Author Topic: Benjamin Lees (1924-2010)  (Read 2693 times)

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Elnimio

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Benjamin Lees (1924-2010)
« on: January 12, 2011, 08:46:43 AM »
Hmm, no previous thread on this guy? Sadly he passed away this year,  but this composer created some of the finest (neo-classical or neo-romantic, I guess you could call them, but like his contemporaries of Mennin and Schuman he definitely went outside the common-practice tonality box) works that I've heard from an American composer.

His style was like I said, tonal, but also very angsty and energetic. I quote him

"There are two kinds of composers. One is the intellectual and the other is visceral. I fall into the latter category. If my stomach doesn't tighten at an idea, then it's not the right idea."

Here's an example of his work:

<a href="http://www.youtube.com/v/HEBKBc0DAD0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" class="bbc_link bbc_flash_disabled new_win">http://www.youtube.com/v/HEBKBc0DAD0</a>



Offline Lethevich

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Re: Benjamin Lees (1924-2010)
« Reply #1 on: January 12, 2011, 09:50:48 AM »
Thanks for the clip, I liked it more than I expected - seemingly written for fun rather than to challenge, and yet with sufficient complexity to remain interesting. I have access to the Naxos disc of string quartets (1, 5 and 6) and I'll remember to give it a long-delayed play when I have a chance.
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Offline Daverz

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Re: Benjamin Lees (1924-2010)
« Reply #2 on: January 12, 2011, 09:22:45 PM »
My first encounter with his music was the Concerto for String Quartet & Orchestra, which was the flipside of the Sessions Symphony No. 3:



This doesn't seem to have ever made it to CD.  It's a fine, intense work.  There are some Symphonies and a Piano Concerto on Albany, which I need to give some more spins.  The string quartets on Naxos are highly recommended.  I've actually collected 2 recordings of his Violin Concerto without even trying (Ricci and Olivera).  I don't think I actually cared for it, but I'll have to give it another try.

snyprrr

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Re: Benjamin Lees (1924-2010)
« Reply #3 on: January 13, 2011, 10:42:34 AM »
There's also that old Albany disc of Violin Sonatas 1-3.

I have one of the VS on a BayCities disc. Tough, rugged, ballsy,... like Shapey/Schoenberg.

Interested in that SQ/Naxos disc.

Offline Lethevich

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Re: Benjamin Lees (1924-2010)
« Reply #4 on: January 13, 2011, 11:00:21 AM »
The SQ disc was great fun, well worth checking out. No.1 was very good - not as interesting as 5 and 6, but energetic and masterfully written. The later ones are actually freakishly inventive, with things going on that I am not musically educated enough to be able to describe - but the shifting textures and really unusual twists on sonata form have gotten me interested in hearing more.
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Elnimio

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Re: Benjamin Lees (1924-2010)
« Reply #5 on: January 13, 2011, 12:33:59 PM »
My first encounter with his music was the Concerto for String Quartet & Orchestra, which was the flipside of the Sessions Symphony No. 3:



This doesn't seem to have ever made it to CD.  It's a fine, intense work.  There are some Symphonies and a Piano Concerto on Albany, which I need to give some more spins.  The string quartets on Naxos are highly recommended.  I've actually collected 2 recordings of his Violin Concerto without even trying (Ricci and Olivera).  I don't think I actually cared for it, but I'll have to give it another try.

Yeah, the violin concerto is one of his weakest works IMO, disappointingly enough (I play the violin).

Offline Daverz

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Re: Benjamin Lees (1924-2010)
« Reply #6 on: January 13, 2011, 01:34:11 PM »
Yeah, the violin concerto is one of his weakest works IMO, disappointingly enough (I play the violin).

Listening to the Oliveira now.  Much better than I remembered, perhaps I had it confused with a different concerto on a Vox set.  Here's a quote from the Fanfare review:

"Benjamin Lees, in his booklet notes, mentions the risk of beginning a work with a slow movement, although Prokofiev’s and Shostakovich’s First Concertos, as well as Walton’s (both the Violin and the Viola Concertos), should have helped pave listeners’ way through whatever difficulties might exist. Lees’s Concerto may be familiar to listeners from performances by Ruggiero Ricci (for example, on One-Eleven 96020), but Oliveira’s presents it in digital sound that sets the solo part against both bright and dark orchestral sonorities. As did Prokofiev’s concertos, Lees’s combines, in its first movement, swirling passagework with biting declamation and soaring lyricism, so plentiful variety and a strong sense of movement perpetually freshen the music’s interest throughout the Andante con moto’s dozen-odd minutes. Lees’s harmonic idiom, considerably more adventurous than Bloch’s, nevertheless grounded in so many familiar tonal and thoroughly violinistic melodic figures, seems more comfortably familiar than more extended analysis might reveal (for example, the seductive woodwind passages opening the second movement). The two concertos also share a dramatic and, at times, almost improvisational sense, by turns rhapsodic, epic, playful, and even hypnotic (a combination perhaps most notable in Lees’s slow movement, Adagio), a tie that binds them not only to each other but to Oliveira as well, who seems thoroughly at home in them. The third movement reveals a more primal rhythmic sense, reminiscent of the combination of slashing figuration and spiky dissonance familiar from Bartók’s works;"

« Last Edit: January 13, 2011, 01:37:25 PM by Daverz »

Elnimio

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Re: Benjamin Lees (1924-2010)
« Reply #7 on: January 13, 2011, 02:06:50 PM »
I have the Ricci version, I'll acquire the Oliveira version.


The Bloch concerto is great though, so it's like killing two birds with one stone.

Sid

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Re: Benjamin Lees (1924-2010)
« Reply #8 on: January 13, 2011, 08:16:19 PM »
Sad to hear of his passing, but I guess not everyone can live as long as Elliot Carter. I just reviewed the Naxos string quartets disc, mentioned above, on another thread:

Basically I think that this is quite conservative music but well written. The 1st quartet is from 1952 whilst the other two are from 2002 & 2006. The sleeve notes say Lees was particularly inspired by Britten & Shostakovich, but I also think that he is close to the neo-Romantics like Walton & Barber. There is much contrast here, and a kind of Lisztian or Wagnerian sense of thematic development, Lees seems to start off with a 'leading motif' which is constantly being transformed throughout the work. He also splits up the quartet between the 2 violins on the one hand, and the viola and cello on the other. Often there is a contrast between the different instruments highest and lowest registers. Carter also did this in some of his string quartets, but Lees "take" on this technique is more listenable, if not quite as edge of your seat compelling. Lees' juxtaposition of various moods and textures are said to come from his interest in Cubist and Surrealist art. I think that keeping this in mind when listening is quite interesting. I particularly like the second movement of the 5th quartet, marked arioso. The violins sing like birds at a very high register, which gets higher and higher, while the cello and viola interject with comparatively menacing sounds. Messiaen comes to mind here, but unlike him I don't think that Lees was literally transcribing birdsong. This 5th quartet is the most immediately appealing on the disc, it "was chosen by Chamber Music America as one of its 101 Great Ensemble Works."