By Eric Dundon
Katie Lee prefers the path less traveled.
A native of Maryland and now a junior at Washington University in St. Louis, she studies an unusual pairing of degrees: biochemistry and linguistics.
While many of her peers are pre-Med students, Lee foresees a future in food science—particularly flavor chemistry.
A clarinet player in the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra, she gravitates away from the popular clarinet concertos in the repertoire by W.A. Mozart and Carl Maria von Weber and is drawn in by the atypical orchestral sounds of composers like Artie Shaw, the great jazz artist.
Lee will showcase her off-the-beaten-path tastes at the Youth Orchestra’s March 27 concert when she performs a rarely heard clarinet concerto by Bernhard Crusell, the Scandinavian composer who lived in the 17- and 1800s. Lee is the 2022 winner of the Youth Orchestra’s annual concerto competition. The winner performs with the YO at the second of its three free concerts at Powell Hall each season.
An alternate last season, this is Lee’s first full season with the Youth Orchestra, which is under the direction of Music Director—and SLSO Assistant Conductor—Stephanie Childress. Now in its 52nd season, the Youth Orchestra is the premiere orchestral training ground in the region for students ages 12 to 22. Founded by SLSO Conductor Laureate Leonard Slatkin, the Youth Orchestra boasts thousands of alumni, many of whom have found careers in the orchestra industry, including five current SLSO musicians.
Lee doesn’t plan to pursue music professionally but missed being part of a high-level youth orchestra. She spent many years in a youth orchestra at the Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University.
“I spent the majority of my middle school and high school Saturdays at Peabody,” Lee said. “Although it's not the typical high school experience, I missed that repetition in my life. It’s a nostalgia thing.”
She said she appreciates rehearsing and performing the advanced repertoire with the Youth Orchestra, and said everyone does their part to make the orchestra outstanding.
“I really feel like everybody does care,” she said. “I feel like the growth of the skill level of the orchestra with the pieces that we're learning, it's an exponential growth.”
With several contest wins under her belt, Lee jumped at the opportunity to audition for the Youth Orchestra’ concerto competition. She chose the Crusell concerto on the advice of a teacher. When she listened to the piece, composed in 1818, she connected with the story in ways she couldn’t with other, more popular, clarinet concertos.
“I do not know a lot of music theory,” she said. “I approach music more like the everyday person than a professional. I feel I could more easily make a story with the Crusell.”
While Lee isn’t pursuing music as a career, she sees herself playing the clarinet actively into the future.
Music, she said, is now an integral part of her life path.
“I notice a connection between the food science, the linguistics, and the music,” she observed. “They're all something that people almost take for granted.”
Lee will perform Barnhard Crusell’s Clarinet Concerto No. 2 with the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra on Sunday, March 27, 2022, at 3:00pm CDT. Stephanie Childress will lead the concert, which also includes Kaija Saariaho’s Lumière et Pesanteur and Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2. Seats on the floor are free while balcony seats are $10.
Eric Dundon is the SLSO’s Public Relations Manager.