From China to the BBC Proms, Summer Events Surround Maestro Long Yu's 50th Birthday
Music has an almost unmatched potential to inspire, to move, on occasion to lift an entire society in a cultural exploration, in the pursuit of cultural ideals. And there are great figures, teachers, performers - artists - who show us the way. Sometimes their impact is so great that their work reaches people who have never even heard of them, nor dream that they have somehow impacted their life.
One such figure is Long Yu, the preeminent Chinese conductor, who led the drive to establish a hunger for classical music in his country - coming out of a time when it was forbidden to so much as hum anything other than a proscribed list of patriotic songs - and building its great institutions, among them the China Philharmonic (which he founded in 2000), the Shanghai Symphony, the Guangzhou Symphony and the Beijing Music Festival (of all of which he is music director). Fittingly, Long Yu will mark his 50th birthday next month with a concert to mark the opening of the MISA Festival - a new event that Long Yu co-directs with Charles Dutoit geared towards bringing young people towards classical music.
The concert, entitled "Long Yu and Friends", will take place on July 4, 2014 and begins a year of benchmark activities for Long Yu and some of his favourite colleagues. The Shanghai event will feature the world premieres of three works - Tan Dun's Long-li-ge-Long (guest-conducted by Tan Dun himself), Chen Qigang's Joie Eternelle, with British trumpeter Alison Balsom as featured soloist, and John Williams's Scherzo for Piano and Orchestra, with the admired Chinese pianist Li Jian. Violinist Maxim Vengerov joins the proceedings with Saint-Saens's Introduction and Rondo capriccioso and Kreisler's Tambourin Chinois. And the cellist Wang Jian plays Tchaikovsky's Variations on a rococo theme. The orchestra for that occasion will be the Shanghai Philharmonic, and Long Yu will also lead the entire program in Beijing with the China Philharmonic - with one change of soloist. On that occasion Lang Lang will play the John Williams piece as well as Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue.
Long Yu will then bring aspects of the program to the BBC Proms at London's Royal Albert Hall on 19th July, with the China Philharmonic as the first Chinese orchestra ever invited to play that fabled series. The concert will be televised and broadcast over radio and the internet internationally.
There will be other events during the year, not least the now-institutional Chinese New Year's concerts in the USA, a tradition that Long Yu has been proud to lead. And - back to Shanghai - the opening of what promises to be an incredible new home for the Shanghai Symphony, covering some 20,000 square metres, with two state-of-the-art auditoria and mostly built underground! With an acoustic design by Yasuhisa Toyota - the famous acoustician behind Walt Disney Hall and many others - that will constitute Shanghai's first purpose-built venue dedicated to orchestral music.
Long Yu started his own music education in modest yet intimate circumstances - his grandfather, a composer, would constantly recompose the Chinese patriotic songs in the style of the great composers, imparting those traditions to his grandson. When the Cultural Revolution ended and classical music was again permitted, Long Yu was eager that others should have the great discoveries he had made. And although many Chinese musicians across generations now cite him as their inspiration the conductor - true to the humble approach his grandfather instilled in him - resists the cult of the superstar conductor.
"Music must be made, it does not simply exist without people - composers, artists, even audiences - working together, listening to each other and being open with each other.", says Long Yu, "I have been fortunate to have encountered people and institutions who have been receptive to my vision, indeed who themselves have taken it forward and created wonderful things - and those who have sponsored and supported them. This is how the music world in China has been built, this is how music is made. It is a collaboration. And so the celebrations around my 50th birthday are also a celebration of all of us, what we have achieved and what we will all create in the future, together."
Maestro Long Yu is the Artistic Director, Chief Conductor and co-founder of the China Philharmonic Orchestra, and Music Director of the Shanghai and Guanzhou Symphony Orchestras. He is also Founding Artistic Director of the Beijing Music Festival. He created China's first orchestral academy, as a partnership between the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, Shanghai Conservatory and the New York Philharmonic.
Other China 'firsts' include conducting the first-ever performances of Wagner's Ring cycle in the country, its first-ever Mahler cycle, releasing the first album of Chinese music on a major recording label (Dragon Songs, alongside Lang Lang, for DG), and bringing the first-ever Chinese orchestra to play at the Vatican when the Shanghai Philharmonic played for Pope Benedict XIV.
He has commissioned new works from many of today's leading composers, among them Krzystof Penderecki, Philip Glass, John Corigilano, Guo Wenjing and Ye Xiaogang.
Long Yu regularly conducts important orchestras and opera houses in the West such as the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, BBC Symphony, Teatro La Fenice, Hamburg Staatsoper and Philadelphia Orchestra. He was honoured to be appointed a Chavelier dans L'Ordre des Arts et dest Lettres in France, and a L'onorificenza di commendatore from the Republic of Italy.