American Pitches Series Makes its Broadcast Debut


Joanna Lee
Joanna Lee,
photo credit Kitty Katz

Joanna Lee, lecturer in the Music Department at the University of Hong Kong, has launched a series of nine weekly broadcasts over RTHK (Radio Television Hong Kong) called American Pitches. The programs will serves as “a showcase of music that is uniquely American.” Lee explained that she wants to “throw ideas and connections about current musical culture at my listeners, like a pitcher at baseball, that quintessentially American game.” Lee will focus on the “many paths of American music in the last century,” emphasizing the works of “concert hall” composers who have “crossed over” to write music that uses jazz and rock.

The first broadcast, on November 3rd, featured the music of John Adams. Lee selected an excerpt from Nixon in China that she felt would be particularly relevant to her listeners. “I want to discuss musical style in my radio shows,” Lee explained. “Hence, whatever frames of reference I can provide my Hong Kong radio listeners are useful.” With that in mind, she chose the opening of the storm scene of the “revolutionary opera” within the opera, called The Red Detachment of Women because it reminded her of the opening of Das Rheingold.

The second broadcast was devoted to the music of David Del Tredici. In Dr. Lee’s opinion, “Del Tredici’s works based on Alice in Wonderland, which won him a Pulitzer Prize in 1980, tend to overshadow the composer’s much broader output before and after the Alice series.” Though Lee included the “Acrostic Song” from his Final Alice, she also aired two lesser-known vocal works: Syzygy, a setting of Joyce’s poems Ecce Puer and Night Piece; and three songs from Gay Life.

The third broadcast, on November 17, celebrated the centennial of Copland‘s birth. Lee chose the Benny Goodman recording of the Clarinet Concerto to represent the composer; the Short Symphony and an excerpt from its transcription for sextet; and the last movement of the Piano Quartet. Again, Lee wanted to “avoid all of the popular hits.”

On November 24, Lee devoted an hour to Steve Reich: both his music, and “remixes” of his music by other composers from Nonesuch’s CD Reich Remixed. The fifth broadcast, on December 1, will feature two American musicals based on a pre-existing drama or novel: Cole Porter‘s Kiss Me Kate and Leonard Bernstein‘s Candide. On December 8, Lee will look at the music of Stravinsky, Weill, and other American immigrants. She will look at works influenced by what she calls “American circumstances” that changed the composers’ output. For instance, she will play excerpts from Weill’s Knickerbocker Holiday and Lady in the Dark, both written for Broadway. Stravinsky will be represented by his Ebony Concerto and his Elegy for JFK. She will end the program with Osvaldo Golijov‘s Last Round for two string quartets and double bass.

Lee will devote the last three programs to “jazz repertoire” and “the newest concert music that has entranced audiences in America.” The seventh show will focus on the work of younger composers. The music of many of these young men has yet to be heard in Hong Kong. Composers include Paul Moravec, Daron Hagen, Steven Burke, David Lang and Michael Gordon. Because the eighth show will be broadcast on December 22, it will feature some unusual arrangements of Christmas carols and American holiday music. The last show is called “gems,” and it will feature short “character pieces.”

The shows can be heard internationally on Radio Hong Kong’s website. The link http://www.rthk.org.hk/rthk/radio4/american/ will give you the ability to listen to the most recent broadcast, using RealPlayer. To access archived broadcasts, follow the format http://www.rthk.org.hk/rthk/radio4/american/20001103.html, substituting the appropriate date in the ‘2000mmdd’ part of the link. The current series of nine are broadcast in Cantonese, but an entire English series of the same programs will be broadcast in a few months, according to Lee.

Joanna Lee’s familiarity with American music comes from her fifteen years of work in New York City. Lee received her PhD in musicology from Columbia University, and held administrative posts at the Kurt Weill Foundation and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra between 1994 and August of 2000. Lee describes herself as “closely associated with many of America’s living composers,” people like David Del Tredici, Paul Moravec, Daron Hagen, and Steven Burke.

Lee’s association with RTHK dates back to the early 1980s, when she worked for them in her “first-ever summer job.” “I have known Dr. Richard Tsang, the head of Radio 4 (the classical station) for more than 20 years,” Lee explained. “When I knew I was returning to Hong Kong to teach, I e-mailed Richard and offered to provide some special programs on radio. I came up with the idea of covering American music of the twentieth century in early September, and by early October, I was already in recording in the studio.”

Lee hopes to follow American Pitches with another series about new music, possibly opening up the scope to include other countries, as well. In the next series, she also hopes to include conversations with the composers of the music she is showcasing.