Myra Klarman Photography

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.

In 2018, Mr. Lees begins an appointment as Resident Conductor of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra and Music Director of the Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra. After serving two seasons as Assistant Conductor, Mr. Lees curates and conducts more than 50 performances a year on the contemporary AltSounds, Family, Education, CSO On-the-Go, OnTap brewery, and select Pops Series.

An active guest conductor, Mr. Lees has returned for performances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Houston, Detroit, Milwaukee, North Carolina, Portland, and Flint Symphonies, and conducted debuts with the Rochester Philharmonic, the Indianapolis, Kansas City, Toledo, and Vermont Symphonies.

Additional 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.

With the New York Philharmonic, St. Louis & Atlanta Symphonies, among others, Mr. Lees has served as a assistant conductor for the world’s leading conductors, including: Gustavo Dudamel, Paavo Järvi, Herbert Blomstedt, Leonard Slatkin, David Robertson, Robert Spano, Marin Alsop, Pablo Heras-Casado, Stéphane Danève, Susanna Mälkki, and Nicholas McGegan.

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. 

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).

A recipient of a Career Assistance Grant from the Solti Foundation US, Mr. Lees was also chosen for showcase on the 2011 Bruno Walter Memorial Foundation National Conductor Preview, hosted by the League of American Orchestras and Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra.

A dedicated advocate for music of our time, 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.

A firm believer in evolving new performance rituals, Mr. Lees regularly spearheads cross-disciplinary collaborations across artistic disciplines. A typical CJL program may integrate world premiere choreography or expressive lighting design into a symphonic orchestra concert; present innovative contemporary works in alternative concert formats; or curate a dramatic concert experience from music for theatrical works.

An equally passionate advocate for music education, Mr. Lees has brought inspirational energy to student orchestras across the country, including ensembles at The Colburn School, the New England Conservatory, Oberlin Conservatory, and various All-State orchestras. He has also been a featured guest clinician of El-Sistema inspired programs Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA), and Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA), and Kidznotes (Durham, NC).

Further demonstrating his commitment to the next generation of musicians, Mr. Lees has previously served on the faculties of the University of Michigan and the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

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 Charlotte, North Carolina with his wife, new music soprano Lindsay Kesselman, and son, Rowan.


Updated August 2018

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