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Lee's New Work Celebrates BC and Jesuit Poet

Prof. Thomas Oboe Lee (Music). Photo by Lee Pellegrini

By Rosanne Pellegrini | Chronicle Staff

Published: Oct. 31, 2013

The premiere of Professor of Music Thomas Oboe Lee’s “God’s Grandeur,” which he composed to commemorate the University’s Sesquicentennial, will be performed by the University Chorale under the direction of John Finney, on Nov. 9 from 8-10 p.m. in Trinity Chapel on Newton Campus.

“God’s Grandeur” comprises five poems by Gerald Manley Hopkins, SJ (1844-1889), whose posthumous fame established him among the leading Victorian poets. Fr. Hopkins’ poems have been described as covering the range of human emotions, from the sheer celebration of the world to the terrors of desolation.

“I hope the audience will enjoy the work as much as I did when I was creating it,” said Lee.

The genesis of “God’s Grandeur” goes back to 2000, said Lee, when Finney and the University Chorale premiered Lee’s “Mass for the Holy Year 2000” for chorus and orchestra in Trinity Chapel. So pleased with the performance was Lee that 10 years later, in anticipation of the 150th anniversary of Boston College’s founding, he decided to write another work for the Chorale.

Since Lee wanted the subject of the new piece to revolve around BC’s Jesuit identity, Fr. Hopkins was an appropriate choice, he said. But that was not the only reason: “I was very surprised and thrilled that for someone who lived in the 19th century, his work is so fanciful, imaginative and ‘abstract’ in form,” which he said lent itself well to the project.

   “These abstract poetic qualities are the very things that a composer in the 20th and 21st centuries finds inspiring when seeking texts for musical settings. I did indeed find the sound and silences of his words quite inspirational. Hearing music in those words came directly and quickly as I was working on the piece.”

In addition to the title piece, “God’s Grandeur,” Lee adapted Fr. Hopkins’ “Pied Beauty,” “The Habit of Perfection,” “Thou Art Indeed Just, Lord,” and “Inversnaid.”

 According to Lee, “God’s Grandeur” is the second, public declamation part of his Fr. Hopkins project. The first was a private utterance of faith and God in a chamber setting with a 10-poem song cycle for soprano and piano, titled “THOU mastering me God!” The work was premiered in Bapst Library in March 2011.

 “The Chorale and I are very excited about the world premiere performance of Thomas Oboe Lee’s ‘God’s Grandeur’,” said Finney, who noted that the work will be performed by the entire Chorale, accompanied by a professional chamber orchestra. “Professor Lee’s settings of five poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ, are absolutely stunning, and we are delighted to be the first ensemble in the world to perform this amazing composition.”

At the concert, the Chorale will also perform what Finney describes as a beautiful Mass by Franz Joseph Haydn, the “Missa Sancti Nicolai.”

Admission is $10; tickets are available via the Robsham Theater Arts Center Box Office. Call ext.2-4002 or send e-mail to