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Young Conductor Presents Oratorio and Religious Music
The choir at the Central University of Nationalities will give a concert at the Guotu Concert Hall Sunday evening to celebrate the coming New Year as well as the establishment of the Music College which was originally a department of the Arts College at the University.

Choir members from different ethnic groups will sing ethnic folk songs and some Western classics. One of the songs selected will be from George Frideric Handel's holiday song "Messiah."

"Messiah" is the specialty of the 30-year-old conductor Su Wenxing. Last weekend, the Choir of National Symphony Orchestra and the China Film Symphony Orchestra performed the full-length "Messiah" under Su's baton and won thunderous applause at the Forbidden City Concert Hall.

Bian Zushan, renowned Chinese conductor, called Su one of the best conductors in the country for oratorio and religious songs.

Su, a Christian, conducts "Messiah" every year during the holiday season. Last December he conducted the full-length "Messiah" in Chinese at the Beijing Concert Hall. It was the first time that the work was sung in Chinese in a concert hall instead of a church.

Born to an ethnic Miao family in Shaoyang in Central China's Hunan Province, Su inherited his love for music from his mother who was a well-known Miao folk singer.

Since he was seven years old, Su has played the erhu, a two-stringed Chinese fiddle, and the piano with the local performers. He began his studies at Hunan Normal University in 1992 and spent all his spare-time learning composition with local composer Xu Yongsan.

"While learning composition, Xu and I both found that I showed more of an interest in conducting," Su said. "I like to interpret the great composers' works based on my own understanding."

After graduation in 1995, Xu advised him to further his musical study at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing.

But it was difficult for Su who never received any systematic training in music to be admitted to the school's conducting department.

So Su found his own way in. He applied for graduate studies in Chinese Musicology in the conservatory but learned conducting on his own with Xu Xin and Bian Zushan at the same time.

"Though I am not a student of conducting at the conservatory, I have gained more experience and feelings from life outside the conservatory or the textbook, which I believe helps my interpretation of music," Su said.

In 1996, Su became a Christian after a friend introduced him to the religion. He says his religious belief also helps him understand some Western classical music better.

"Many great composers such as Bach and Handel were loyal Christians. Since I became a Christian, I have had a new understanding of them and interpret them much better," he said.

He hopes to conduct more choir singing, especially oratorios, in China.

"The oratorios involve a unanimity of spirits and emotions which a group of people can only express by making music," Su said.

Su is currently the guest conductor at the China Film Symphony Orchestra and the Symphony Orchestra at the Central University of Nationalities. He is also preparing for the Sibelius International Competition for Conductors held in Finland next November.

"While at the conservatory, I was just like many other students, dreaming about applying for an international competition to become somebody overnight. But I knew that I wasn't prepared yet," Su said.

He added that the best way to improve his skills is to co-operate with an orchestra. But a conducting student has few chances at the conservatory, and he wasn't even an enrolled conducting student.

He recalls the first time he stood on the podium before the China Film Symphony Orchestra. He said he was so nervous that he had no idea how to start.

Now after about three years' co-operation with national and local orchestras and choirs, he feels he is prepared to go abroad and broaden his horizons. "I do not expect too much to win a prize. I just want to see how world conductors my age perform and I'd like to talk with them," he said.

(China Daily December 17, 2002)

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