In 1985 Lee McClure founded the Eclectix Chamber Orchestra to provide a stage for living composers writing new melodic and tonal music. Of the 130 composers presented, 75% composed new classical music and 25% performed jazz compositions. Operating as a non-profit since 1986, Eclectix averages six composers per concert, and has evolved from orchestral concerts to a chamber music series. Now 72, Lee remains a champion of melodic composers at the Eclectix Chamber Orchestra, which from 2016 to the present (2020) has been hosting jazz groups curated by Roger Blanc at the Zinc Bar in Greenwich Village, NYC.
Until 2001 the primary stage for Eclectix concerts was CAMI Hall on West 57th Street and 7th Ave in Manhattan. At its peak, Eclectix produced six concerts per season and enjoyed consistently larger attendance than did well-known groups that focused on atonal music. From The Eclectix Stage is a collection of 18 recordings, including one video, of performances on Eclectix concert stages from 1985 to 2001. Also see this video of the Eclectix Chamber Orchestra.
To encourage the creation of the music it sought to present, Eclectix hosted the Erik Satie Mostly Tonal Award, a national composition competition. Among the winning pieces, which were all performed on Eclectix concerts, were three songs by Earl Robinson , renowned for his composition The House I Live In. Eclectix Discovery Artists are awarded multiple performances and have included Mark Finkelman, Beth Anderson, Roger Blanc, Kenneth Laufer, Regan Ryzuk, and William Schimmel.
Notable composers who have had Eclectix premieres are Toni & Gordon Parks, Fred Hersch, Ron Carter, Meyer Kupferman, and Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson. See the complete list of all Eclectix Composers here.
Ensembles that have appeared on the Eclectix stage include The Gregg Smith Singers, a capella groups The Accidentals and Elixir, Saturday Brass Quintet, Paramount Brass Ensemble, and groups led by Dick Hyman, Bill Charlap, and Jane Ira Bloom.
By concentrating on the presentation of new melodic and tonal music to the exclusion of atonal and minimal works, Eclectix has caused controversy and has been denied grants.
Eclectix has been criticized for promoting new music that is regressive and reactionary, emulating old styles of music. For example, in 1986, New York Times reviewer Tim Page dismissed Eclectix's program Daring To Be Tonal!:
[W]hen young, untested, composers produce innocuous, prettified, commercialized fluff and then proclaim their "daring", it veers uncomfortably close to newspeak.
McClure contends that, far from being reactionary, Eclectix has revived the development of late tonal styles such as those of Copland, Lou Harrison and Alan Hovhaness, which was stifled in the 1960s when atonal styles came to be preferred and encouraged. While Minimalism brought back tonality starting in the 1960s and became mainstream by the 1980s, McClure felt there was still no support or venue for new development of the "melody-accompaniment" style.
In 1988 the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) denied a grant to Eclectix by stating that all good tonal music was written before 1900. Concluding a face-to-face meeting with the chief officers of Eclectix, a NYSCA representative said to them, "You must be doing well in this Republican era." The statement assumed that tonal music is right-wing and non-tonal music is progressive. In fact, Eclectix has never presented any music with political content.
McClure is not vehemently opposed to atonal music, even including a highly dissonant section in his opera, Mother And Child. At a time when almost all funding flowed to non-tonal premieres, he thought that it wouldn't be unreasonable for some new tonal music to be funded as well. Among the very few grants Eclectix has received are those from the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation and The New York Times Foundation.