By Andrew Hamlin
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
We hear a fair amount about obligatory music lessons for kids, and a fair amount about parents trying to stimulate, or unlock, the intelligence of their young offspring.
But for Yue Bao, guest conductor of the Seattle Symphony orchestra late this month, those two concerns dovetailed into one.
The Chinese-born conductor grew up in Shanghai’s Xuhui District, and attended the middle school associated with the prestigious Shanghai Conservatory of Music.
“I grew up in a pretty typical family,” she remembered, “and neither of my parents were classical musicians, but my mom thought that learning piano would be a good early childhood IQ booster. I studied with a piano teacher in Shanghai who was also a composer, and I was inspired to begin writing my own pieces and showing them to him.
“As I began writing for larger ensembles, I tried to wave my arms [around] to put everything together, and my teacher saw it. He encouraged me to study conducting seriously. I was a little hesitant at first, but eventually started to conduct my own works and then works by other composers as well.”
She studied under Xiao Ou Zhao at the Shanghai Conservatory. She moved to New York City for further studies at the Mannes School of Music, then earned a diploma from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where her primary teacher was Yannick Nezet-Seguin, currently Artistic and Music Director of the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Since 2020, she’s served as Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao Foundation Assistant Conductor of the Houston Symphony, but she travels frequently as a guest conductor.
She’s never visited Seattle before, but is “looking forward to getting to know this really unique and beautiful city. I will have to visit the [Pike Place Market] while I’m there.”
The program, featuring the Orchestra joined by cellist Jan Vogler, opens with a Samuel Barber composition, “Overture to The School for Scandal.”
This selection, Yue Bao elaborated, was one of the first works he wrote when he himself was at Curtis [Institute].
“I love mid-century American composers, and so whenever I program this piece, I feel a real connection to him, and also to what he must have been experiencing while at the school.”
The concluding piece, Béla Bartók’s “Concerto For Orchestra,” strikes the conductor as “deeply imaginary. Listeners can see and hear the visual images of nature and the natural world. Audience members should take a visual journey, starting with the two flutes at the beginning imitating owls and birds one might hear at night.
“I also find a level of humor, drama, and deep pathos in this piece, especially in the third movement which conveys an intimate portrayal of loss.”
The program’s middle selection, “Three Continents Concerto,” receives its U.S. premiere here. Commissioned especially for cellist Vogler, it came from three composers, Nico Muhly, Sven Helbig, and Zhou Long, who each delivered one of its three movements.
Explains Yue Bao, “The work represents not only the possibilities of an increasingly globalized world, but the potential for dialogue and understanding. The first movement, by Nico Muhly, is a series of variations for the orchestra, with each variation having its own orchestral color and texture. Sven Helbig’s movement is an aria for the solo cello with a singing line, accompanied by the orchestra. There is a dark and somber quality to the entire movement.
“The third movement [by Zhou Long] is based on a 1,000-year-old Chinese poem by Du Fu.
Solo cello takes on the role of a narrator or storyteller, while the orchestra acts out the behavior of eight drunk poets as told in the [poem’s] story. Though the eight poets are drunk, they are said to all have been good friends of Du Fu, and so they are treated with affection. The movement is a scherzo, and so there is a dance-like, joking quality to the entire movement. Just like a bunch of friends at a party.”
Yue Bao conducts the Seattle Symphony, with guest musician Jan Vogler on cello, March 23 and March 25 at the S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium, Benaroya Hall, 200 University Street in downtown Seattle.
For tickets, showtimes, and other information, visit seattlesymphony.org/en/concerttickets/calendar/2022-2023/22sub15.