The night before I left for China, I found myself sitting in front of a music journalist I know from Shanghai, so I thought I'd pump her for information about the "new" Shanghai Symphony Orchestra. Even before the season's opening night, the 130-year-old orchestra was being touted as entering a significantly new era under its new Music Director Long Yu. My friend, Eva Yu (no relation)—who is Managing Editor of Music Lover magazine—devotes most of her time to international artists, but she said she cleared her schedule to see the symphony's opening concert last month with Lang Lang playing Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2.
Nearly a decade ago, Long Yu made history in China by creating the China Philharmonic Orchestra, partly by luring players from the China National Symphony Orchestra, partly by auditioning extensively abroad. Ever since his Shanghai music directorship was announced, the maestro has been quite upfront about his plans to do the same there.
Earlier this year, the orchestra auditioned both in Germany and in America. This was not only to attract the largest talent base possible, but also to convince young Chinese-born players graduating from Western conservatories that they could have credible employment back home. I'd heard that quite a few new faces were in this season's Shanghai Symphony lineup.
"There were a lot of young faces," Eva confirmed. "Lots of new energy in the playing." For a Western comparison, it was more like the Berliner Philharmoniker than the Vienna Philharmonic, she added, the biggest improvement coming in the sections that have been traditionally weak among orchestras in China. "The brass playing in particular," she said, "was much better than before."
Posted by Ken Smith