ANGEL LAM (8-25-07) 

By Lawrence Budmen

The fusion of Eastern and Western musical modes is the main focus of Yo-Yo Ma’ s Silk Road Project. Empty Mountain, Spirit Rain by Angel Lam, a piece by commissioned by the Silk Road Ensemble, was the most effect work in a survey of musical ruminations From the Land of the Buddha , which the innovative chamber orchestra Project Copernicus performed Saturday at St. John’s United Methodist Church in Miami Beach. 

Lam, a Doctoral candidate at Baltimore’s Peabody Conservatory, lists contemporary music icon Osvaldo Golijov among her mentors. Like Golijov, she combines modern instrumental timbres with world music elements to produce a heady brew. 

Wielding the brush of a master tonal painter, the composer delineates a childhood vision of the day of her grandmother’s death in her native Hong Kong. T he alto flute sings a plaintive song in deep, vibrato laden tones. A big melodic thread that could have been written by Dvorak emerges in the cello while the violin line abounds in minimalist figurations a la Steve Reich. The bass acts as a neo-Baroque continuo. With colorful mallet percussive effects, this haunting work exudes a cornucopia of mysticism and joy. 

Flutist Ebonee Thomas evoked poignant sadness with exquisite flights of tone. David Bebe brought felicitous energy to the prominent cello part. Elizabeth Galvan and William James (on marimba) were provided an expert, varied percussion battery. Musical director Chung Park conducted with Boulez like clarity and transparency of instrumental texture. 

GEN by Ryojiro Sato achieved a meditative stasis by eschewing melody in favor of color and rhythm. Dark and eerie in tone, the score is a veritable percussion concerto with pitched water and gong joining conventional instruments. Spiky thematic fragments on viola and soaring harp glissandos are layered against gradations of rhythm and pitch , seeming to suspend time. 
Marguerite Lynn Williams excelled in the gleaming harp solos. Jerome Gordon imparted the fiendishly complex viola writing with richly burnished tone and noble, incisive phrasing. 

The ascending line of Lhotse by Stephen Danyew, the ensemble’s Composer-in-residence, was meant to evoke mountain climbers on the last peak before the seemingly impossible summit of Mt. Everest. 

But the partially microtonal score (for two unaccompanied saxophones) owes more to the jazz sax innovations of Charlie Parker and the lonely night music of Bela Bartok than to non-Western musical sources. Danyew and Jason Kush were saxophone virtuosos par excellence, making the instrument sing as well as shout.

L’ours Chinois by Randy Wong, the group’s bass player, seemed out of place on this program. Originally scored for lounge ensemble, Wong’ s re-orchestration is of the slick Hollywood variety. An unsophisticated violin piece that quotes Ravel’s String Quartet and Fritz Kreisler ’s Tambourin Chinois, the score could be an effective addition to the pops concert repertoire. 

Helen Liu exuded Vienesse schmaltz, capping the extravagant violin solo with brilliant technique and lightness of touch. 

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