An interview with conductor Long Yu
Freya Parr talks to the renowned Chinese conductor as he hands over the baton after 20 years as artistic director of the Beijing Music Festival
Conductor Long Yu is at the forefront of today's classical music scene in China, where he holds major posts with the China Philharmonic Orchestra, Shanghai and Guangzhou Symphony Orchestras, and the MISA Shanghai Summer Festival. He also conducts orchestras around the globe, from New York to London.
It’s been a month of big changes for Long Yu. He has signed to Deutsche Grammophon with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and has announced that he will be stepping down from his role as artistic director of the prestigious Beijing Music Festival, which he founded in 1998.
Over the years, the festival has hosted artists including pianists Martha Argerich, Murray Perahia and Jean-Yves Thibaudet, violinist Maxim Vengerov and conductor Valery Gergiev. Shuang Zou, who was been the festival's assistant programming director for several years, will take over as the festival's new artistic director.
Why did you decide to move away from the Beijing Music Festival at this time?
I have been running the festival for 20 years, and I think it’s time to hand over to the younger generation. I’m sticking around, though – I’m chair of the artist committee. Shuang Zou has had some amazing achievements in her time at the festival, and she has incredible artistic vision. I think that now the artistic director should come from the younger generation to continue putting the festival on an international stage. I’m really pleased to see females entering higher positions of authority within music.
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Looking back over your time at the festival, what are your highlights?
I have too many highlights. All the incredible things we have achieved are like my babies – I don’t want to say which baby is the most important and beautiful! In the past 20 years, we’ve seen a big change in the Chinese classical music stage. I’m very grateful that I’ve experienced this special time.
How will you be dividing your responsibilities after stepping down from the festival?
I’m a very strange person – I work with so many orchestras: the Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong. I’m not retiring - it’s just time for me to open up the opportunity for someone else. Any institution needs new blood. You have to give them the platform to prove themselves. Especially in China, we have so many young audiences that we should have the passion to put the right people in these positions.
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You’re renowned for promoting the work of young artists and composers. Are you hoping to do more of this with your recordings with Deutsche Grammophon?
Hopefully, yes. I need to discuss the programme with the orchestra and Deutsche Grammophon. Besides the older music, we have to make contemporary works a priority. They shouldn’t be something we don’t understand – they belong to our time, so we should include them in our programmes as much as possible. China has developed a very strong economy, but it is very important to develop culture and music.
Supporting young artists is always my priority. I’ve constantly supported and commissioned the work of young composers. It’s a responsibility for people like me – it’s a priority not for ourselves but for the future of classical music. If everyone focused on that, they would do the same as me.
What are your plans for your first recording with Deutsche Grammophon?
The programme isn't completely decided yet, but it will be a selection of Chinese and Russian repertoire, which will be released in 2019 to celebrate our 140th anniversary. Russian music means a lot to Chinese people, so it’s very meaningful for our first recording to have a mix of these two cultures.
Freya Parr is BBC Music Magazine's Digital Editor and Staff Writer. She has also written for titles including the Guardian, Circus Journal, Frankie and Suitcase Magazine, and runs The Noiseletter, a fortnightly arts and culture publication. Freya's main areas of interest and research lie in 20th-century and contemporary music.