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Symphony No 3 was premièred in 1969 by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra under Sixten Ehrling. Lees had been thinking for quite some time about how to compose a symphony with more relevance to a world that had changed greatly since the time of Haydn. His answer is a mix of tradition and innovation. The piece is again in three movements, but this time each is preceded by a short introduction featuring the tenor saxophone, an instrument more often found in modern popular music and far removed from Haydn. After the unusual introductions, the movements proceed with closer to classical shape and instrumentation. The first movement is related to sonata form. Lees here uses shorter themes (he refers to them as 'elements') rather than longer, flowing melodies. This is a technique he uses often and it is one of the reasons so much of his music has an intense feeling of inevitability and wholeness. It is also one of the reasons appreciation of his well-made work increases with repeated hearings.

The mournful saxophone appears again in an interlude before the short second movement. The orchestra proceeds with airier and faster music to produce a nervous, eerie effect. After another brief saxophone introduction the orchestra begins the concluding movement with new elements that are developed in unexpected ways until the symphony reaches a climax as the saxophone is integrated into the orchestra and elements from earlier movements reappear [listen -- CD 1 track 9, 9:52-11:04].

As innovative and interesting as the earlier symphonies are, the fifth will probably be the most immediately appealing to many listeners. The Kalmar Nyckel which the work honors is a ship that landed in Delaware with Swedish settlers in 1638. Because of its historical interest it is still maintained as a tourist attraction and is in good sailing condition. Lees' commemorative symphony is in one long movement divided into three sections that sometimes suggest what the passengers must have felt during their voyage. The opening is filled with apprehensive gestures in the brass and percussion. The middle section is calmer and sadder, as the settlers-to-be perhaps feel nostalgia for their homeland. The final section again suggests fearful expectation. But as the ship nears America, the adventurers thrill at the sight. With excited optimism they anticipate a new life and the symphony builds to a joyful and triumphant conclusion [listen -- CD 2 track 1, 26:26-28:21].

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Copyright © 17 January 2004 Ron Bierman, San Diego, USA


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