Emerging American conductor Christopher James Lees is becoming widely recognized for his passionate and nuanced orchestral performances, his fierce commitment to contemporary music, and his natural charisma in front of audiences around the world.
Mr. Lees is the new Assistant Conductor of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra appointed by Music Director Christopher Warren-Green in 2016. In this role Mr. Lees both curates and conducts programs on the contemporary AltSounds, Family-centric Lollipops, Education, Community, Brewery, and Nutcracker Series.
In recent seasons, Mr. Lees has returned for performances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Houston, Detroit, Milwaukee, and North Carolina Symphonies, and conducted debuts with the Indianapolis, Kansas City, Toledo, Flint, Portland (Maine), Winston Salem, Vermont, Kalamazoo, and New Bedford Symphonies. Additional guest conducting engagements have taken him to the National Arts Centre Orchestra, Orchestra de Chambre de Paris, Aspen Philharmonic Orchestra, Cabrillo Festival Orchestra, and at the Music in the Mountains Festival & Festival Internacional de Inverno de Campos do Jordão in Brazil.
Only the second American Gustavo Dudamel Conducting Fellow with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Mr. Lees made his debut with the orchestra in April 2013 and returned for concerts in February 2015.
An active pianist, and equally comfortable in the opera pit, Mr. Lees has served as Music Director or Assistant Conductor for a wide array of operas: Aida (Atlanta Symphony), Peter Grimes & John Harbison's The Great Gatsby (Aspen Opera Theatre Center), Louis Andriessen's De Materie, and Philip Glass' the CIVIL warS (Los Angeles Philharmonic), Don Giovanni & Mark Adamo's Little Women, (University of Michigan Opera Theatre), and Nino Rota’s Il Capello di paglia di Firenze (AJ Fletcher Opera Institute).
After two summers of study with Robert Spano at the Aspen Music Festival, Mr. Lees was named winner of both the 2011 James Conlon Conducting Prize and the 2012 Aspen Conducting Prizes, respectively. In 2013, Mr. Lees returned for a third summer as assistant conductor for the Aspen Music Festival and School.
Mr. Lees received a prestigious Career Assistance Grant from the Solti Foundation US and was showcased as one of only six conductors selected for the 2011 Bruno Walter Memorial Foundation National Conductor Preview, hosted by the League of American Orchestras and Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra.
Mr. Lees has also served as an Assistant Conductor for the world’s leading conductors including Gustavo Dudamel, Charles Dutoit, Herbert Blomstedt, Leonard Slatkin, David Robertson, Robert Spano, Marin Alsop, Pablo Heras-Casado, Stéphane Danève, Susanna Mälkki, and Nicholas McGegan.
A passionate advocate for contemporary music, Mr. Lees has premiered more than one hundred fifty new works by a diverse range of composers, and collaborated closely with Pulitzer Prize winners John Adams, William Bolcom, John Corigliano, Jennifer Higdon, Joseph Schwantner, Steven Stucky, Caroline Shaw, Roger Reynolds, and Julia Wolfe.
Since 2014, Mr. Lees has served as Music Director of the UNC School of the Arts Symphony Orchestra. In this position he has spearheaded cross disciplinary collaborations across five arts conservatories: Integrating world premiere choreography and expressive lighting components into symphonic orchestra concerts, pioneering an annual UNCSA Collage Concert, founding the Triad Area Medical Orchestra for local medical professionals, and conducting the musical components of CP Taylor’s 1981 play, Good – a piece of fully staged theatre in which the chamber orchestra plays a leading dramatic role.
As Artistic Director for the University of Michigan's Contemporary Directions Ensemble, he pioneered illuminating programs that drew connections between innovative contemporary music and other specialty art forms, many in alternative spaces and concert formats.
A vocal advocate for music education, he has brought his passionate energy to rehearsals and performances with various high school, honors, and conservatory orchestras across the country, including ensembles at the New England Conservatory, The Colburn School, Oberlin Conservatory, and the All-State orchestras of North Carolina and West Virginia. He has also been a guest clinician of El-Sistema inspired programs Kidznotes, Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA), and Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA).
As a collaborative pianist, Mr. Lees can be heard on If this world could stop (Bad Wolf Music Group) with soprano Lindsay Kesselman. Reviewers have called his performances "superb," noting "his stylistic range could hardly have been more impressive” (Pittsburgh Times-Review - Pierrot Lunaire with the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble)
A native of Washington, D.C., Mr. Lees holds bachelors and master's degrees from the University of Michigan, and has studied conducting with Larry Rachleff and Robert Spano, as well as having participated in masterclasses with Lorin Maazel, Michael Tilson Thomas, Gustav Meier, and Jorma Panula.
Mr. Lees lives in North Carolina with his wife - new music soprano Lindsay Kesselman - and son, Rowan.
Updated April 2017
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