NEC Philharmonia + Earl Lee: Schumann, Shin, Brahms
Earl Lee '15 GD conducts tonight's performance by NEC Philharmonia of works by Schumann and Brahms and a new work by Donghoon Shin.
This is an in-person event with a private stream available to the NEC community here: https://necmusic.edu/live
Winner of the 2022 Sir Georg Solti Conducting Award, Earl Lee is a renowned Korean-Canadian conductor who has captivated audiences worldwide. Earl is in his second season as Music Director of the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra and in his third season as Assistant Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which he has led in subscription concerts both at Symphony Hall and Tanglewood.
In addition to a full season of concerts with the Ann Arbor Symphony and subscription concerts with the Boston Symphony in Boston and at Tanglewood, Earl’s 23/24 season includes guest conducting engagements with the Vancouver Symphony, Calgary Philharmonic, Winnipeg Symphony, Colorado Springs Philharmonic, The Florida Orchestra, and the Royal Conservatory Orchestra Toronto. Previous seasons have seen subscription debuts with the San Francisco Symphony, Seoul Philharmonic, Hawaii Symphony, and Edmonton Symphony; leading the Lunar New Year galas of both the New York Philharmonic and San Francisco Symphony; and concerts with the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra and with Sejong Soloists in both New York and Seoul.
Earl previously held positions as Associate Conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony and as the Resident Conductor of the Toronto Symphony. In 2022, he appeared with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam as a participant in the Ammodo masterclasses led by Fabio Luisi.
Earl’s 23/24 programs with the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra include contemporary works by John Adams, Brian Raphael Nabors, Joan Towers, Gala Flagello, Jessie Montgomery, and Zhou Tian as well as the first installment of a multi-year Beethoven cycle with Symphonies Nos. 2, 5 and 9. He leads the orchestra in its Detroit Orchestra Hall debut in January 2024 in a concert during the Sphinx Organizations’s annual SphinxConnect convention.
In all of his professional activities, Earl seeks ways to connect with fellow musicians and audiences on a personal level. He has taken great pleasure in mentoring young musicians as former Artistic Director and Conductor of the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra, and as Music Director of the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra and is a regular guest conductor with the orchestras of North America’s top music schools such as Manhattan School of Music, The Juilliard School, and the New England, San Francisco, and Royal Conservatories.|
As a cellist, Earl has performed at festivals such as the Marlboro Music Festival, Music from Angel Fire, Caramoor Rising Stars, and Ravinia’s Steans Institute and has toured as a member of the East Coast Chamber Orchestra (ECCO), with Musicians from Marlboro, and with Gary Burton & Chick Corea as a guest member of the Harlem String Quartet.
Earl was the recipient of the 50th Anniversary Heinz Unger Award from the Ontario Arts Council in 2018, of a Solti Career Assistance Award in 2021 and has been awarded a Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy Scholarship by Kurt Masur and the Ansbacher Fellowship by the American Austrian Foundation and members of the Vienna Philharmonic. He studied cello at the Curtis Institute of Music and the Juilliard School and conducting at Manhattan School of Music and New England Conservatory. He lives in New York City with his wife and their daughter.
Robert Schumann | Overture to Manfred, op. 115
Donghoon Shin | Upon His Ghostly Solitude (2023)
My first encounter with W. B. Yeats’ poem Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen was through Jorge Luis Borges’ Theme of the Traitor and the Hero. Borges’ intention seems to be clear. He wanted to emphasise the theme of his short story – the irony of the cyclical nature of history – by quoting the second section of Yeats’ Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen. Although I was intrigued to discover the whole poem, it was not an easy task for a teenager who lived in Seoul and barely spoke English, since there was no Korean translation.
In 2019, in London, during the pandemic turmoil, I once again encountered Yeats’ poem, this time in its entirety! While reading it, I was quite shocked that the crippled world and the despair and the terror depicted by Yeats in 1919, match perfectly with the world and the time we live in today.
The title of my piece, Upon His Ghostly Solitude, is a quotation from the first section of the poem. It gave me the overwhelmingly strong and vivid inspiration to write an orchestral piece which continuously crosses contrasting atmospheres, from the madness of violence and frenzy to an extremely romantic and even naïve lyricism.
The harmonic theme introduced in the first movement, consisting of four different chords, is the core engine of this piece and is altered and varied in the later movements. As Yeats wrote in the poem, ‘Whirls out new right and wrong, Whirls in the old instead’. Through variations and alterations of the harmonic chords, the piece crosses the boundaries between modality, tonality and atonality.
In the last movement Yeats sings in lamentation, ‘All men are dancers and their tread goes to the barbarous clangour of gong’. So, the music marches toward ultimate destruction while the harmonic, thematic materials from the previous movements are juxtaposed and re-used in twisted and altered shapes.
As if reminding us of the theme of the poem – the irony, and the sadness of the cyclical nature of history – the climax of the first movement with its original harmonic theme appears once again, abruptly, at the moment of ultimate destruction but is cut off violently by the sound of the ‘barbarous gong’. The music returns to its peaceful beginning but is also suddenly interrupted by a scream of despair.
While reading the poem, interestingly, I found more and more resemblances with Alban Berg’s Three Orchestral Pieces, written around the same time (1915). Like Yeats’ poem, that score also tries to depict the terror and the despair in the crippled world through romantic, expressionist gestures. As a homage to Berg, and to Mahler, I composed waltz and march music for the second and the last movements. Their works have had such a big influence upon me that I have been longing for many years to compose in the two musical forms particularly favoured by those composers.
This piece is a love letter to Yeats and Berg, who suffered in the wounded world but tried to keep their voices and ideas intact even when everything ‘falls apart, and the centre cannot hold’.
Johannes Brahms | Symphony No. 2 in D Major, op. 73
Allegro non troppo
Adagio non troppo
Allegretto grazioso (quasi andantino)
Allegro con spirito