In life we tend to like people with whom we agree. That's the way it is with me and musicians — conductors in particular, since I firmly believe that, in any orchestral performance, it's the person on the podium who makes all the difference.
I remember the first time I encountered Shao-Chia Lü, in September 2010, when I attended the last four rehearsals and his inaugural pair of concerts as music director. How cleverly he programmed the first two works. Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture was the perfect reflection of I-Uen Wang Hwang's Diptych of Taiwan: same size of orchestra, and the same images of an island in the ocean — sixteenth-notes sizzled, winds blew, the full-voiced sea heaved, like a foretaste of Typhoon Fanapi the swept across Taiwan the next day. Shift to November 29 of last year for a "fire" concert: the sounds in Stravinsky's early "Fireworks" were reflected not only in his Firebird but in Scriabin's Poem of Fire, and Firebird had sounds akin to Scriabin's Piano Concerto as well. (Forgive my American informality — I feel as if I know him) Shao-Chia helps us see, hear, and feel not just intellectual connections but relationships. And he communicates that personally with you and me, the audience. Doing this means something to him.
Even more important is the way he makes music. In Mahler's Symphony No. 5 in 2010, he had an innate gift for flow and pulse, and for tight, incisive, buoyant rhythms. In the third movement he made over 100 musicians dance on the head of a pin one moment (that's a miracle that still leaves me in awe) and sound like slashing demons the next. Yet he's not a show-off. His balletic body can writhe gracefully like a cobra to evoke lyricism, movement, and dance with his disciplined yet flexible tempos, like he did in The Firebird (it is ballet music, after all). But when I asked him, he said he's not a good dancer at all. His skill are geared toward the podium, probably strengthened by his experience in the opera house, where vocal lyricism and high drama are most essential.
Furthermore, he hears far more than just the obvious things. We all hear certain things instinctively. For example, we all hear the melody line. For me, because I was always a bass in any chorus, I inevitably listen to the bass line. On the orchestra's China tour last autumn, I experienced once again how Shao-Chia hears "everything in between" as well. In Brahms' Symphony No. 2 he sustained two and three levels of terraced activities at once; woodwind colors sang their own lines (often smothered by a fat string sound) as the string basses underpinned Brahms' rich harmonic movement and the violins lyrically waxed and waned, giving expression to their own melody line. At times, some might describe Shao-Chia's conducting a "octopus style" like some Hindu deity with eight arms; to me he is directing multiple elements at the same time, weaving them into an integral flowing whole, and all with very tight orchestral ensemble. I'm convinced that one main reason for the difference between conductors is that some (like Shao-Chia) hear far more than others — and they can only elicit from an orchestra the things they hear.
He's especially brilliant at drawing forth contrasts. I remember in the last movement of that Brahms Symphony played in Xiamen and Hong Kong, he took the first two themes at exactly the same tempo; most conductors slow down for the second theme, thinking that Brahms' marking of "largamente" is a tempo change, but it's not — it's a stylistic change, meaning "more broadly". And that's what Shao-Chia did — same tempo but a buoyant style versus a lyrical one — and he did it so effectively that it was like hearing the music for the first time. "I was blind, but now I see." I've found this to be a routine experience with him. He's a master of styles — that' plural, as in the different character found in German vs. British vs. American vs. Taiwanese vs. Czech styles (ah, nobody dances like the Czechs!). I'm sure his time abroad has strengthened this gift.
Above everything, what counts most for me in a performance is interpretation. Does the conductor weave all the parts into a whole, and does he do it in such a way that it moves me? The composer and critic Virgil Thomson once said, "Music either moves you emotionally or it doesn't move you at all." Shao-Chia L Lü for me i the master weaver of whole cloths. In China he swept me away with Ming-Hsiu Yen's marvelous Flying Toward the Horizon, Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2, and the Brahms, and in Taipei with Mendelssohn, Stravinsky, Scriabin, and above all Mahler. In America, black people's ethnic cooking is called "soul food". I call classical music "God's original soul food". So when it comes to music, I guess that makes Shao-Chia L Lü my "soul brother". No one hears it "all", but Shao-Chia hears more than most, which is why I consider him one of the world's top conductors.
Taiwan-born conductor Shao-Chia Lü studied music in Taipei, later at the Indiana University in Bloomington, USA, and also at the College of Music Vienna. His training was topped off with three important first prizes at renowned international conductor competitions: Besancon (France), Pedrotti (Italy) and Kondrashin (the Netherlands).
Shao-Chia Lü took the position of General Music Director of the Koblenz Theatre(1998-2001), the Staatsorchester Rheinische Philharmonie Koblenz(1998-2004), and the Staatsoper Hannover (2001- 2006). Lü appears regularly as guest-conductor at several world renowned opera houses, including the Opera Australian in Sydney and Melbourne, the English National Opera, the Theatre de la Monnaie in Brussels, Den Norske Opera in Oslo, the Gothenburg Opera, the Oper Frankfurt, Staatsoper Hamburg and Stuttgart, the Deutsche Oper and Komische Oper Berlin.
Alongside his opera activities, Lü is equally at home on concert podiums. Lü has worked repeatedly with many leading European orchestras, such as the Oslo Philharmonic, the Orchestra Sinfonica di Santa Cecilia Rome, the Norwegian and Swedish Radio Orchestra, the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, the Orchestre National de France, the SWR Stuttgart, the Rundfunksinfonieorchster Berlin, the Goteborg Sinfoniker, the Staatskapelle Weimar, the Frankfurter Museumsorchester and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam. In Asia, Lü has worked with Hong Kong, NHK, New Japan Philharmonic Seoul Philharmonic and leading orchestras in China.
Shao-Chia Lü has been Music Director of the Taiwan Philharmonic (the National Symphony Orchestra of Taiwan) since August 2010 and the Principal Conductor of the South Denmark Philharmonic starting 2014