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June 1, 2010

Composer and former Peabody faculty member Benjamin Lees dies at 86

Just heard that Benjamin Lees, an American composer of powerfully constructed and vividly expressive music, died Monday at the age of 86 in Glen Cove, NY. The cause was heart failure, according to a release from Boosey & Hawkes, publisher of his music.

Mr. Lees taught composition in the early 1960s at the Peabody Institute and later served on the faculties of Juilliard and Manhattan schools of music. His works have been performed by major orchestras, chamber ensembles and soloists. Born to Russian parents in Manchuria in 1924, Mr. Lees was raised in California. One of his composition teachers was the iconoclastic George Antheil.

I was impressed whenever I encountered Mr. Lees' music live or on recording. The statement from Boosey includes this wonderful quote by the composer summing up his style:

"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."

Visceral is a great word for the kind of music Mr. Lees created, as this clip from his Piano Concerto No. 2 makes plain:


Posted by Tim Smith at 3:28 PM | | Comments (0)

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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