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The musical master who knows how low he can go

THERE was a rare musical gem in the latest concert in the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra's "Symphony Life" series. The renowned double bass player Lu Yuanxiong brought to the city his "Bassy Fancy" concert and produced some truly deep delights for the audience.

Performing together with German conductor and music educator Augusto Gutierrez, Lu became the first double bass player to stage a solo concert in the 130-year history of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra.

"Perfect intonation and the rhythm of the double bass are the great foundations of harmony for an orchestra. If the double bass loses its accuracy, the entire orchestra will lose its harmony," says Lu.

Lu is regarded as one of the double bass masters in China and used to be a student of the great Chinese double bass player and educator Zheng Deren.

During the concert last Sunday, Lu played the popular Chinese double bass concerto "The Song of the Grassland" composed by Zheng to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Zhen's professional music career.

"Actually the double bass can emulate the human voice - you can use the double bass to sing," Lu says. The double bass has the natural range and tone of the voice unlike the violin which can only "fake" a voice, for instance, he adds.

Born in Shanghai and graduating from the Shanghai Conservatory of Music in 1985, Lu continued his studies in the United States and started his double bass career there 24 years ago.

"When I went to the States in 1988, I was lucky enough to get a job with a professional, if not famous, orchestra within three days. It's not at all easy for a double bass player especially when he is a foreigner," he recalls.

Lu proved his talent with his performances and went on to win awards in six international music competitions within two years after he arrived there, including first prize at the American String Teachers Association (ASTA) National Solo Competition and the 16th annual Corpus Christi International Young Artists Competition. In the third year he was hired as a professional double bass player for the San Antonio Symphony.

"I'm very lucky to have had all these opportunities, but I am also very confident of my talent," he says.

As a successful double bass player and educator, Lu has been tenure player at the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra since 1988, and he is also the professor of double bass at the music school of the Texas Christian University (TCU), a major university with a growing reputation.

"I have also taken many classes in Shanghai, Shenyang, Beijing and Hong Kong," says Lu, one of the only 30 full-time double bass professors in the US.

In the past few years Lu has also given classes as a guest professor in 12 universities in the US teaching more than 250 gifted students. Many of his students have gone on to win international music competitions and joined major symphony orchestras.

"Comparatively speaking, Western countries pay more attention to teaching the double bass than China does," Lu says. "The teaching of the double bass in China is lacking. There are only 50 double bass students in the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing and only 10 in Shanghai Conservatory of Music.

"Teaching in China focuses more on training the students to be solo players," he adds. "Actually the basic training as an orchestra performer is very important for a double bass student. After all, not everyone can be Yo-Yo Ma."

As a Shanghai-born musician, Lu deeply loves his hometown. Almost every year, Lu returns, usually to give master classes at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing or music schools in Shenyang and Hong Kong.

Asked whether it's necessary for Chinese musicians to study and perform abroad in their professional music careers, Lu says, "I would have to say yes."

"In my opinion, it's very important for Chinese students to have contact with the high-level music environment of Western countries," he says. "Chinese students are very talented. What they need is opportunities, and I am doing my best to provide these."

For the future, Lu says he will devote more time to teaching music and continue to help Chinese double bass students study abroad.

"I have arranged for four college students from Shanghai, Beijing, Shenyang and Hong Kong to get scholarships to study in TCU this fall and I believe they will learn a lot," he reveals.


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