St. Ambrose Piano Professor Happy to be Playing Mozart with QCSO

David Burke

St. Ambrose Piano Professor Happy to be Playing Mozart with QCSO

It didn't have wrapping paper or a bow, but Marian Lee said the best birthday present she got a year ago was an invitation to be the piano soloist with the Quad-City Symphony Orchestra.

Lee, assistant professor of piano at St. Ambrose University, will perform with the symphony in two concerts this weekend.

"A day after my birthday ... I got a phone call from Mark Russell Smith (QCSO conductor)," Lee said. "I really couldn't ask for a birthday present. I'm very thrilled and very appreciative."

Lee was given her choice of Mozart pieces, and she picked his Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major after hearing that the rest of the program would include three different selections titled "Sleigh Ride," as well as Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite."

"I wanted to pick something happy to go with the more festive mood. That's why I picked the C Major," Lee said. "It's one of the most popular Mozart concerts"

The second movement, Lee said, is nicknamed the "Elvira Madigan" for its use in a 1967 biopic about a Swedish tightrope walker.

"It's on all your top classical CDs," Lee said. "I'm sure when people hear it they'll recognize it."

Lee has been on St. Ambrose's music faculty for about 3½ years, after training at The Juilliard School in New York, Moscow State Conservatory and the Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

She arrived in Moscow in 1991, a week before Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was kidnapped during a failed coup d'etat.

"That was a pretty incredible experience," she said. "I came in at this tumultuous, history-making time. It's kind of unique to be in a place where you know history is being made."

A Fulbright scholar, she was able to perform in prime Moscow locations, including the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg and the Tchaikovsky Palace.

"There were a lot of performing opportunities out there for anyone foreign," she said.

The daughter of an architecture professor, Lee grew up in the college towns of Columbus, Ohio; Ann Arbor, Mich.; and Iowa City. Her grandfather was a famous tenor, and was credited with bringing the first opera performance to Korea.

Lee said she is enjoying teaching at St. Ambrose.

"I really love the SAU community. They've been really supportive," Lee said.

"And I love being in the Quad-Cities. It's been quite amazing. I was surprised how rich the cultural community is here and how much support there is for it," she added. "The fact that you have a major, regional orchestra here with someone as outstanding as Mark Russell Smith here is really great. We're pretty lucky."

Lee said she's glad the community appreciates the QCSO.

"We're very fortunate to have excellent musicians like this, and that the community comes out to hear them," she said. "Nationally speaking, a lot of orchestras have had financial issues, but this group is really strong and that's thanks in part to the community that comes out to hear the concerts."