Shanghai conductor appointed to No 2 spot at Hong Kong Philharmonic

Yu Long will serve as principal guest conductor, the first to hold the seat since it was vacated in 1993, in an overture to mainland music circles

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 January, 2015, 11:12pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 January, 2015, 8:06am

The tale of two cities between Hong Kong and Shanghai has opened a new musical chapter with the appointment of a top mainland conductor to lead the local flagship orchestra.

Yu Long, music director of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra as well as the China Philharmonic and the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra, has been named principal guest conductor of the Hong Kong Philharmonic.

The decision, which received unanimous approval from both the orchestra's board and the players' artistic committee, made Yu, 50, the first mainland conductor to take up the second-in-command post at the city's top orchestra since the position was first opened in 1982. It has been vacant since the last principal guest conductor, Kenneth Jean, left in 1993.

"I am extremely honoured with this appointment because mainland people always talk about HK Phil as a model," Yu said. "It is a dream for us musicians to be a part of it since its historic tour in 1986 and I am thankful to maestro van Zweden for giving me that opportunity."

Jaap van Zweden, the Philharmonic's music director since 2012, said he had eyed Yu for two years because he regarded the Shanghai musician as "a great conductor" and "a real ambassador for China and its talents".

He went on: "Collaboration in the days we live in is a very important one because if you take the biggest talents in China, put them together with us, let both parties inspire and be inspired, you could have a good and interesting combination."

In the initial three-year term starting this September, Yu will perform three to four concerts during each orchestra season. With his commitments in China, including leading three orchestras, the Beijing Music Festival and the Shanghai Orchestra Academy in addition to guest conducting in Europe and the United States, the Shanghai native said he had to cancel some of his scheduled concerts to make time for Hong Kong.

"My schedule is fully booked up to 2018, but I like this city and want to be a part of it," Yu said, adding he lived in Hong Kong for three years in the 1990s. Yu's wife, Vera Tsu, was the Phil's first associate concertmaster and he was a guest conductor at the time.

"From my conducting [in June], I felt the Phil has improved so much that it is now one of the world's best orchestras, and I think it deserves … more attention from the world," he said.

Plans are under way for principal players with the Phil to take part in the Shanghai Orchestra Academy, which Yu founded last year to train young musicians under the joint mentorship of the New York Philharmonic and the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra.

Another initiative is to perform the symphony cycle of Gustav Mahler by the Hong Kong and Shanghai orchestras, including the massive Eighth Symphony, the only work that was left out in former Hong Kong Philharmonic conductor Edo de Waart's Mahler project.

Megan Sterling, the Philharmonic's principal flautist and the incumbent artistic committee chair, said "the orchestra responds extremely well" to Yu.

"It's nice to feel a connection with China in the broadest sense as I think Hong Kong often feels a little isolated and so he's a good presence to have," she said.

Violinist Fan Ting, the only member from the 1974 roster when the Phil turned professional, said the orchestra was ready to perform in a wider arena.

"We are a mature bunch now and should be performing beyond the city and overseas, especially at arts festivals in the mainland, which I think Yu will facilitate."