In recent years he turned toward choral works, including “The Christmas Tree” and “Last Letter Home,” set to a note written by a soldier before his death in Iraq.
There is an exceptional quality of emotional immediacy in Lee's music that can be disarming to some, but that never fails to move even the most jaded listener. When Lee threw himself into writing Last Letter Home, which sets a poignant text written by the fallen American soldier Jesse Givens in Iraq, the music could have easily veered towards maudlin sentimentality or kitsch in the hands of a lesser composer. Not, however, in the hands of a master like Lee Hoiby. Instead, Lee produced a deeply felt, rigorously composed harmonic masterpiece for a cappella men's chorus. Following the premiere and repeat performances, the letters poured in. Rarely had I seen such a flood of comments from listeners and performers. Listener after listener, performer after performer wrote to Lee to remark on his "beautiful, singable, and deeply moving" setting. The work has since gone on to be performed countless times and in various versions for mixed chorus, solo baritone and piano, and chorus with orchestra.