Lass uns über Klassik reden

Long Yu, principal conductor of the renowned Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, talks to Holger Wemhoff about his boundless love of music.

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  • The second Deutsche Grammophon release by the newly signed Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and Long Yu features Chinese and Russian works
  • This is the first in a series of SSO albums featuring works by important Chinese composers
  • This 2019 release celebrates the orchestra’s 140th anniversary – it is China’s oldest orchestra – and coincides with a major US and European tour with Long Yu
  • Star soloist Maxim Vengerov is the dedicatee and first performer of Qigang Chen’s violin concerto

The Shanghai Symphony Orchestra may be China’s oldest, but it is marking its 140th anniversary with a thrilling new beginning. Recently signed to Deutsche Grammophon, the SSO and Music Director Long Yu are launching a series of albums featuring works by major Chinese composers. Gateways, the first album, will be released on 28 June 2019 and contains two works by Qigang Chen, as well as Rachmaninov’s vibrant Symphonic Dances and Kreisler’s delightful Tambourin chinois. It features Maxim Vengerov as soloist.

“140 years is a very long time for any orchestra,” says Long Yu, who has been at the helm of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra for the last ten years. Its 1879 founding makes the SSO three years older than the Berliner Philharmoniker. Yet the SSO and Long Yu’s new Deutsche Grammophon release is at once a celebration of its long history and a glance forwards, thanks to the presence of two works by the renowned contemporary composer Qigang Chen.

The violin concerto La joie de la souffrance (2017) is cast in a single movement. Qigang Chen wrote the work for a large orchestra with a substantial percussion section, and his orchestral writing is colourful, like that of his teacher Olivier Messiaen, yet also gracefully melodic. Maxim Vengerov’s solo part is highly challenging: the work was used as a competition piece, accompanied by the SSO, in the Shanghai Isaac Stern International Violin Competition in 2018 – the year after Vengerov and Long Yu had premiered the piece together.

Wu Xing (The Five Elements, 1998-9) evokes the character of the five traditional Chinese elements in five interrelated movements: water, wood, fire, earth and metal. Long Yu praises the “incredible imagination” on display in this piece, and how the composer “reveals his feelings about Chinese philosophy in music.”

Qigang Chen, born in 1951, won a national Chinese composition competition in 1983, which resulted in his travelling to Paris to study with Messiaen – he would be the legendary French composer’s last student. One of the most frequently performed living composers, Qigang Chen lives in Paris and is a Chevalier de l’Ordre des arts et des lettres. He was music director of the 2008 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony in Beijing and is also known for several film scores, including Coming Home with Lang Lang and The Flowers of War with Joshua Bell.

Qigang Chen’s two compositions are complemented by one of those Russian works that are so popular in China: Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances. Premiered in Philadelphia in 1941, it is the composer’s final composition, and its colourful and virtuosic score, through written far from his home country, abounds in memories of Russia – an orchestral showpiece of the first order brilliantly suited to the SSO. Fritz Kreisler’s Tambourin chinois completes the album, with Vengerov returning for another joyously virtuosic number.

One of the finest violinists of his generation, Maxim Vengerov began his international career in his teens by winning several prestigious competitions. Since 2012 (when he returned to violin playing after an enforced absence of over four years induced by a shoulder injury) he has conducted as well as played violin, and he continues to perform with leading orchestras internationally.

Long Yu is a leading figure in Chinese musical culture; in addition to his role as Music Director in Shanghai, he holds positions with the China Philharmonic, the Guangzhou Symphony and the Hong Kong Philharmonic. But it is with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra that he will embark on a major tour this year, visiting destinations in both Europe and the United States. It is a fitting celebration for this 140-year-old orchestra, and one that points towards a bright international future.


Deutsche Grammophon’s exclusive recording deal with Long Yu and

Shanghai Symphony Orchestra marks rising-star status of

China’s oldest orchestra and pre-eminent conductor.

“Long Yu [is] a superpower of China’s burgeoning music world”, Washington Post

“From the outset there was no doubting the authority of [Long Yu’s] leadership or the soundness of his musicianship”,

Long Yu, China’s pre-eminent conductor on the international scene, and the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra (SSO) have signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon. The new partnership is set to build on Long Yu’s critically acclaimed work as Music Director of the SSO and help promote the orchestra’s powerful blend of tradition and ambitious future vision. It will also enhance the SSO’s “Music Connecting Worlds” ethos. Their first DG recording, an album of works from the Chinese and Russian repertoires, will be released in 2019 to mark the SSO’s 140th anniversary and celebrate its status as China’s earliest symphony orchestra. In addition to making new albums with the orchestra, Deutsche Grammophon will also release earlier recordings from the SSO’s existing catalogue.

Since his appointment a decade ago, Long Yu has steered the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra to new heights of artistic excellence, helping it to attract many world-class musicians to its ranks. Under his leadership, it is determined to become the finest orchestra in Asia, a mission supported by its work with outstanding guest conductors and soloists and by the creation of its state-of-the-art home base, the intimate Shanghai Symphony Hall. Deutsche Grammophon’s commitment to the SSO and its chief conductor represents the latest advance in the orchestra’s development.

“Shanghai’s profile as an international city, open to the world and cultural exchange, makes it the ideal place to explore fresh ideas and look at ways of bringing together the best of Chinese and western culture,” observes Long Yu. “This is why it’s such an exciting moment for us to join Deutsche Grammophon’s global family of artists. We are determined to reach out to people across the world and will now be able to connect with new listeners through our recordings for the yellow label. I look forward to recording works by Chinese composers and sharing these and the wonderful artistry that the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra brings to the great symphonic repertoire with international audiences.”

Founded in 1879, the SSO has built bridges in recent years between East and West, not least through international touring and its Shanghai Orchestra Academy, a joint initiative between the orchestra, the Shanghai Conservatory of Music and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Long Yu, meanwhile, has forged a stellar career at home and overseas. Born in 1964, he studied at the Shanghai Conservatory, then at Berlin’s Hochschule der Künste. His time in Germany was influential in many ways, he notes: “It was in Berlin that I learned the most important things about life – not just from my music studies but from the city’s incredible cultural scene as a whole”. On his return to China in the 1990s, he began working with the country’s leading orchestras, his talents quickly recognised with a series of prestigious appointments.

Today, in addition to his work with the SSO, Long Yu is also Artistic Director of the China Philharmonic Orchestra and the Beijing Music Festival, which he founded in 1988, Music Director of the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra, co-director of MISA Shanghai Summer Festival and principal guest conductor of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra. Long Yu’s guest-conducting work also includes collaborations with the New York Philharmonic, Philharmonia Orchestra, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich, NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester, WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, among others. He is dedicated to championing worldwide the work of China’s contemporary composers.

The recipient of many awards and honours, in 2014 Long Yu was appointed Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur in France. The following year he was given the honourable Chinese title of “National Literature and Art Worker of Excellence” and received both the Atlantic Council’s Global Citizen Award and Yale School of Music’s Samuel Simons Sanford Award. In April 2016 he was elected Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, and in June that same year was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Dr Clemens Trautmann, President Deutsche Grammophon, welcomed Long Yu and the SSO to the yellow label. “I am excited about the new partnership,” he said. “We will collaborate with these leading and inspiring musicians and institutions in the world’s most vibrant classical music environment. The artistic work Long Yu has accomplished with the Shanghai Symphony in the last decade is truly remarkable. It is reflected today in his high-profile international engagements and in the orchestra’s impressive touring schedule, including its debut at last year’s Lucerne Summer Festival. The recordings will help draw global attention to the outstanding musicianship of Long Yu and the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and foster the already significant profile of Deutsche Grammophon in China.”

Fedina Zhou, President of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra commented: “Everyone at the SSO is thrilled to be partnering with Deutsche Grammophon to help us reach music lovers around the world. The SSO is not only Asia’s oldest orchestra, it is also one of the most vibrant, diverse and imaginative arts organisations in the region. Music is the greatest way of connecting people and our new partnership with DG will ensure that the SSO continues to bring the power of music to more and more people.”