On March 10, the Susquehanna Symphony Orchestra presents the world premiere of modern composer James Lee III’s “Yoshiyahu, Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Orchestra” with soloist Emmanuel Borowsky. The piece, written for the SSO, loosely follows the life of King Josiah of Judah from the Old Testament of the Bible. According to the composer, Yoshiyahu , the Hebrew name for Josiah. Is pronounced Yooh-she-yahoo.
“The title of the concert, ‘Sound the Shofar,’ comes from the third movement of this work, in which the brass are asked to produce the sound of the shofar, an Israeli horn-like instrument made from the horn of a ram,” Sheldon Bair, SSO founder and director, said.
The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. at Bel Air High School, 100 Heighe Street. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors 65 and above, and $10 for those 5-18 and college students with I.D.
After speaking with Sheldon Bair in December, 2016, Lee wrote “Yoshiyahu” in six months. The SSO began rehearsing it in October.
Lee talked about “Yoshiyahu,” which he described as a musical commentary on the life of Josiah of Judah, who became king at the age of eight.
The first movement, Restoration and Discovery, contains elements of youthfulness, playfulness and innocence. Then, when Josiah discovers in a scroll the regulations that his people should have been following and had not, he is terrified.
The second movement, Cleaning House, deals with Josiah’s religious reforms, which included tearing down the altars of false gods like Baal. The third movement, Pesach, rejoices at the great Passover celebration reinstituted by Josiah after years of neglect. It is here that the horns and trumpets representing the shofar sound in thrilling celebration.
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The energetic fourth movement, Untimely Foreign Relations, depicts a war scene with dialogue between the violin soloist and the percussion and the rest of the orchestra. It ends with the lamentation of Josiah’s death.
At 42,prolific composer James Lee III has created more than 50 works, including band, instrumental, vocal, chamber ensemble, organ, and orchestral music. He works in the basement studio of his Edgewood home using a mini keyboard and iMac. His pieces have been performed throughout the U.S. as well as in Cuba, Brazil and Argentina.
Notably, for example, in 2006, Leonard Slatkin conducted the National Symphony in performing the world premiere of Lee’s “Beyond Rivers of Vision” at the Kennedy Center. In 2011, Marin Alsop conducted the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in the premiere of his “Chuphshah! Harriet’s Drive to Canaan,” a tribute to Harriett Tubman which was commissioned by the BSO.
Lee, a professor at Morgan State University, earned a Bachelor of Music with a concentration in piano performance, a master’s of Music in composition, and a Doctor of Music Arts in composition, all at the University of Michigan. His interest in music began at age 12, when his father signed him up for piano lessons.
He is sure to be in the audience for the premiere of “Yoshiyahu.”
After intermission, the SSO will perform Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s First Symphony, begun when he was an 18-year-old cadet in training for the Russian Imperial Navy. His composition included Russian folk and oriental melodies, elements which were prominent in later works like Capriccio Espagnol, the Russian Festival Overture, and Schereherazade.
“The four-movement work is very melodic, and audience members will find much to enjoy in this Russian piece,” said Maestro Bair.