Composer Ken Lampl melds two musical passions in an eight-minute composition for string quartet, harp and choir, set to texts in Hebrew, Latin and Arabic,
Composer Ken Lampl melds two musical passions in an eight-minute composition for string quartet, harp and choir, set to texts in Hebrew, Latin and Arabic, being performed in its world premiere Saturday by Cantilena Chamber Choir. (courtesy kenneth h. lampl)

LENOX >> Composer Kenneth Lampl says his choral music is different from just about anyone else's because it combines Renaissance polyphony with contemporary film music. They are two great passions of his musical life.

It's sort of a case of Palestrina meets John Williams.

Lampl identifies himself as "a huge, huge fan of music from the Renaissance. I studied a lot of that before I was even interested in writing choral music," which was about five years ago. The film attraction goes back to 1998, when Lampl studied film music at Tanglewood with Williams, whom he describes as not only an inspiring teacher but also a great musician and human being.

Out of the two streams of composition came a series of choral works culminating in "In the Most Silent Hour," which the Cantilena Chamber Choir will present in a world premiere on Saturday. It is an eight-minute piece for string quintet, harp and choir, and sets texts in Hebrew, Latin and Arabic.

"All the religions are talking about the same thing," Lampl says. "It's all about seeking mercy."

The concert, to be given at 7:30 p.m. at Trinity Church under Cantilena director Andrea Goodman, commemorates the 75th anniversary of the Tanglewood Music Center. Each work on the program is by a former Tanglewood composition fellow. The list dates back to the earliest years with Lukas Foss, Ned Rorem and Elliott Carter, and continues with David del Tredici, Michael Gandolfi, Lampl and the youngest of the group, Stephen Feigenbaum, 29.


Goodman discovered Lampl through Boston's Zamir Chorale. She says its director, her friend Joshua Jacobson, "introduced me to Ken's music and said it was not only a choir favorite but, in his words, 'the audience goes nuts' when they sing his 'Adon Olam' ['Lord of the Universe' in Hebrew]."

Jacobson shared two Lampl works with her. When she found that Lampl had been a Tanglewood fellow she asked him if he had anything new "in the drawer" to premiere at the anniversary concert.

"He said no but that he would write something for us," she recalls. "I was amazed and honored!"

At a young age, Lampl taught himself to play the saxophone and piano. He began improvising music when he was 8.

"I was fascinated by the mystery of where music came from and loved improvising," he says on his website. "I was never interested in joining the school band because I knew that what I was improvising was better than what they were playing." (Ha-ha, he adds.)

At 17, he went on to study and play sax with professionals. At that point, he decided to make music his life's work. He studied composition in the doctoral program at the Juilliard School and was awarded his fellowship at Tanglewood, where he connected with his childhood musical hero, John Williams.

In a phone interview, Lampl noted that when he went to Tanglewood he loved film music and had been "around the top, the best of the best," in terms of teachers. Even so, "I was very hesitant about the idea of film scoring as a profession because at the time there were a lot of [film] composers who didn't even read music, who had sort of a team of trained musicians like myself who did all the work and got none of the credit."

Williams opened the door, and the whole Tanglewood experience was "one of the great summers of my life," thanks to him. Lampl's film credits include "Frontera," "Kandish" and "Winter of Frozen Dreams."

Now living in Piscataway, N.J., Lampl teaches at Hofstra University on Long Island. He is developing his own pedagogies to teach counterpoint and tonal music. Tonal music, he says, is important in films yet it is no longer taught in conservatories.


What: Tanglewood Music Center 75th Anniversary: The Choral Music — featured compositions by Ken Lampl; music for chorus and orchestra by Lukas Foss, Ned Rorem, Elliott Carter, David del Tredici, Thomas Oboe Lee, Michael Gandolfi, Stephen Feigenbaum

Who: Cantilena Chamber Choir. Andrea Goodman, director/conductor

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Trinity Church, 88 Walker St., Lenox

Tickets: $30; seniors $20; children, free

How: at the door;; 518-791-0185