Christopher James Lees, associate professor of conducting at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) and music director of the UNCSA Symphony Orchestra, has been named assistant conductor of the Charlotte Symphony beginning Sept. 1. He will continue in his roles at UNCSA.
Lees will lead the Charlotte Symphony’s Lollipops family series beginning in the 2016-17 season as well as select Pops performances. He will also conduct Charlotte Symphony education and community outreach concerts, including the annual Debbie Phillips concerts for middle school students, plus the Charlotte Symphony-Charlotte Ballet annual “Nutcracker” collaboration.
“I am enthusiastic about this opportunity to focus my external conducting activities with a fantastic organization within North Carolina. Through this appointment, our students interested in orchestral careers may also be able to connect more easily with their professional counterparts just down the road,” Lees said.
“I could not be more excited to represent the palpable energy, unfailing passion, and musical excellence exemplified in our UNCSA culture to a wider audience across the state,” he added.
Chancellor Lindsay Bierman said it is important for UNCSA faculty to maintain active participation in their professions. “It enables them to continue growing as artists, and it connects us in vitally important ways with artists and arts organizations across the country and throughout the world,” Bierman said. “With this appointment, Christopher James Lees will strengthen our relationship with the vibrant arts community in Charlotte.”
For UNCSA, Lees will conduct six concerts during the 2016-17 school year, beginning Saturday, Sept. 24, with a concert that features Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, and 2016 Concerto Competition winner Owen Dodds performing Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major. He will also conduct orchestra performances on Oct. 25; and Feb. 4, March 18 and April 25, 2017.
On Saturday, Nov. 19, he conducts UNCSA’s second annual Collage Concert, a showcase for the School of Music, featuring performances by the Symphony Orchestra, the Jazz Ensemble, chamber ensembles and soloists. Lees initiated and conducted the school’s first wildly popular Collage Concert in April 2016.
Lees joined the UNCSA School of Music faculty in 2014. In 2015, he became co-founder and conductor of the UNCSA-sponsored Triad Area Medical Orchestra, which provides performance opportunities for health care professionals in the Winston-Salem area. The group held its first public performance in February 2016 on the UNCSA campus. In March 2016, he coordinated a tour by the UNCSA Symphony Orchestra, with concerts in Chapel Hill, Charlotte and Brevard.
“Christopher James Lees has led our orchestra program with an amazing level of expertise and energy over the past two years, and I have no doubt that he will bring this same sense of professionalism and excitement to his work with the Charlotte Symphony,” said Karen Beres, Interim Dean of the School of Music.
“Our students who are interested in professional orchestral careers will have the benefit of a much closer connection to one of our state’s professional orchestras through Christopher’s position, and we look forward to possible collaborations with the Charlotte Symphony in the future,” she said.
A recipient of a Gustavo Dudamel Conducting Fellowship with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Lees made his debut with that orchestra in April 2013.
Following two summers of study with Robert Spano at the Aspen Music Festival, Lees was named winner of both the 2011 James Conlon Conducting Prize and the 2012 Aspen Conducting Prize, respectively. In 2013, Lees returned for a third summer as assistant conductor for the Aspen Music Festival and School.
Lees received a prestigious Career Assistance Grant from the Solti Foundation US and was one of six conductors selected for the 2011 Bruno Walter Memorial Foundation National Conductor Preview, hosted by the League of American Orchestras and Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra.
In the last three seasons, Lees has returned to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Detroit, Milwaukee, and North Carolina symphonies, and conducted debuts with the Houston, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Toledo, Flint, Winston-Salem, Kalamazoo, and New Bedford symphonies. Additional guest conducting engagements have taken him to Portland (Maine), the National Arts Centre Orchestra, Orchestre de Chambre de Paris, Aspen Philharmonic Orchestra, Cabrillo Festival Orchestra, the Music in the Mountains Festival, and Festival Internacional de Inverno de Campos do Jordão in Brazil.
Lees has commissioned many new contemporary works and collaborated closely with Pulitzer Prize-winning composers including John Adams, William Bolcom, Joseph Schwantner, and Jennifer Higdon, among others.
“Christopher’s diverse and impressive background will be a valuable addition to the Charlotte Symphony family,” says Charlotte Symphony President and CEO Mary Deissler. “We are fortunate to bring on board such a young and accomplished talent.”
A native of Washington, D.C., Lees holds bachelors and master’s degrees from the University of Michigan. His primary conducting mentors are Robert Spano and Larry Rachleff.