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Taking up the baton

Young homegrown maestro exemplifies a new generation, as he prepares to conduct 135-year-old Dutch orchestra, Chen Nan reports.

By Chen Nan | China Daily | Updated: 2024-03-25 07:11
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Yu Lu conducts Beethoven's nine symphonies in five consecutive days, with the Ningbo Symphony Orchestra, in 2020. [Photo provided to China Daily]

When the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, one of the world's leading symphony orchestras, announced its 2024-25 season on Sunday, a young Chinese conductor, Yu Lu, was featured in its program as a guest conductor.

The 34-year-old Yu describes the invitation from the 135-year-old orchestra, which is based in Amsterdam, as an admission ticket to the top of the classical music scene.

"It's such an established orchestra with their unique sounds. It's challenging but in a way that I like," says Yu.

"Unlike being a soloist, such as pianist and violinist, a conductor is silent but shoulders the responsibility of leading the orchestra and shaping the music. For a young conductor, in his early 30s and from Asia, it's quite tough to lead such a great orchestra with a very long history," he adds. "I have to be well-prepared and be careful since such kind of opportunity is rare and valuable."

The invitation was first sent to Yu about two yeas ago, but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the conductor, the orchestra planned to have him perform Pictures at an Exhibition by Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky, but the upcoming season will have Yu play something "interactive" since they believe that the young conductor would inject new energy into the program.

Yu Lu [Photo provided to China Daily]

In fact, it will not be the first time that Yu will work with the orchestra. When he was 22 years old, he was selected and invited by maestro Mariss Jansons (1943-2019) to participate in a conducting master class, and take up the baton at the orchestra in Amsterdam. In 2018, he also recorded with Camerata RCO, an ensemble consisting of musicians of Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, on an album, titled Salon, featuring pieces including Johannes Brahms' Serenade No 2 in A Major, Op 16, and Hector Berlioz's The Death of Cleopatra.

"I have known and worked together with Yu Lu for several years now. In my opinion, he is one of the most talented conductors in his generation," comments Michael Gieler, principal violist of the orchestra. "We have worked together when he conducted the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in a master class given by the legendary Mariss Jansons. He really stood out from his colleagues in expressivity and confidence."

Calling Yu a "versatile conductor "with a broad repertoire, Gieler also says the conductor's beat is "clear "and "he is expressive without neglecting precision".

"All those master classes, rehearsals and performances seem like building a solid foundation for my collaboration with the orchestra again during its new season. I am honored and excited to perform as a Chinese conductor with the world-renowned orchestra," says Yu.

Born and raised in Ningbo, Zhejiang province, in 1989, Yu began to show his music talent at a very young age by learning to play the violin and the piano. His interest in conducting started when he was 3 years old, "conducting to the air while listening to The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto".

His parents, though sensing their only son's talent, didn't want him to take on a music career in the beginning since they believed that an occupation like a doctor or a lawyer would be stable for their son.

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