river.

Usually the visions associated with Daniel and John refer to eschatological subject matters. Therefore I arrived at this particular title because we must look beyond the river itself and study the vision. The textual sources are found in Genesis 2:10-14; 3:7, 24; Daniel Chapter 10 (specifically Verses 1-6) and Revelation 22:1-5. What I have tried to do is to provide orchestral images that serve as text-paintings of these passages. For the most part, I have chosen a form that is fantasia-like or rhapsodic, in an attempt to remain true to the natural progression of events in the respective passages.

At various points I also use numerical and word symbolism in terms of pitches, phrases, names and larger sections. to remain true to the natural progression of events in the respective passages:
NUMERICAL SYMBOLISM: In the third movement I use a type of serialism for the number 144,000, a number mentioned in the Book of Revelation. In the writing for trumpets 1 and 2 in measures 31 and 32, the pitches roughly correspond to the number 144,000 in the "implied key." For example, in measure 32 trumpet 1 plays B-flat, D, D, B, B, B, which would constitute 144,000 if B-flat is 0, while there is C-sharp, E, E, C, C, C in the material for trumpets 2 and 3, which would correspond to 144,000 if C is 0.
WORD SYMBOLISM: The name Michael appears both in the Book of Daniel and in Revelation; I have spelt out this name by assigning the respective letters to the corresponding notes:

MI (E), C (C), H (B), A (A), EL (E).

This theme may be found in the trumpets and also in the first horn at subsequent points. It is also played by the chimes in measure 69, and it appears in transposed form throughout the remainder of the movement.

LARGER SECTIONS: In Daniel 10, Daniel states that he fasted for three full weeks (21 days) during which he was also mourning. I have therefore composed a mournful melody in the cellos and violas, with accompaniment by other instruments, for 21 measures, commencing in measure 10.

James Lee III