Angel LAM: “Mist of Scented Harbour” for solo violin (2019)

(Commissioned by violinist Patrick T.S. Yim)


August 3, 2019 at the Meisterkonzert der Künstler und Professoren at the Sulzbach-Rosenberg International Music Festival at the Konzertsaal des Rathauses, Sulzbach-Rosenberg, Bavaria, Germany (World Premiere Performance)

August 12, 2019 at the New Music for Strings Iceland Festival, Mengi, Reykjavik, Iceland

August 31, 2019 Recital at 小宇宙劇場 (Little Universe Theatre), Rizhao, Shandong, China

November 8, 2019 at Nostalgia: Violin Recital by Patrick Yim at Academic Community Hall, Hong Kong Baptist University (Metropolis World Premiere Performance)

January 13, 2020: Solo Violin Recital at Mae Zenke Orvis Auditorium, Honolulu, HI, USA. Organized by Music at Mānoa​. Sponsored by Lion Strings Hong Kong and Ebb and Flow Arts Hawaii.


I. Agarwood

Once upon a time, there was a village in the far-southeastern
seashore. It was a small, quiet, humid village where fishermen and
farmers lived. In its lush green forest, grew a tree that produces a
rare, fragrant dark wood in the heartwood of its trunk. The
fragrant resin is only produced when the tree gets sick. This scarce
dark wood is highly praised in the Near East and Far East for its
deep woody and floral fragrance to create incense. Its scent is said
to be sacred, when the resin is ingested, it relieves pain. The price,
it is like liquid gold. For centuries, people of this seashore
harvested and shipped these dark woods to far away lands. But all
this has long been forgotten.

Hundreds of years passed, the British colonized this quiet
seashore town. One hundred years after that, it became an
international financial metropolis. These beautifully scented
woods and trees, which I have never heard of growing up, can still
be found but are nearly extinct.

This is a little known history about my hometown, a city that still
calls itself the Scented Harbour—Hong Kong.

II. Chrysanthemum garden

There are only a handful of nursery rhymes in my hometown’s
dialect, my grandmother had recited many of them to me as a
child. They are rhymes, not songs. In fact, only one rhyme had
been set to music in this past century!

One of the rhymes in particular intrigued me as a child, translated
as such:

Merry merry go round and round
In the chrysanthemums garden
Fried rice cakes, sticky rice sweets
Mother takes me to see the Dragon Boat Festival
But I don’t want to see
I want to see chicks
Chicks grow up,
Sell it at the market
How much is it worth?
How much is it worth?
It is worth three hundred coins!

When I was eleven, my father took me via a motorcycle ride to a
rural part of southern China, two hours away from Hong Kong.
We visited a fish farm. I met a little girl about 7 or 8 years old.
We sat on the cold floor with flip-flops, she started showing me
how to count the goldfish she had just scooped out from the fish
pond. It needs to be categorized—oversized, undersized,
deformed, and standard. She put her ice-cold hands in the water
bucket, and scooped out each fish to examine them. She said to
me, “I must categorize perfectly or my daddy will lose money.” I
remember it was a windy winter day, the water temperature was
not more than 10 degrees Celsius.

Rural ways of life is long lost in the memories of metropolitan
Hong Kong, but I was able to glimpse at their lifestyle in the rural
parts of Canton during the 1990s. Now, there are fewer and
fewer of these countryside near Hong Kong.

That night, I could not sleep. I could not stop thinking about that
little girl, even years later. I decided to set this rhyme to music.

III. Metropolis

This movement is an impressionist sketch on contemporary Hong Kong.  I grew up during the “golden age” of the blossoming city.   I witnessed the world’s best delivered to its door—over a few decades the city became a mega international metropolis.  Since I was a child, it was always full of colors; neon street billboard signs lined every main street, a thriving gem-like harbor, and super fast-paced, efficient people served every walk of life.  The busy, crowded streets at every corner and eateries were our way of life.  It was our meaning of life!  The city was affordable too, thanks to a well-maintained system and invaluable resources.

I sincerely wish Hong Kong will overcome its current trying challenges. I hope I didn’t allow any part of my fear and sadness spill into this score, my beautiful memories of Hong Kong.

About Angel LAM

Dr. Angel Lam is a music composer and writer who uses the beauty of soundscape, instrumentation and language to express refined emotions and her passion for life. Her compositions reflect not only her own life, but are also evidence of humanity where time and space interfere with each other in an uncertain, timeless manner.

Her compositions are praised as “An otherworldly, dreamily poetic short story…rich, singing tone and sense of drama…fanciful music” (New York Times), “An unusually affecting piece, filled with luxuriant chords, tender string songs and sensuous glissandos” (TwinCities Pioneer Press), “Mesmerized…dazzlingly gifted” (Financial Times headline news), “A born storyteller” (Financial Times), and “Precious, soaring lyrical lines.” (Metropolitan Opera, Opera News)

She has received three Carnegie Hall commissions before the age of 29, including a cello concerto dedicated to cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Robert Spano, and commissioned by Carnegie Hall in the Carnegie Hall festival “Ancient Paths, Modern Voices”. Another Carnegie Hall commission was featured in the Silk Road Ensemble album New Impossibilities, as well as in Off the Map. The latter was nominated for a GRAMMY Award for Best Classical Crossover Album.

She was voted “Artist of the Month” by Musical America, “Yalie of the Week” by Yale University Yale Alumni Magazine, and a featured artist on Best Buy Inc.’s “Creative Minds” with Minnesota Orchestra performing her orchestral work In Search of Seasons, conducted by Osmo Vanska.

As composer, librettist and artistic director, she premiered her full-length musical June Lovers commissioned by the international Hong Kong Arts Festival on the 40th anniversary celebration. She is honored to receive the Hong Kong Arts Development Council Literary Award to develop and publish her literary works. Her new play with music, Lost in Shanghai, is under development with New York Off-Broadway theater Pan Asian Repertory Theatre, The Playwrights Group and Chelsea Repertory Theatre. It received six semi-staged performances at Theatre Row in Manhattan. It was also performed in concert settings at the Museum of Chinese American (MOCA) New York and National Sawdust Theater in Brooklyn, and has been in public staged readings twice. Her other theater works has been performed in New York’s Here Arts Centre, The Tank, The China Institute of New York, Queens Flushing Town Hall, and she was composer for the Off-Broadway production A Dream of Red Pavilions at Theatre Row. Her theatre and writing mentors include Martha Clarke, playwrights Jeremy Karekan (on Broadway Lifespan of a Fact), Arlene Hutton (Barrow Group) and Richard Caliban (Gotham Writers), and director/actor Ernest Abuba (Obie Award winner.)

In 2017-2018, the Aaron Copland House Ensemble and Saltbay Chamber Music Festival commissioned and toured her new work in Maine, New York, and California. In 2018, two of her compositions toured seven cities in Japan with Asia America New Music Institute (AANMI), opening with a concert at Nijojo Castle hosted by Kyoto’s mayor Daisaku Kadokawa, and closing with a final concert at Tokyo’s Suntory Hall Rose Hall sponsored by the United States Embassy. In 2019, her new work commissioned by Boston-based Hub New Music Ensemble will tour United States in 2019-2020, and is schedule for a CD recording release in 2020.

She was commissioned to write several multimedia dance works, including a piece for the centennial celebration of Peabody Dance Institute, and another for the 30th anniversary of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts in collaboration with the School of Chinese Dance and Contemporary Dance. The Interlochen Center for the Arts has commissioned her to create a short film with her own story and music, Color of the Mind, directed by award-winning director Mida Chu (Interlochen alumni) and performed by the Interlochen Center for the Arts Symphonic Band. It was an official selection at the Monarch International Film Festival, Montery Bay, California.

She first received a Carnegie Hall commission, writing a composition for Yo-Yo Ma and his Silk Road Project, then another commission working with GRAMMY Awards-winning composer Osvaldo Golijov and renowned vocalist Dawn Upshaw. One of her composition, Empty Mountain, Spirit Rain, is on the worldwide touring repertoire of Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble since 2007, performing at prestigious concert halls around the world, including London’s BBC Proms and Switzerland’s Lucerne Festival. This work was released by Sony/BMG on Silk Road Ensemble’s CD New Impossibilities as an exclusive bonus, and recorded again as one of four featured composers on the GRAMMY nominated Off the Map.

Her music commissions include performances by multiple GRAMMY-nominated Yale Cellos directed by Aldo Parisot, Aaron Copland Foundation Music at Copland House Music Series, Colorado Symphony Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Minnesota Symphony Orchestra, Yale Philharmonia, Hong Kong Sinfonietta, New York Greenwich Village Orchestra, New York University Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Northwest Symphony, Oak Park and River Forest Symphony Orchestra, University of California Irvine Symphony Orchestra, Aspen Music Festival, Pacific Music Festival, Yale Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, Kings Harmonica Quintet, Orange County Women’s Chorus, Los Angeles Loyola High Men’s Chorus, among others. Her awards include five ASCAP Morton Gould Awards, Macdowell Colony Margaret Lee Crofts Fellow Award, two NACUSA Young Composer Award and Audience Prize at the Seoul International Competition for Composers.

When not doing creative work, she has a passion for theater and is a staff writer critic for the New York theater review organization She teaches a private studio of music composition, theory and piano performance students in Manhattan, and presents an annual concert at Steinway Hall Recital Hall in New York. She is honored to be a member of the Distinguished Artist Council of the Johns Hopkins University, Hong Kong Jockey Club Music and Dance Fund Awardees Association, and the Yale Alumni Association of New York City. She lives with her husband and son in lower Manhattan.

Lam received her Doctorate degree from the Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University, her Bachelor’s degree with Honours from The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, and is a recipient of the Henry and Lucy Moses full scholarship Artist Diploma from Yale University. As a child she attended Pui Ching Primary School in Hong Kong 香港培正學校.

Lam’s compositions feature a blend of evocative expressiveness and East Asian sensitivity and femininity. She is passionate about Asian esthetics and Chinese literature, and often places her work in historical context. Her music ranges from the delicate depiction of a drop of water for an unconventional instrumentation: guitar, harp, vibraphone, crotales and double bass, to the story of a forgotten warrior in history in a piece for narrator and orchestra, or a piece about a recent age of darkness where emperors committed acts of evil that to this day, haven’t been confronted by any serious criticism. She loves to write stories that form an inseparable component of her creative process.