Lu Jia: Pro­mot­ing Clas­si­cal Mu­sic in China

China Pictorial (English) - - Contents - Text and photographs by Lau­rent Hou

On March 20, the China Na­tional Cen­tre for the Per­form­ing Arts Orches­tra (NCPA Orches­tra) per­formed Ta­pi­ola and Sym­phony Opus 5 by Si­belius, as well as the Pi­ano Con­certo of Schu­mann. The per­for­mance was recorded for a DVD. Lu Jia is the opera di­rec­tor of NCPA, prin­ci­pal con­duc­tor of NCPA Orches­tra, mu­si­cal di­rec­tor and chief con­duc­tor of the Ma­cao Orches­tra, and artis­tic di­rec­tor of Spain’s Santa Cruz de Tener­ife Sym­phony Orches­tra. Lu is an ex­tremely gifted Chi­nese con­duc­tor who re­ceived in­ter­na­tional ex­po­sure and recog­ni­tion very early in his ca­reer. He has con­ducted two thou­sand con­certs and op­eras in Europe and the Amer­i­cas, and has co­op­er­ated with more than a hun­dred opera houses and or­ches­tras, gar­ner­ing nu­mer­ous awards, es­pe­cially in Italy.

China Pic­to­rial: You have a very unique con­duct­ing style. Could de­scribe your method for con­duct­ing?

Lu Jia: Con­duct­ing is a spe­cial pro­fes­sion and an art. Just lead­ing the mu­si­cians is not enough. The con­duc­tor must also serve as an artis­tic ad­vi­sor. For me, it is re­ally im­por­tant to study the score. It’s not the con­duc­tor’s role to cre­ate any­thing. I be­lieve one should re­spect the score. How­ever, bring­ing out the real spirit cap­tured in all the notes means chang­ing things too, or at least in­ter­pret­ing them in a cer­tain way. A con­duc­tor has to use imag­i­na­tion, color, and re­ally en­hance the struc­ture of the com­po­si­tion with pas­sion and love.

Con­sider these two starkly con­trast­ing ex­am­ples: Ravel and Schu­mann. Ravel was ex­tremely aware of con­duct­ing so it’s fairly easy to con­duct his mu­sic: One can sim­ply fol­low his in­struc­tions 80 per­cent of the time. But Schu­mann needs ma­jor in­ter­pre­ta­tion. When you look at his mu­sic, it is “comme-ci comme ca” (Flu­ent in English, Span­ish, Ital­ian and Ger­man, Lu fre­quently em­ploys French terms.), but the en­ergy, fan­tasy and pas­sion are amaz­ing. Con­duct­ing Schu­mann re­quires a lot of work be­cause he doesn’t care about the con­duc­tor. I in­ter­pret his mu­sic a lot but I try not to be­tray it: I think my work is to read be­tween the lines to un­der­stand Schu­mann’s orig­i­nal mes­sage and in­tent, and then adapt my con­duct­ing ac­cord­ingly. If I con­duct Schu­mann the same way I con­duct Ravel, Schu­mann’s mu­sic would be lost!

CP: Apart from the pi­ano con­certo of Schu­mann, the two other pieces you played were both from Si­belius. Why did you choose Si­belius?

Lu: We made that choice be­cause I think he is prob­a­bly the most im­por­tant Scan­di­na­vian com­poser. I am say­ing “Scan­di­na­vian”, but I should em­pha­size that he is Fin­nish. I spent six years in Swe­den, and to me the Scan­di­na­vian coun­tries are to­tally dif­fer­ent. Fin­land is pretty unique. Si­belius achieved a lot with his or­ches­tra­tions and man­aged to in­ject new col­ors. His lines are in­ter­est­ing and I am very fond of his har­mony changes: They are not quick, very in­di­vid­ual, and hap­pen be­tween the beat, cre­at­ing a sur­prise el­e­ment. The way the strings and the brass com­bine is also amaz­ing. I par­tic­u­larly like his Ta­pi­ola, which I think is un­der­rated. I be­lieve Si­belius is a very in­flu­en­tial com­poser that may re­ceive even more recog­ni­tion in the fu­ture.

CP: Si­belius and even the Schu­mann pi­ano con­certo aren’t ex­actly main­stream clas­si­cal mu­sic choices in China. Was this a con­scious choice?

Lu: Yes, for sure. I be­lieve this is top shelf mu­sic. A reper­toire like this is not of­ten played in China, but I think this is the duty of NCPA ex­actly: We are bound to in­tro­duce the best mu­sic to China, es­pe­cially when peo­ple don’t know much about it. Car­men and La Travi­ata al­ways sell out. I love them too, but di­ver­si­fy­ing clas­si­cal mu­sic in China is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant to me. I think of NCPA as an art in­sti­tu­tion, so it is nor­mal for its de­ci­sions to be made not solely on eco­nomic con­sid­er­a­tions. Our orches­tra is very spe­cial and in­cludes for­eign mu­si­cians from the Czech Repub­lic, Spain and South Korea. We are look­ing for more tal­ented peo­ple to play some spe­cial in­stru­ments and will hold au­di­tions in Ber­lin and Bu­dapest in Oc­to­ber.

CP: Since you are seek­ing new mu­si­cians, could you tell us about the qual­i­ties you like in a mu­si­cian? What do you try to avoid?

Lu: Tech­nique is not a prob­lem for me. It is easy to find good tech­ni­cians in China. Tech­nique is the first thresh­old, but not the thing that makes the dif­fer­ence. For me, a good mu­si­cian in an orches­tra needs to ex­cel at play­ing with other mu­si­cians. I am also con­vinced that some­one’s cul­tural back­ground and sen­si­tiv­ity are ex­tremely im­por­tant, as well as true pas­sion for mu­sic, of course. Tech­nique is im­por­tant be­fore the age of 15. Then, cul­ture and sen­si­tiv­ity be­come more im­por­tant. Mu­si­cians can­not think of mu­sic as a job. Of course, you have fam­i­lies of mu­si­cians, in Europe, Amer­ica and China. I too come from this kind of fam­ily: My fa­ther was a con­duc­tor, my mother a so­prano. But apart from kids born into such a fam­ily, most

of­ten, kids learn mu­sic in Europe be­cause they are in­ter­ested in it. In China, par­ents of­ten com­pel their kids to play to help them get into a bet­ter school or univer­sity. This can lead to frus­tra­tion and play­ing with­out pas­sion. As Con­fu­cius says in Analects, one must learn to do things well but must also love and en­joy it.

CP: For Schu­mann, you worked with Ge­or­gian pi­anist Kha­tia Bu­ni­atishvili. How was that?

Lu: The NCPA Orches­tra aims to work with the best for­eign tal­ents whether mu­si­cians, singers or con­duc­tors. For in­stance, Valery Gergiev will be fea­tured too. Kha­tia Bu­ni­atishvili is very young, very tal­ented and very pretty. She has a very spe­cial color in her mu­sic. Her phras­ing is also very good, and she knows how to con­duct di­a­logue with other in­stru­ments such as the cello or clar­inet. So it was a very good ex­pe­ri­ence for me and for the orches­tra.

CP: Could you please tell us a bit about your vi­sion for NCPA’S orches­tra?

Lu: The NCPA Orches­tra has great en­ergy. It takes a lot of love to play good mu­sic – a lot of pas­sion. This is a very young orches­tra. Most mu­si­cians are just 30. Over the past six years, the orches­tra started from zero and reached this level. In ten years, when the mu­si­cians are turn­ing 40, the orches­tra will reach its pin­na­cle and great things will be achieved.

Lu Jia con­ducts the NCPA Orches­tra, with Kha­tia Bu­ni­atishvili on the pi­ano.

Lu Jia dis­cusses with the mu­si­cians while the orches­tra is hav­ing a break.

A cel­list turns the page of her mu­sic sheet.

Lu Jia and the NCPA Orches­tra.

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