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Born in Hangzhou, China in 1957, Lan Shui comes from a family with an interest in music, particularly on his father's side. Shui started to learn the violin at the age of five and piano a few years later. Growing up in China during the Cultural Revolution (1996 - 1976), Shui was forced to give up his musical studies as Western art music was considered decadent and bourgeois at the time. It was this break away from it, however, that made Shui actually discover his love for music and at a young age he aspired to be a violinist when he grew up.
At the age of 13, Shui left for the Chinese capital of Beijing to join the People’s Liberation Army Song and Dance Troupe. During this time, he met Professor Xu Xin, a prestigious conductor and educator in China. Xu recognized his unmistakable talent and felt that Shui had the makings of a conductor but failed to persuade him to take up the baton.
The turning point came when Shui injured his left hand while playing soccer at the age of 18. As he was no longer able to play music professionally, Shui started studying music composition at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music even though he did not fully appreciate the subject at the time. Feeling lost and uncertain about his musical career, Shui returned to Beijing in 1979, when China started opening its doors again. In Beijing, Shui attended a performance of the Berlin Philharmonic, conducted by Herbert von Karajan, and was inspired to reconsider conducting as a career as he observed the impact a conductor could have in leading an orchestra. Soon after, he enrolled in the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing and studied conducting under professors Xu Xin and Huang Fei Li and made his professional conducting début with the Central Philharmonic Orchestra in Beijing. He did a short stint as conductor of the Beijing Symphony Orchestra but moved to Boston the same year when he received a scholarship for graduate studies at Boston University.
In the United States, Shui’s talent drew the attention of several prominent figures in the classical music realm and was given the opportunity to work with Leonard Bernstein at the Tanglewood Music Festival in 1990. He caught the attention of David Zinman when he conducted at theLos Angeles Philharmonic’s Summer Festival. Two years later, Zinman invited him to become a conducting affiliate of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for two seasons. The Baltimore Sun described Shui as an “immensely likeable and talented young conductor”. His reputation began rising as Shui served as associate conductor toNeeme Järvi at the Detroit Symphony, assisted Kurt Masur at theNew York Philharmonic and worked with Boulez and the Cleveland Orchestra on its Young Conductors’ Project in Paris between 1994-1997.
During the same period, Shui had been invited to perform with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra as guest conductor on a few occassions. In an Asian country with strong Chinese origins and Western influences, Shui found himself at home in Singapore. The founding music director of theSingapore Symphony Orchestra, Choo Hoey, offered Shui the position of music director and Shui rose to the position in 1997. In Shui's words, "For me, it was a very easy decision. Part of the reason was because I am Asian, and I had always wanted to come back to Asia to work. It was very important to me to help build up the classical music scene here." Shui has also been chief conductor of the Copenhagen Philharmonic since 2007, and served as artistic advisor to the National Taiwan Symphony from 2011 to 2013.
Shui has led the Singapore Symphony Orchestra to international heights through performances across Asia and Europe, all of which received highly-acclaimed reviews. He has played a vital role in transforming the Singapore Symphony Orchestra into a world-class orchestra best known for its Mahler and Rachmaninov interpretations as well as excellently executing the works of Asian composers like Bright Sheng and Cheng Yi. Under his baton, the concert attendance of Singapore Symphony Orchestra has been increasing steadily over the years, attracting a younger demographic of concert-goers.
Shui takes a lot of his personal experience with him into his performing and recording. With the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, he has recorded more than 20 recordings under the Swedish label, BIS Records, also being the first to have recorded a complete collection of the symphonies ofAlexander Tcherepnin , the Russian composer who was brought up in Shanghai.
His recordings have been nominated twice for Grammy Awards. Highly praised by the American Record Guide, “In brief, this is the most astounding, effective, and beautiful recording of La Mer I have ever heard.” Seascapes (album on the left)made it to the popular MusicWeb International’s 2007 Recordings of the Year list.
primephonic did an interview with Lan Shui in August 2015. Read the full story here.
All the progress the Singapore Symphony Orchestra has achieved, can be accredited to Shui's vision for the orchestra. He does not merely see himself as an artistic leader who built the orchestra's foundations and raised its standards of performance, but as a builder of an orchestra. He wanted to build a sense of belonging among members of the orchestra as he believed this to be one of the most important components of any good orchestra. Therefore, he formed a committee consisting of the orchestra's musicians to give them a voice in the various aspects of the decision-making process.
Shui said in an interview in 2012, “So if you ask me what about my 14 years at the SSO am I proudest of, I’d say it’s the morale of the orchestra. It is when people feel happy about themselves and happy about working with this orchestra, that a certain chemistry and magic can take place, where in terms of the music, one plus one equals not two, but three.”
He is the recipient of several international awards from the Beijing Arts Festival, New York Tcherepnin Society, Boston University (Distinguished Alumni Award) and Singapore (Cultural Medallion).