'Bach To The Future'

Music's Lee previews piece for area kids

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

Assoc. Prof. Thomas Oboe Lee (Music) showcased his composition techniques and offered a preview of his forthcoming symphony to about 3,000 area schoolchildren at a series of youth concerts held in Symphony Hall earlier this month.

Lee's work was featured in "Bach to the Future," the first entry in the 1997-98 Boston Symphony Orchestra Youth Concerts program, which took place Nov. 12-15. The program offers Greater Boston middle and high school students the opportunity to listen to, and learn about, classical music in a concert setting.

Boston Pops Conductor Keith Lockhart conceived "Bach to the Future" as a way to demonstrate the evolution of the orchestra and orchestral music over the past two centuries, Lee explained, using excerpts from such compositions as Bach's "Brandenburg Concerto" and Debussy's "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun." Lee said that Lockhart, who is chairman of the BSO Youth Concerts program, wanted a contemporary work "symbolizing the future, one that hasn't actually been performed yet," and contacted several local composers, including Lee, to find candidates.

At the time, Lee was penning "The Nursery Frieze," the first movement of his second symphony, "A Phantasmagorey Ballet," which is based on stories by author and illustrator Edward Gorey and will have its debut next March in Jordan Hall. Lee sent Lockhart a sample of the work-in-progress and Lockhart recruited him.

Assoc. Prof. Thomas Oboe Lee (Music).
Lee, however, had an additional idea for the concert. "I use a computer to write and edit my compositions, as do many of my colleagues," he said. "Since kids are so interested in computers, I thought they might like to see the way it's used in musical composition."

Lee arranged for a computer workstation to be set up on the Symphony Hall stage, which would display the musical tablature on a large screen as he played his composition on a keyboard. After Lee had finished his demonstration, the orchestra played the piece.

"I was really glad to have this opportunity," Lee said. "A composer is like an architect: You can sit down and put all these fancy ideas on paper, but eventually you have to build the buildings. Well, I can create musical pieces, but I need performers to play it."

Lee also was gratified by some unsolicited critical appraisals of his work. Preparing to leave, he overheard some students discussing the concert program, and all agreed that "they liked the last part best."

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