When Seasons are Interrupted – Cellist Trey Lee Shows a Path Forward

Telling the story of the seasons through music is not new—Vivaldi’s Four Seasons springs to mind—but focusing on the climate crisis that is inexorably unfolding has captivated cellist Trey Lee. He highlights the effects of climate change on the environment and on society with his recently released album “Seasons Interrupted.” with the English Chamber Orchestra, conductor Emilia Hoving, and pianist Georgy Tchaidze on Signum Records.

Trey Lee – “Seasons Interrupted” with the English Chamber Orchestra

The release of the album coincided with a performance in Hong Kong with the English Chamber Orchestra, and later in the year, on September 30, 2024, he will perform these works once again at Cadogan Hall, London.

Cellist Trey Lee

Trey Lee

Many composers we know and love took residence in rural settings and enjoyed long walks in the woods. Nature was a source of inspiration to Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Chopin. Brahms rented a house in Switzerland in 1886 and wrote three exquisite chamber music works, including the Cello Sonata in F major Op. 99, and the Piano Trio No. 3 in C minor Op. 101; Mahler took long walks in the Alps. You can hear the effect of birds singing in his First Symphony; in 1945, Béla Bartók stayed in a rustic cabin isolated at Saranac Lake, New York and he wrote both the Viola Concerto and his Piano Concerto No. 3 in E Major. But in the modern era, our weather and beautiful idyllic surroundings are evolving.

Where are we headed? Trey explains, “With the cello as a platform, I seek a sober yet trenchant means to tell the story of our seasons, and, concurrently, create a musical narrative to account for how this crisis unfolds…These works are expressions of human emotions that are open to interpretation and were not conceived to decry the climate crisis; however, I harness their emotive power to illustrate this story and to amplify this narrative when words alone do not suffice.”

Lee was born in Hong Kong in 1973 into a musical family. He studied at both the Juilliard School and New England Conservatory, and unusually enough, he also received a degree in economics from Harvard University. He currently resides in Berlin. The number of important conductors he has performed with in cities all over the globe is impressive, and his projects have been notable. These include the world premiere of Bright Sheng’s latest cello concerto inspired by Dunhuang, in October of 2012, and two years later, he participated in the launch of the IMAGINE Project at the UN General Assembly Hall with Yoko Ono, Hugh Jackman, and ABBA’s Bjorn Ulvaeus to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Lee is also a member of the award-winning piano quartet Ensemble Made in Canada.

Trey Lee & Xiamen Philharmonic LIVE: The Dream of the Red Chamber Capriccio

The pieces on the “Seasons Interrupted” album include the sublime Lieder of Franz Schubert, the infectious and brilliant Four Seasons of Buenos Aires of Astor Piazzolla, and a Cello Concerto by Finnish composer Kirmo Lintinen, dedicated to Trey—the three composers representing the past, the present, and the impending future.

Franz Schubert’s passion for nature is evident in his German art songs or lieder. He wrote an astounding 140 of them in 1815 alone. Schubert selected poetry of the leading poets of his day and most of the texts reflect a deep affinity with nature. Trey’s arrangement for the cello and piano of four of these Lieder seems to ask, “By highlighting man’s emotional intrusion into nature’s tranquility, is Schubert already alluding to humanity’s role in altering the course of nature?” Lee plays with a beautiful tone and great expressiveness, and the lieder works beautifully on the cello—after all it is said that the cello is the closest sonority to the human voice.

Franz Schubert: Im Frühling, Op. 101, No. 1, D. 882 (arr. Trey Lee for cello and piano) (Trey Lee, cello; Georgy Tchaidze, piano)

World Premiere Performance at the Beijing National Center for Performing Arts Trey Lee, cello

Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires composed 1965-1970, are infectious, colorful, and unfettered, featuring elements of the tango. Originally for violin, piano, electric guitar, double bass, and bandoneon, Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov arranged the original for solo violin and strings in 1996, splitting each season into three movements as in the form of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. What a welcome addition to the cello repertoire! This wonderful piece works so well on the cello. You’ll find it’s difficult to sit still when you hear this music. Lee has composed a brilliant rendition featuring the infectious, sometimes raucous elements, especially glissandos (or slides) some done with the entire ensemble, rubato (or freedoms), and passionate rhythms, produced using sul ponticello (playing on the bridge). Lee’s playing has unrestrained sensuality, and he fearlessly executes some very high-range melodies.

Astor Piazzolla: Las Cuatro Estaciones porteñas (The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires) (arr. Trey Lee for cello and string orchestra) – III. Primavera Porteña (Trey Lee, cello; English Chamber Orchestra)

Kirmo Lintinen

Kirmo Lintinen

When listening to the Lintinen Concerto, one wonders if the composer is taking us on an imaginary journey through a climate-changed landscape and a life of desolation without seasons as we know them.

Again, Lee writes, “This is an imaginary journey through four movements depicting a future arising from the effects of the environmental crisis…Still, we are not condemned to this future just yet; it is simply one that many fear may come to pass if the world continues down its current trajectory.”

The first movement, “Inizio – Dystopia,” visualizes a dystopia ravaged by climate change, with the solo cello fighting to rise beyond despair. “Gavotte – Modulation/Mutation” briefly harkens back to the past and the Baroque period before once again depicting the environmental devastation that might be ahead. There is a third-movement cadenza, during which the cello seems to embody defiance despite the impending cataclysm. Then finally, “Salvation,” the finale, suggests the anguish that humans are feeling as we encounter the effects of climate change. But then, the movement seems to unify us with a collective yearning for an end and solution to the environmental predicament we find ourselves in. Lee plays with remarkable facility as he negotiates this new work.

Kirmo Lintinen: Cello Concerto – I. Inizio (Trey Lee, cello; English Chamber Orchestra; Emilia Hoving, cond.)

PIAZZOLLA, A.: Four Seasons of Buenos Aires / LINTINEN, K.: Cello Concerto (Seasons Interrupted)

Where are we headed? Trey attempts to help us recognize the need for change. I, for one, enjoy being challenged with ideas and am pleased to have been introduced to this recording. We cellists hope that Trey Lee’s arrangements of Piazzolla’s Seasons will be published for others to play as well. This album is a wonderful addition to anyone’s collection.

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The album is available to buy/stream/download here.

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