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About the Author
Ken Smith currently divides his time between New York (where he writes for Gramophone magazine) and Hong Kong (where he serves as the Asian–performing arts critic for the Financial Times). He is Co–Music Director of the recordings Dong Folk Songs and Miao Music for China's MediaFusion Group, and he won an ASCAP–Deems Taylor Award in 2008 for his liner notes to Gil Shaham's recording of The Butterfly Lovers Concerto for Violin. Ken is also the author of Fate! Luck! Chance!, published in 2008 by Chronicle Books.

Ancient Paths, Modern Voices Blog

Putting Herself in the Picture

Looking at the liner notes to Angel Lam's Empty Mountain, Spirit Rain on the Silk Road Ensemble's new collection Off the Map, you soon get the sense that there's much more to her piece than the music. There is, in fact, an elaborate backstory—a short poetic piece of fiction that at times seems as if it wants to waft off the page and into the actual performance.

In Awakening from a Disappearing Garden, the composer's written words do just that. When Lam's new piece comes to Carnegie Hall this Saturday night with Yo-Yo Ma and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Lam herself will be narrating on stage.

"I took a taxi," her piece begins. "It wouldn't take long to reach this luxurious mansion, where I have been invited for a party. A calendar on the dashboard showed in bright, red letters, May 10th, 1953." The second movement opens on September 9, 2007: "I was not in hurry, but the taxi driver was." Two different women, two different generations, two different taxi rides are reconciled in Lam's story.

"Every piece I write has a story behind it," says the composer. Having the confidence to put herself in the middle of it, though, has been a gradual progression. Lam wrote her first narration in a piece titled Symphonic Journal: Ambush from 10 Directions for the Hong Kong Sinfonietta in 2005. Two years later, she was encouraged to record her own narration for Midnight Run, a theater-dance piece directed by Martha Clarke, who later integrated into the performance a video of Lam reading the poem.

Posted by Ken Smith

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