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Benjamin Lees (born January 8, 1924) is a contemporary U.S. composer of classical music, born in Harbin, China, raised in San Francisco and currently residing in Palm Springs, California.

Lees began piano lessons at 5 with K. I. Rodetskyand[1] and started composing as a teenager. After serving in the United States military, Lees studied composition under Halsey Stevens, as well as with Kalitz and Dahl, at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, California. Composer George Antheil, impressed by Lees' compositions, offered further tutelage; this period lasted four years, at the end of which Lees won a Fromm Foundation Award. In 1954 the receipt of a Guggenheim Fellowship allowed Lees to live in Europe, realizing his goal of developing his individual style away from current fashions in the American classical music scene and resulting in a number of mature and impressive works.[2] Returning to the United States in 1961, he divided his time between composition and teaching at several institutions. These included the Peabody Conservatory (1962-4, 1966-8), Queens College (1964-6), the Manhattan School (1972-4) and the Juilliard School (1976-7).[2]

Lees rejects atonalism and Americana in favor of classical structures. Niall O'Loughlin writes in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Second Edition, "From an early interest in the bittersweet melodic style of Prokofiev and the bizarre and surrealist aspects of Bartok's music, he progressed naturally under the unconventional guidance of Antheil."[2] Lees' music is rhythmically active, with frequently changing accents and time signatures even in his early works, and is known for its semitonal inflections in melody and harmony.[2]

In 1954, the NBC Orchestra performed his Profiles for Orchestra on national TV. Notable work includes Symphony No. 4: Memorial Candles commissioned by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in 1985 to commemorate the Holocaust.




  • Complete Violin Works of Benjamin Lees (Albany)
  • Concerto for French Horn and Orchestra (New World)
  • Violin Sonata No. 2 (Polystone)
  • Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (VoxBox, EPR)
  • Prologue, Capriccio and Epilog (CRI)
  • Symphonies No. 2, No. 3 and No. 5, Etudes for Piano & Orchestra (Albany)
  • Symphony No. 4: Memorial Candles (Naxos)
  • Concerto No. 2 for Piano & Orchestra (Albany)
  • Concerto No. 1 for Piano & Orchestra (Pierian)
  • Piano Trio No. 2: Silent Voices (Albany)
  • Passacaglia for Orchestra (Delos)
  • Piano Sonata No. 4, Mirrors, Fantasy Variations (Albany)
  • Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra (conducted by Igor Buketoff)


  • O'Loughlin, Niall, ed. Stanley Sadie, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Second Edition (London: MacMillian, 2001), 29 vols. ISBN 0-333-60800-3.


  1. ^ "Benjamin Lees Biography". Boosey & Hawkes, Inc.. Retrieved 2008-08-11.  
  2. ^ a b c d O'Loughlin, New Grove (2001), 14:467.

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