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(b Macau, 5 Aug 1926). Macanese composer and teacher. Brought up in Macau, his first exposure to music was through singing in church choirs and the lessons of Salesian missionaries. Moving to Hong Kong at the age of 23, he began to study music and learn the violin privately, and though self-taught, he gained entry to the Royal Conservatory in Toronto (1954-8). He gained a composition diploma there, then moved to the University of Southern California (1960-63) to study with Rózsa. He continued to keep abreast of developments in avant-garde music, and from the mid-1960’s to the early 70’s he became known as Hong Kong’s first full-time native composer. In 1973 he co-founded the Asian Composers’ League, serving as its secretary-general (1980-90). He was composer-in-residence and a lecturer at Hong Kong University (1986-94); in 1988 the governor of Macau decorated him for services to the arts. In 1994 he moved to Toronto.
The earlier stages of Lam’s music show two trends: atmospheric settings of Chinese texts, such as the ever-popular Li Bai songs (1957), and a neo-classical instrumental style reminiscent of Bartók, as in the violin sonata Oriental Pearl (1961), which echoes Cantonese opera and employs pipa fingerings. With the founding of the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra in the late 1970s, he gained a laboratory for the study of Chinese Instruments; the first result of this enduring collaboration was Autumn Execution (1978). Two other pieces, Thanksgiving to Joe-Kwan (1976) and Insect World 1 (1979), a delightful suite rich in onomatopoeic effects and aimed at children, made his reputation both in Asia and in the West. Both works use Western techniques in a Chinese context and reflect the joyful brashness associated with life in Hong Kong. An increasing amalgamation of his Western background with his experience of Chinese music characterizes his later works, notably in the song cycle Like is Their Delight (1980) for dramatic soprano and Chinese instruments. In the 1990s, following a hiatus in his work, he concentrated on composing Catholic liturgical music for use by Cantonese-speaking congregations.