Lam Bun-ching


Lam Bun-ching
b. 1954, Macao
Composer
Lam Bun-ching, composer, pianist and conductor, challenges cultural boundaries by combining Chinese and Western idioms with a distinctive voice. She studied piano in Hong Kong before receiving a PhD in Music Composition from the University of California in 1981. Lam has garnered a number of prestigious awards, including the Rome Prize in 1991.
Lam’s musical idioms, atonality, chromaticism and minimalism, are inspired by avant-garde composers such as Schoenberg, Takemitsu, Cage and Berio. Her Three Dada Songs for soprano, flute, piano and cello (1985) show her satirical quotation and allusion to the stalwarts. Her style weaves colour, texture and movement in a process she compares with action painting wherein the flow of time is captured by the musical equivalent of drops and splashes of paint.
Lam’s modernism with a distinctive Asian sensibility is well demonstrated in the composition for voices and electronic sampler, EO-9066 (1992), titled after an executive order calling for the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. This personal response to the events is built around whistling sounds and decomposed vocables that gradually evolve into the word shikataganai (‘it cannot be helped’, in Japanese) in a fashion reminiscent of Takemitsu’s Vocalism A.1 (1956). Some pieces in her ongoing Spring cycle employ successive notes instead of chords which create the effect of energizing silence in the manner of John Cage. At the same time, her frequent preference for sparse melodic lines over harmonic successions denotes her Chinese roots. Her contemporary chamber opera Wenji: Eighteen Songs of a Nomad Flute, which premiered at Asia Society in New York in 2002, is based on the story of poet/musician Cai Wenji, a scholar’s daughter in the Eastern Han dynasty (25–220 CE), who becomes a prize of war, and is torn, in the clash between the Mongolian (Xiongnu) and Chinese worlds. It is accompanied by a mixed orchestra of Chinese and Western instruments and sung in Chinese and English, with the latter language being reserved for the ‘barbarian’ Mongols.
See also: New Music; Xu Ying
ISABELLE DUCHESNE

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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