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Friday, May 29, 2015, 09:33

Meeting of true minds

By Chitralekha Basu

Andrea Morricone, the co-creator of the immortal love theme from Cinema Paradiso, will conduct a concert featuring clarinetist Seunghee Lee tonight, in aid of distressed and disadvantaged people. Chitralekha Basu reports.

Meeting of true minds
Andrea Morricone has arranged ever-familiar compositions especially for the clarinet for the Concert for a Cause gala. (Photo provided to China Daily)
Meeting of true minds
Seunghee Lee was inspired to give public performances when she discovered these could help raise funds for charity. (photo provided to China Daily)

Taking up golf reconnected Seunghee Lee with a near-forgotten passion — playing the clarinet. Lee, a Korean-American, had trained at the Yale School of Music. Her debut album Brava was released by Summit Records in New York in 2000, and made it to the “Top 30 Classical Stars under 30” list of KDFC classical radio station, San Francisco.

And then she gave up playing in public. As her obsession with attaining zero-error perfection grew, Lee kept falling short of her own expectations, even as her obvious merits as a clarinetist had been acknowledged by the very people who set the benchmarks in the industry. Highly-acclaimed music magazines, noted orchestras, such as the Jupiter Symphony of New York and the Yale Philharmonia, with whom she played; high-profile judges of international music contests — Leonard Slatkin, for example, who awarded her the top prize at the Saint Louis Symphony Young Artist Competition — acknowledged Lee was indeed a fine performer. Lee herself, however, was feeling frustrated that she could not do more and grow — from being part of an orchestra ensemble to a solo player able to give sell-out concerts on her own strength.

Marriage and motherhood happened. Lee left the US to relocate in Hong Kong with her husband. The clarinet had to be put away as her duties as mother and homemaker took precedence.

That was until she tried her hand at golf. “In golf the goal is to get the ball into the hole, doesn’t matter how you do it,” said Lee, who reached a single-figure handicap in just two years and captained the Clearwater Bay Golf & Country Club team from 2012 to 2014. “So I thought if I had a goal… if I could make a difference to people’s lives by using my music as a tool, I would have scored.”

She picked up her instrument again, after a decade-long hiatus. The Concert for a Cause charity event, on tonight at Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts, is the culmination of a series of similar events Lee hosted and played at to support different charities in Hong Kong. As she prepares to wind up from Hong Kong and move back to the US — after a nine-year stay here during which her life went through several paradigmatic shifts, including going from competitive to compassionate, as regards her music — Lee has mounted a valedictory concert, in aid of five charities she had supported on earlier occasions. It’s an opportunity for charities working towards ensuring food, healthcare and dignity to people, especially children, from some of the most disadvantaged and under-privileged economies of the world, to “be introduced to each other’s missions, share each other’s vision, through music, from a shared platform”, as Lee puts it.

She has pulled off a coup of sorts in getting Italian music composer Andrea Morricone to arrange some of his compositions to be played on the clarinet. The connection with the maestro happened quite by chance. When Michela Bardotti, who runs Missione Possibile — a funding agency to support upholding of fundamental rights in Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Haiti — heard Lee play the love theme from Cinema Paradiso at one of her charity concerts, she offered to put her in touch with Morricone who had composed the much-celebrated piece with his illustrious father, the legendary Ennio Morricone. Lee sent Morricone junior a recording of her rendition of the ever-familiar composition. Morricone was impressed enough to agree to arrange the original piece to be played on clarinet, cello and piano. It got even better when he accepted the invitation to come all the way to Hong Kong from his base in Santa Monica, California, to conduct the Concert for a Cause charity gala and also play a piano solo item in it himself.

Getting Morricone to arrange one of his most generic compositions for the clarinet “was like a dream come true,” says Lee, “especially given that the piece had got me through so many difficult times”. She remembers getting past a gamut of emotions buoyed by the endearing sentimentality of the track. “It got me through so many difficult times. It’s taken me through solace, comfort and hope.”

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