Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Richard Lee named new conductor of the East Texas Symphony Orchestra
When he was three years old, she bought him a toy piano that, as he remembers, “sounded so crude it was horrible.”
TYLER Last year, East Texans witnessed five different conductors leading the East Texas Symphony Orchestra at the newly renovated Liberty Hall and at the Cowan Center in Tyler. This multiplicity of conductors was part of a search to name a new director for the orchestra. On May 31, out of 160 applicants, Richard Lee was chosen to lead East Texas into a new era of musical culture.
The decision was influenced by the audience’s reaction last year to Richard’s leadership. Listeners described him as passionate and invigorating, and an inside look at Richard’s personality, background, and experience shows that he will truly be a fantastic asset to East Texas.
Lee’s qualifications include a rich background. Richard’s family originated in Korea, and his mother expected serious discipline from him at an early age. When he was three years old, she bought him a toy piano that, as he remembers, “sounded so crude it was horrible. It was brown and small and set low on the floor, like one of those pianos played by Schroeder in the Peanuts cartoon.” He described this early training as a toddler saying, “Most people would buy these types of pianos and let their children bash away, but my mother would not. She would formalize and give me structured lessons. It was not fun.”
It was a delight to sit and talk with this splendid musician. His enthusiasm for work was contagious. Completely intrigued by his personality and the subject, I asked, “How difficult is it to be a conductor and do what you do?”
Richard replied honestly, “To do it right is very hard! I don’t think there is anything harder. You have to demonstrate a mastery and a knowledge of the structure of the music and how it goes. I think, in a way, as a conductor, you must find the purest expression of the music possible and recreate it, which is actually impossible. The real challenge is to create a vision of music and try and execute it.”
He was so absorbed in his thoughts, I could tell he was reliving some of his performances. Does he ever get it perfect?
“I think if I got it perfect every time, or if the musician got it perfect every time, we would stop doing it. I think that is what keeps us going. No matter how great an orchestra is, it’s not perfect. It is interesting to look at my old notes on music and scoff because of how I have grown and evolved.”
What advice would he give to someone attending a concert for the first time? “Familiarize yourself with the music before you go. Get a CD, or listen online. Beyond that, go, watch, observe, and be non-judgemental. Let yourself take in the classical experience. Allow whatever feelings that you feel happen. Even if you fall asleep, I don’t mind. Some music is intended to be sleepy, and if you fall asleep, that’s probably a good thing!” I couldn’t help but laugh.
“I think you can get a great experience even if you know nothing about music. I can stand in front of a great artist like Van Gogh, and it doesn’t matter if I know about drawing or pigments. I can still appreciate and enjoy the beauty of the art. I can still say that a certain piece speaks to me. I have zero painting ability, but I love a beautiful painting and carry memories of my favorite experiences or art like Starry Night with me. The analogy is the same with classical music. At the core, great art affects people.”
What would it do for East Texas if the symphony were a deeper part of our culture?
In his debonair way, he replied, “Well, for me, there is an obvious benefit in surrounding yourself with beautiful things, the same way people plant flowers and hang pictures or put vases in corners… Music should be a part of that. [Areas] with great orchestras are proud of their orchestras, and a good symphony is a tool for civic pride. The symphony is even a recruiting tool for those people who have an inclination towards it who might come here for work or school.”
The Symphony begins performing in September, so don’t miss out! There are activities for all ages. It will be a fabulous year with the passionate and dedicated Mr. Richard Lee.
Season Tickets on sale through the Cowan Center Box Office, 903.566.7424.
Five Concert Subscriptions range from $36 to $198.
Three Concert Subscriptions range from $27 to $156
More information at www.ETSO.org