Past is not prologue: young conductor Liu Sha takes the Hong Kong stage with music about humanity not politics

The conductor of Beijing’s China National Traditional Orchestra will debut with the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra this weekend

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 March, 2017, 10:24am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 March, 2017, 11:06pm

Chinese orchestral music is coming of age, is inclusive of other cultures and reflects humanity and aesthetics rather than politics, one of China’s leading young conductors has said.

Liu Sha, resident conductor of the Beijing-based China National Traditional Orchestra since 2002, will make his debut with the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra this Friday and Saturday.

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Ahead of the performance, he lamented the shortage of Chinese orchestral works. Though there is no shortage of well-trained and skilled composers, he said there remains few opportunities.

“It takes nine years to perform the entire western orchestral repertoire, but just nine months for the Chinese works,” the 38-year-old Shandong native said after a rehearsal with the Hong Kong orchestra.

Liu, who studied conducting at the St Petersburg Conservatory from 2011 to 2016, believed Chinese and Russian musical cultures complemented each other perfectly.“The structure and logic in Russian music blends well with the lyricism in Chinese music,” he said.

To highlight the blending of musical cultures, Liu has chosen three recent works by contemporary Beijing composers. The opening piece, The Twelve Beauties of Prince Yong, is a perfect case in point.

“Its composer, Luo Maishuo, studied music in Moscow when I was in St Petersburg and he was inspired by Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky – a western classic – for his own, which is based on 12 imperial paintings at the Palace Museum,” Liu said.

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Of the two works by female composer Wang Danhong that also feature in his programme, Liu said: “Rhapsody, a Yangqin concerto, features ethnic minority music elements based on her fieldwork in Xinjiang, and the segment ‘Remembering’ in Hymn to the Sun never fails to move me to tears.”

I’ve picked Ave Maria to show my appreciation for the city’s inclusive spirit
Liu Sha, China National Traditional Orchestra

While some may associate the title Hymn of the Sun with the late chairman Mao Zedong, Liu insists the piece is not politically charged.

“This work has nothing to do with politics, and that is quite common among new composers who tend to return to the music itself to reflect on their humanity or aesthetic concerns,” he said.

Looking forward to his debut performance this weekend, Liu said he was impressed with the city’s flagship band.

“They are the most responsive among all the orchestras I have worked with, and we don’t need a third rehearsal after the first two,” he said.

“Just listen to the practice right now among individual musicians in the corridor – it’s the attitude that makes this orchestra great.”

He praised Hong Kong for being “orderly and lawful”, and selected an encore to highlight its openness.

“I’ve picked Ave Maria to show my appreciation for the city’s inclusive spirit,” he said.

Following his two-day appearance this weekend at the Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall, Liu will return in May with his own Beijing band to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the city’s handover. They will perform the same programme as at Carnegie Hall and their Mexico and Columbia tours.

“Obviously my band has a different sound from that of Hong Kong, but it is as difficult to describe as my wife after having spent so many years together,” he said with a laugh.