Clarinetist Alicia Lee, assistant professor of clarinet, came here this fall from New York City, where she performed regularly with many ensembles, including the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, the Knights, Alarm Will Sound, NOVUS, and ACME, and participated in music festivals all over the world. She co-founded Decoda, a chamber music collective affiliated with Carnegie Hall, and is also a member of NOW Ensemble, a contemporary music group comprised of composers and performers. For seven years, Alicia was associate principal of the Santa Barbara Symphony and also played bass clarinet with the Bergen Philharmonic in Norway in 2013-14. Her degrees are in French language and literature (Columbia University) She studied at The Juilliard School and earned additional degrees from the University of Southern California and The Colburn School as a student of Yehuda Gilad.
At the Mead Witter School of Music, she is now a member of the Wingra Wind Quintet.
Interview conducted by Kyle Johnson, a dissertator in piano performance.
In New York City you’ve had a very active performing career. Are you still shuttling back and forth between NYC and Madison? Did you ever foresee yourself entering academia?
Yes, I am still shuttling back and forth between NYC and Madison – this Thanksgiving, I was thankful for nonstop United flights between Madison and Newark. I am lucky to still have performing opportunities on the East Coast, but the main reason I am going back so often is because my husband is still living in New York! I was not necessarily focused on finding a college teaching job, but it was always among the mix of my interests. I grew up in Michigan with my parents teaching in the music department at Michigan State University, so there is definitely a level of familiarity with this environment that I am very much enjoying.
You hold a bachelor’s degree in French language and literature. What connections have you made between French language/lit and music?
My initial reason behind choosing French language/literature as a focus of study was because I knew that I was headed towards a career in music. I wanted to spend my time at university studying something that I always found beautiful and fascinating but perhaps not the most practical! I discovered that the process of learning a language is similar to my experience of learning music. In order to feel really comfortable expressing myself, I have to feel so comfortable in the language that it becomes second nature. There are so many subtleties within language and the more you catch onto them, the more you see them in every language, including music. Unfortunately, my French never became quite as fluent to me as music, but I guess that’s why I became a musician.
What is your most memorable musical or professional experience? Your most embarrassing?
One of my most memorable musical experiences is hearing a classic, live recording of Schubert’s Shepherd on the Rock, sung by Benita Valente. There is a moment where her voice almost, almost breaks, but doesn’t. To me it’s one of the most sublime musical moments that has taught me so much about how I want to be able to play the clarinet. My most embarrassing musical experience was when I was in high school at a summer music festival. I showed up to an orchestra rehearsal – one of my very first orchestral experiences ever – without my music, which I had left on my bed in my dorm room after dutifully practicing my part. Everyone around me was urging me to just run back and get it, but I was so nervous and worried that I just faked my way through Prokofiev’s Love of Three Oranges Suite. Somehow the intense anxiety and adrenaline of the moment got me through. I’ve never played that piece since and if you asked me to hum a tune from it, it would be impossible.
Above: Alicia Lee joins the Decoda Ensemble for a performance of Thomas Adès “Catch.” With Lee are Anna Elashvili, violin; Claire Bryant, cello; and Michael Mizrahi, piano.
Are there any New York City projects that you could bring to Madison audiences?
Six years ago, I along with some close musical friends founded a chamber collective called Decoda. Our mission from the start was to bring meaningful musical experiences to all audiences. As a freelancer (in my former life), it can be difficult to feel real ownership over the work that we find ourselves doing, and Decoda became a very important part of my life since we built it from the ground up. I would love to bring colleagues from Decoda to Madison and also to UW-Madison, because I think we have a unique process and way of presenting our music.
About UW-Madison’s Wingra Wind Quintet:
The Wingra Quintet is an opportunity for me to collaborate closely with my colleagues in the wind department. We look forward to expanding our performing season and programming many exciting works. One piece in particular that I am looking forward to is “Ten Pieces for Wind Quintet” by Gyorgy Ligeti. While it is considered a staple of the quintet repertoire, it is quite a time commitment, which often prevent it from being programmed. I am lucky to be in a situation where we have the time and space to put together such a masterwork from the repertoire, as well as have colleagues equally excited to work on this beast!
To contact Prof. Lee for information or a sample lesson, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
See Prof. Lee with the full Wingra Quintet, this Sunday at the Chazen Museum, noon. Click here for program.