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. 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.
Recent premieres and performances of his music include; 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; A Place for God’s People, an orchestral work premiered at Andrews University in 2002. In 2002 Dr. Lee had two premieres at the Tanglewood Music Center in Lenox, Massachusetts. Those premieres included The Appointed Time for string quartet and Psalm 61 for members of the Boston Symphony Chorus. Through the Eyes of Time for orchestra was commissioned by the Alabama All-State Festival Orchestra and introduced in Mobile under Anthony Elliott in 2004. Recently, Maestro Leonard Slatkin has begun to champion Dr. Lee’s work.
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 of $10,000 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.
During the 2012-2013 season Sukkot Through Orion’s Nebula will be performed by the Akron Symphony Orchestra in November 2012 and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in March 2013. Later in the month of March, Mr. Lee’s newest work for band, Ancient Words, Current Realities! will be 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 will see 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. Dr. Lee is also an associate professor at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland.