Andrew McKenna Lee: Reconciling a Myriad of Influences

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The composer Andrew McKenna Lee has an eclectic resume even by the standards of New York's new-music scene: he's composed works for groups like the Brentano String Quartet, eighth blackbird and the Los Angeles Philharmonic but he's also jammed with rock legends such as Billy Idol and former Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones. This stylistic fluency finds its way into the following mixtape.

For Mixtapes, we ask today's leading musicians, authors, filmmakers and artists to assemble an hour of new-music that they find particularly compelling or that exemplifies the shifting boundaries of today's musical climate.

Lee offers the following explanation of his choices:

Like a lot of kids, I grew up steeped in popular music, driven primarily by my taking up the guitar at the age of 11. The sounds of Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, REM, and U2 filled my childhood in the 80s. At the age of 16, I enrolled in a summer course for guitar at the North Carolina School of the Arts, and had my eyes opened to the contrapuntal and textural possibilities of the classical guitar.

Still, I was not so interested in 'classical' music, but rather found my way into the world of more complex guitar writing via Michael Hedges, the brilliant performer and recording artist who tragically passed away in a car accident in 1997. While in high school, I consumed everything he did in his relatively short life, and upon learning that he had studied composition at the Peabody Conservatory, I decided that I too would go to college and study to become a composer.

I found my way to classical music somewhat backwardly — as a sophomore in college, Steve Reich’s Octet turned my world upside down, and it was not too long afterwards that I began to hear the enormous energy and power inherent in Stravinsky’s Le Sacre, Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, and Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony. Once a context had been created for me to hear other 20th century orchestral works, I went further insatiably, indulging in the rich sound worlds of Witold Lutoslawski, Henri Dutilleux, and many others.

As my interest in symphonic music grew, so did my interest in the classical guitar, even though they could perhaps not seem more antithetical to one another. Additionally, I began to see the guitar as a “traveler” — an instrument capable of finding a comfortable home in almost every style of music. Using it as a passport of sorts, I began exploring other styles of music that I had not really considered before, such as the folk/world amalgam created in the music of Steve Tibbets, or in the beautiful, jazz infused tone and phrasing of Bill Frisell.

Daniel Lanois is perhaps the odd man out here — a legendary rock producer who has helped forge some of the past three decades’ most iconic albums by the likes of U2, Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, and others, he is also an excellent guitarist and song writer. The deep musicality inherent in all of his work functions as the “least common denominator” that unites this playlist, and serves as a personal benchmark by which I try to reconcile the myriad different, passionate influences in my own artistic life. —Andrew McKenna Lee


Michael Hedges - Aerial Boundaries (from Aerial Boundaries)
Steve Tibbetts - A Clear Day and No Memories (from Exploded View
Daniel Lanois - Bladesteel (from Here Is What Is)
Bill Frisell - Again (from Bill Frisell with Dave Holland and Elvin Jones)
Leo Brouwer - I. Fandangos y Boleros from Sonata for Guitar (from Nocturnal)
Steve Reich - I. Fast from Electric Counterpoint
(performed by Andrew McKenna Lee)
Dave Stovall - Buoys (from Dave Is In a Meeting)
Witold Lutoslawski - Postlude No. 1 for Orchestra (from Three Postludes for Orchestra)
Alfred Schnittke - II. Toccata from Concerto Grosso No. 1(Gidon Kremer and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe)
Henri Dutilleux - I. Incantoire from Metaboles
George Crumb - VII. Nocturnal from Quest (David Starobin and Speculum Musicae)