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But even piano studies, detailed examination of master scores, and four years of college training in composition weren't enough for him to feel he had command of his craft. That took nearly five more years with Antheil. Lees speaks of him with obvious warmth and respect. Antheil didn't think of himself as a teacher, and assisted only the most promising composers. Lees paid no fee. He says Antheil was repaying Ernest Bloch in kind. When Antheil earlier in his career was studying with Bloch, Bloch stopped accepting a fee when he learned, 'George was depriving himself of food in order to pay for his lessons.'

Lees said of Antheil, 'We had a relationship which was very much like the old master/apprentice relationship.' Lessons were one to four times a week and lasted one to three hours. 'Or on a number of occasions on into the dinner hour and I would call my wife to come over to his house and all of us would have dinner together.'

He taught Lees how to look at his scores, identify weaknesses and tighten structures. Looking at one of his sonata forms for example, '... he would say, "Dr Antheil spots a weakness ... The transition from the second statement of the principal subject to the opening of the second theme isn't strong enough."' And so he taught Lees about transitions saying, '"Later on, when you are old and hopefully famous, you won't even be thinking about these things, but they will occur automatically."'

Benjamin Lees in Vienna, 1955
Benjamin Lees in Vienna, 1955

In 1953, near the end of his study with George Antheil, Lees' training began to pay off. He was included in the first list of composers to win a Fromm Music Foundation Award and the following year saw the first major performance of his work when the NBC Orchestra played Profiles for Orchestra. Though never among the best known composers, Lees has since won numerous awards and commissions and his work has been included in many public performances and recordings. Several of the recordings are recent and Lees' discussion of them provides general insight into what it takes for a composition to make it to disk.

That will be the subject of my next report.

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Copyright © 15 June 2003 Ron Bierman, San Diego, USA




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