Here you will find highlights from my original compositions
Tango for Three, for three C flutes
by Stephen Lee
Composing has been part of Stephen’s life since high school. From writing classical music during school years to pop music with a lot of midi sequencings and recordings, writing classical music has come back these few years. The American online flute magazine, The Flute View, held its second annual composer competition. Since the competition requirement was to write a flute trio piece, Stephen decided to write a Tango style flute trio. This is Stephen’s first time writing tango style, so he entered the competition with a lot of research and without much expectation.
Tango is a dance from Argentina that takes two persons to dance. Many couples out there balance their life not only between themselves, but also with other things evolved around them. We only see the couple as two persons, but the third element is something that we might not be able to see. With the third element that is equally important added to the couple’s life, such as financial burden, child, pet, or even a third person; maintaining the balance is a tricky act. This is the idea behind Stephen’s tango trio. He used many tricks to equally divide the melody and harmony among all three players. You may hear a continuous melody, but it is actually played as fragments span across three players. It is a great balance act between the three parts.
Stephen did not win the competition, but he made it to the finalist round. The Flute View gave the World Premiere of Tango for Three on July 10, 2015 at the Flutes by the Sea event in San Francisco. Tonight’s performance is a Hong Kong premiere.
Dream Sequences for Piccolo, Tenor Saxophone, Violin and Piano
by Stephen Lee
Dream Sequences is a set of short pieces written specifically for the Hong Kong Feel Harmonic as a program music to describe each one of the weird dreams or nightmares Stephen had in the past. Besides writing melodious melody and new age music, Stephen also loves writing contemporary music. Dream Sequences is one of the few semi-tonal pieces that Stephen has written. The tonality of this series is mostly whole-tone scale, diminished seventh and chromatic scale.
I. Jiggling Jello on an Airplane
During the opening of the music, the arpeggiating whole-tone scale and diminished 7th on the piano leads in the melody with its dream-like quality sound. During the middle quasi-cadenza-like section, the violin solo represents Stephen’s attempt to eat the jiggling jello, but the violently shaking airplane keeps on interrupting his attempt. This leads to his continuous tries until the plane plunged into the sea. Trills and tremolos represent the jiggling jello and the shaking airplane.
II. A Requiem for My Smelly Sweater in the Washing Machine
The structure of this short piece was inspired by the wash cycle of the washing machine: Pre-soak, Wash, Drain, Rinse, Drain, And Spin. Pre-soak section introduced by tenor sax with violin, piccolo and piano slowly joined in. Wash and Rinse cycles are both written in the typical choral style of a requiem. Drain cycle features piano solo as a transition point and representing the sound of the water dripping out of the sweater. Spin cycle’s powerful spin represented by the very powerful piano part while the tenor saxophone solo continues the sweater’s moan. As the spin died down at the end, the saxophone also died away as the sign of the reborn of the clean sweater.
III. Deux Ex Machina
The Dream: Deus Ex Machina is a term that was coined from the conventions of Greek tragedy, where a machine is used to bring actors playing gods onto the stage. In Stephen’s dream, he was drowned in the sea with heavy storm slamming against him. While he was about to die, all the sudden there was a light coming from the sky. The scene looked as if Jesus Christ might show up to help Stephen, but it ended up being the Chinese female God, Guan Yin, who came to the rescue. After his encounter with Guan Yin, Stephen woke up in a rescue boat in the storm and rushing back to the shore. However, the storm was too severe and everyone on the boat was killed at the end.
The Music: To create a heart pounding emotion, Stephen wrote with very rapid passages and energetic low notes to simulate the panicking Stephen in his dream. To create a strange feeling, the melody is in a 6 bar phrase structure. The theme melody is extremely busy with little or no time to breath, and this is a representation of how Stephen was drowned in his dream and helplessly grasping for air. An actual air grasping sound was included in the score. The Guan Yin section has warm and relax feeling contrasting to the rest of the panicking piece. The melody was written with whole-tone scales and diminished 7th, but it was harmonized with traditional tonal chords to bring out the pleasant and familiar sound. The panicking mood comes back as a recapitulation and ended the piece with a cluster slam.
Pop Tune Variations for Flute, Clarinet, Violin and Piano
by Stephen Lee (World Premiere)
Pop Tune Variations is a theme and variations based on a pop tune Stephen wrote. The idea behind this theme and variations is to take the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic structure of the pop tune and develop it into variations based on music from different musical periods. This idea also developed into the theme of tonight’s recital.
Variation I – Introduction. Using a 6/8 rhythm, the chord progressions of the pop tune slowly expand and evolve from single notes into musical elements. Theme - Transition from variation I, the theme is now being introduced.
Variation II – Menuet. A light and lively dance from the baroque and classical period. The variation is based on the harmonic structure of the theme.
Variation III – Trio. Usually paired with Menuet, the trio only features three instruments. This trio is in the dominant key of the Menuet, and it is only four measures long. Stephen wanted to write the shortest variation with the simplest I-IV-V-I progression to show how simple it is to fulfill the basic chord progression rules.
Variation IV – Baroque Aria. This aria takes the theme and turns it into minor key. To keep this variation as baroque as possible, senza vibrato is specifically marked in the music. This is because music from the baroque period generally does not use or use only minimum amount of vibrato. No pedal is also marked in the piano part.
Variation V – Classical Concerto. Based on the style of a Mozart concerto, the pianist will have the opportunity to improvise the cadenza of this variation.
Variation VI – Chro-mantic. The melody of the theme reprises here again but with a very different harmony from the original. To demonstrate the possibility of using non-traditional pop music chord progressions, the melody is harmonized with a chromatic bass line. The use of chromatic harmonization is quite popular in the romantic period, and this is how this variation got its name.
Variation VII – Full Song. With the verse added along with the theme as the chorus, a full pop tune has come to live. Variation VIII – Ending. To complete the theme and variations, 6/8 rhythms are once again used here to wrap up the whole piece. It ended like how it started, with single notes playing at the end.
World Premiered by Hong Kong Feel Harmonics (Stephen Lee - flute | Alex Chan - clarinet | James Choi - violin | Jeff Tam - piano)
M. U. S. I. C. Suite for Small Musical Instruments
by Stephen Lee (World Premiere)
This is a world premiere video of my original composition, M.U.S.I.C. Suite for Small Musical Instruments. My inspiration of writing this piece for toy and mini instruments came from both a Ukulele Concerto proposal and McConnell's Toy Piano Concerto. Why not write something for a small instruments ensemble? To made the whole project more interesting, I found some big guys to play mini instruments, including myself~ haha~
Alecx Chung - piccolo | Linda Chan - toy piano | Stephen Lee, Johnathan Pow - ukulele | James Choi, Lorraine Lie, Magus Yuen - baby violin
I. Mix and Match
The melody came from my highschool music composition project, "The Revenge of The Crispy Jello". The melody consists of a very light and bouncy Minuet and a very elegant Sicilienne. Both contrasting styles interact with each other, and they coexist yet rejecting each other.
II. Ukulele By The Sea
An image of sunshine and beach keeps popping up when I composed this movement. I used a traditional Hawaiian music chord progression as an introduction. The very light and laidback picoolo melody clearly expresses my wish of having a vacation by the beach.
Sentimentale. I involved with pop music productions for a long while, and I wrote many demo songs. From my pile of drafts, I found a very nice but never been used melody. I believe it was composed many years ago while I was still living in the US. While I arranged this melody for flute and piano, I also arranged it as a simplified version for two baby violins and toy piano.
Insomnia. High stress and pressure can lead to insomnia. If music can cure sickness, I wish that it could help people fall asleep. I love to sleep, but the very busy and high stress life style in Hong Kong made me feel like sleeping is a very luxurious thing to have. Therefore, this movement is inspired by Satie's 3 Gymnopedies, which I hope can help make everyone fall asleep fast.
V. Come Home To Music
Come Home To Music. The last movement of the suite featuring the theme of "Big Bang" and evolution from sound to music. Instruments begin to merge in with only a single sound, and then they start to evolve into different notes and form chord progressions. Out of nowhere, the toy piano came in with the main melody, and the other instruments begin to join in and form a big musical family. The melody came from one of my older works, "My Favorite Radio Station On A Lazy Sunday".
Going Away To Come Back
This is the world premiere video of one of my original compositions for flute and piano. I wrote this piece and dedicated it to those of my students who will go study overseas. I also want to dedicate this piece to anyone who had experienced life outside of their home country. This version is an extended version of III. Sentimentale and arranged for Flute and Piano.
This is a full-length presentation from a story book project in 2002. This is a highlight from an audio book project based on a children's book, It's Great Being A Duck, by Joanne Rankin. All music composed, arranged, programmed, recorded, mixed and mastered by Stephen Lee. Thanks to all the voice talents: Veronica Ho, Nathan Ho, Tam Duong and Leona Wu.
This is a hook tape from Arthur Lee's EP album, Journey. All songs composed, arranged, recorded, mixed and mastered by Stephen Lee. Lyrics by Gordon Ng and Vicky Chow. Sung by Arthur Lee. Published in 2002.
This is a hook tape from Arthur Lee's LP album, The Come Back. All songs composed, arranged, all instruments, recorded, mixed and mastered by Stephen Lee. Lyrics by Gordon Ng and Esther Tsang. Sung by Arthur Lee. Published in 2007.
From Arthur Lee's LP album, The Come Back. This is an acoustic version (piano, violins, viola, cello) of the main theme song 留聲掠影. Sung by Arthur Lee. Composed and Arranged by Stephen Lee. Lyrics by Esther Tsang. Violin by Miodrag Veselinovic. Sampled viola, cello and piano programmed by Stephen Lee. Recorded, Mixed, and Mastered by Stephen Lee
New Age Album - Being Myself...Back To What I Like (1999)
My music composition style was influenced by Japanese composer, Joe Hisaishi. Hisaishi san was the one who wrote music for nearly all Miyazaki san's movies. Besides movie soundtrack, he also wrote many New Age style piano music. His orchestration was very amazing too! Before I wrote for this New Age album, I did many pop music arrangements in the style of Hisaishi san's music. To realized my dream, I wrote more than 10 songs (not all shown here) based on Hisaishi san's impression. All sampled instruments programmed, recorded, mixed, and mastered by myself.