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Concert Review

Angel Lam

Awakening from a Disappearing Garden

  • Also on the program: Stravinsky's Le Rossignol
Yo-Yo Ma, cello
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra/Robert Spano
Carnegie Hall, New York, NY, USA - November 7, 2009

On Saturday, November 7, I attended the New York première of Angel Lam's "Awakening from a Disappearing Garden" with Yo-Yo Ma, Cello, and Angel Lam, narrator. The Atlanta Symphony was conducted by Robert Spano. This was part of Carnegie Hall's Ancient Paths Modern Voices, A Festival Celebrating Chinese Culture, October 21 - November 10, 2009. Lam's work was commissioned by Carnegie Hall for Yo-Yo Ma, but first performed in Atlanta three weeks ago. Also on the program, Stravinsky's Le Rossignol (complete).

Ms. Lam's new work is a half-hour concerto for cello and large orchestra, with two dream narrations spoken here by the composer. The orchestration includes two dozen percussion instruments which lend the work much of its character; they sound often very softly, sometimes loudly. The cello provides flowing melody. The narratives, "Chapter 1" and "Chapter 2," preceding the two movements, might well be omitted without detriment to the music, which is quite beautiful. On a single hearing I cannot begin to give a detailed account of the work, but it is to be hoped that a recording will appear to provide further acquaintance with it.

This is the second concert presentation of Le Rossignol (The Nightingale) I have attended; the first was in Paris many years ago.

This performance was semi-staged, with the nightingale first appearing in the second tier seats overlooking the stage, fluttering away and reappearing in the far right aisle shortly thereafter. The singer representing the emperor had a throne-like chair before the orchestra, in which he slumped to simulate his illness toward the end. The first of the three short acts was written before the Firebird, the other two shortly after the Sacre du printemps. The music has but bare suggestions of the styles of those works. It is a rather gentle piece, really. In addition to the singers and orchestra, there is a mixed choir. A strikingly strange feature of the choir is that at one point these singers turned their backs to the audience and faced the rear wall. I have no idea why.

On Wednesday last week the Saint Louis Symphony performed Stravinsky's reduction of the opera as The Song of the Nightingale, along with works by Tan Dun and Bright Sheng, as part of this same festival, but I was not able to attend.

Copyright © 2010, R. James Tobin